I saw a piece on CNN this morning about the plight of the world’s ocean and fish. While overfishing and other poor fishing practices have been common for quite some time, the fact that actor Ted Danson is involved has help get the subject more air time.
There are a variety of reasons why the fish populations are diminishing. One is the obvious: we are overfishing. That is, we are pulling fish out of the sea at rates that exceed their capacity to replace their losses. While fish will reproduce, their capacity to do so is in direct proportion to their numbers. Even if we let up on catching, it will take a long time for a species to bounce back-assuming that it is able to do so. Second, we are changing the ocean conditions. The oceans and their inhabitants are temperature sensitive and global warming seems to be having an impact. Also, there are the pollutants that end up in the water, thus changing the chemical conditions. In some cases, this comes back to harm us directly-by now, most people have heard of mercury contamination in fish. Third, our fishing practices are often very destructive. A significant portion of the bycatch (anything caught that is not the desired target of fishing) is killed by current methods, thus causing a broader damage to the ecosystem than just pulling out one species. Some of the methods used also involve nets dragging on the bottom, destroying that ecosystem as well. The ocean ecosystems are linked together, so damaging the bottom has a broad impact. In short, we are doing the usual thin: destroying the future in order to get a short term gain.
While I could make a moral argument about how it is wrong to do so much enviromental damage, I’ll just focus on appealing to selfishness.
From a selfish standpoint, we value the ocean and the fish for what they can do for us. Here are some of those things.
First, most people like seafood. Some people also rely on it for a large part of their diet. Obviously enough, if we devastate the oceans, we will not have the fish we want. First, of course, the fish would be rather expensive-a rare luxury item. Then certain fish might not be available at all. So, if you want to keep enjoying fish, then you should help do something about the way we now treat the oceans. Of course, if you and no one you care about likes fish, then you would not care about this.
Now, the truly selfish might say “screw the oceans. I can get my saltwater fish from factory farming.” Well, those fish still need a place to live-namely in the oceans. Sure, they could make saltwater tanks to raise these fish, but that would increase the cost. There are also some health concerns about such factory farmed fish. So, if you want to continue to enjoy low prices on fish, you still have a reason to care about the oceans.
Second, the fishing industry and related industries are a significant part of the economy. Local economies have been wiped out due to the loss of fishing and this could extend worldwide if we simply keep doing what we are doing. While it might seem impossible, we can easily wipe out fishing worldwide. That this can be done is easily shown by considering local disasters involving, for example, overfishing one species and then merely extending it across the world. At the rate we are going it is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when. Sure, people will make money now and the major players will continue to make a profit long after the small players have been wiped out. But, eventually the industry will collapse if nothing is done. As such, if we want to prevent such an economic mess, we need to do what must be done to maintain a sustainable approach to fishing and to protect the environment. And the only motivation we need here is money.
Of course, someone might say “screw the fishermen, big and small. I don’t catch fish for a living. I’ll be fine.” While that is a properly selfish attitude, as the latest economic mess has shown, the economy is itself like an ecosystem-damage to one part can ripple across the whole thing. as such, unless you are sure that the collapse of the fishing related parts of the economy will not touch you, then you have a selfish reason to be concerned.
Third, people enjoy ocean activities-going to the beach, sports fishing, diving, and so on. If we continue to damage the oceans and the fish populations, then we will lose out on these activities. At the very least, they will become less enjoyable for most people. Many places rely on the oceans to draw in tourists and their money. For example, Florida‘s economy is largely driven by ocean tourism. The state would be in serious trouble without that income. There are also the industries relating to the oceans that would be harmed as well. For example, the companies that make fishing equipment depend , obviously enough, on fishing.
Obviously, someone who does not like the ocean or care about the economy at all would not be moved by these reasons. But, such people are no doubt fairly rare.A person who is not moved by the natural beauty of the ocean is hardly a person at all. Right?
Fourth, the oceans are rather important in sustaining life on earth. For example, they store a great deal of carbon. Damaging the ecosystem of the ocean will have serious consequences for us and our quality of life. Messing with them is very much like screwing around with the life support systems on a spaceship-you only do that if you want to die or if you are a complete idiot. Likewise for the oceans and other aspects of the environment. Hopefully our intelligent selfishness can overcome our stupidity here. I’m not counting on it, though.
So, we have excellent, perfectly selfish reasons to worry about the fish.