Our Views: Save fishing by limiting it in oceans

November 28, 2006 12:00 am

Earlier this month, scientists reported in the respected journal "Science" that if fishing around the world continues at its current pace, by mid-century the oceans' ecosystems will collapse with whole species going extinct.

Certainly what has happened to the fishing industry right here in Del Norte County bears out the scientists' research. Surfperch species caught during the 1980s were notably younger and of lower weight than during the 1950s, a symptom of overfishing. For the past few years, salmon catches have been limited all along the California and Oregon coasts because of a rapid decline in their populations, though there are other factors than overfishing at work.

While the fishing industry has shrunk locally over the years, it is still an important part of our economy. Crescent City's crabbing fleet, for example, brought in more than than $10 million earlier this year. Sports fishing of salmon alone accounts for nearly half of the revenue of many Klamath businesses.

To save our fishing industry, not to mention our ocean's ecosystems, we're going to have to replenish sea life populations. That means creating areas across the globe that are off limits to fishing.

Prohibiting fishing to save the fishing industry may seem counterintuitive. But remember that what really needs to be preserved are the ecosystems themselves, of which the fish and seafood we eat are one part. If we allow swaths of the ocean to recover, fish and crustacean populations naturally will rise as the entire ocean regains its health. Similarly, our local river systems also must be allowed to recover.

This does not have to mean an end to humanity's use of the oceans and waterways flowing into them. But it will mean conservation, preserved areas and human engineering to correct problems we've created. Human beings certainly have a right to use the waterways for food, irrigation, power generation and recreation. But we can not "strip mine" them for each of these uses. There must be limitations, or as the Science article shows, we will destroy them.

While 2050 may seem far off, we soon may reach the point of no return, where we've done so much damage that collapse is inevitable. It will sort of be like passing the last gas station in the desert when our tank is near empty – we're bound to run out of gas before ever seeing another station.