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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense
The Fishcal Cliff
Is the natural or wild fishery doomed?
Historically, the United States was founded largely on the principle of "get the resources while you can" and never mind that silly science stuff like carrying capacity. Forests were cut, fish and whales harvested, animals were killed for fur, food and fertilizer, gold was mined, birds were killed for their plumes, hordes of sheep and cattle were grazed where buffalo once roamed and the indigenous folks that survived the initial onslaught were rounded up and put on reservations. The direction of the investors, businesses and government was to create an economy based on taking resources without consideration for resource supply limitations. This created fast profit but sent some resources to extinction and drained others of productivity.
Some scientists say that the U.S. exceeded the carrying capacity of the land sometime between 1860 and 1880. In other words the population present at that time could no longer sustain itself from local resources. It had to get food and fiber etc. from farther away. But what about the fishery. Too much history gets boring so I will jump ahead.
It is an understatement to say that the fishery is not what it once was. I remember my first lesson in fishing abuse from long ago. It was on the Cayucus pier SLO county. A middle aged couple were fishing and catching a lot of what we referred as "red snappers" (young sand bass) and throwing them into two big tubs. As I was walking back toward the parking area with a couple of sand dabs, I heard this fellow say "Hey I'm too dam tired to clean all these things" so he promptly threw the two tubs of dead fish into the sea and he and his wife took off as the seagulls had lunch. There were also fish stompers. If they caught a sculpin or a croaker, they would bestow the name "trash fish" on it, step on it to make sure it was dead, then throw it back with a big smile on their face as if they were saving human kind. And last but not least the anti-shark guy would make his appearance a couple times a month. He always carried a .357 so that he could blast away at a shark should one swim past the pier because sharks were predators and if they ate something humans could eat then they had to go.
Such were the attitudes of people who set up the next generations with more regulations to follow and less fish to catch.
So what's new. The NOAA recently proposed the listing of 66 species of coral as either rare or endangered which includes 59 pacific species and 7 in the Caribbean. So why is this important? Coral reef systems are very productive and provide prime habitat for many fish species. The corals are being impacted -(Caution don't hold your breath): by ocean warming, ocean acidification, dredging, coastal development, coastal point source pollution, agricultural pollution, diseases( including wind blown fungus), predation, reef fishing( including dynamite fishing) , the aquarium trade, physical damage from ships and anchors, marine garbage and invasive species. Coral reefs are only second to upwelling zones in Net Primary Productivity (NPP). Upwelling zones support around 980 grams of carbon capture per cubic meter per year, whereas coral systems support about 890 g/m3 per year. Compare this to the 100 g/m3/year in the open ocean and you can see why these areas need protection. And the most fish are found where the NPP is the highest.
Let us turn closer to home in California and look at the trend for Sacramento River run chinook salmon. The old guys around Redding used to say that you could walk over the backs of the spawning chinooks because there were so many. We can only guess as to how many there were in the pre Shasta dam days but the adult spawning population was probably well into the millions. Since the building of the Shasta dam and Red Bluff Diversion unit the trend for the salmon population has been downward. It springs back a little now and then but the overall trend is downhill. The figures from the Fish and Wildlife service show that in 2005 the estimated number of juvenile fish (all runs combined) passing the Red Bluff Diversion unit was 24,431,647 and in 2011 was only 8,794,694 or about 3 times lower. Keep in mind that not that many juvenile fish make the round trip to the ocean and back again. It does not look good at all for the Sacramento River chinooks. Considering all the money that has been spent on the CVP improvement projects, fish populations should be a hell of lot higher.
It should come as no surprise that aquaculture (fish farming) now provides close to 50% of fish food for humans. So what happened with our terrestrial systems has now happened to the oceans. Humans have exceeded the oceans carrying capacity big time. Now the problem is how to feed the farm fish which require fish oil and meal from wild caught sources. It takes 5lbs of wild caught fish to make 1 lb of farm fish and at the rate that fish farms are growing the supply of wild fish will only last about 6 years. And what about the predatory fish, birds and sea mammals that depend upon these smaller wild fish for food. You got it. More endangered species on the horizon.
Can the humans we put into office be that dumb?. Even the leaf harvesting ants in the Amazon are smart enough to harvest a few leaves off from one tree and then move to another so as not to kill their source of survival.
Hey-You guys know of any ants with political aspirations.