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High Gas Prices May Save Ocean Ecosystems

The rising cost of fuel is shifting the tide for marine biodiversity in a way that few politicians have had the courage to do.  The past few years have produced front-page cover stories in newspapers and magazines lamenting the demise of the ocean’s bounty caused by overfishing, but few lawmakers are willing to address the fundamental root cause of overfishing, which is simply put, too many vessels chasing too few fish.
But there are some new headlines that may help:

“Japan to cut long-line tuna fishing operations ”

Fuel costs keep fishing US boats tied to the docks”

“E. Asia fleets to suspend tuna fishing / Fuel costs hit Japan, China, ROK, Taiwan”

Even before gas prices spiked this year, the economics of chasing fish with industrial-size vessels, especially on the high seas, has only “succeeded” because it has been propped up by an estimated $54 billion in annual subsidies, including discounted fuel costs.

A 2004 study by professor Peter Tyedmers in the Encyclopedia of Energy compares the material and petroleum energy required to power a wide variety of industrial fishing vessels with the energy contained in the harvested edible fish protein.  Tyedmers concludes, “it is now common for direct fossil fuel energy inputs alone to exceed nutritional energy embodied in the catch by at least an order of magnitude.” Shrimp, tuna and swordfish are at the top of the list for the worse offenders when it comes to “edible protein return on investment.” Specifically, Tyedmers lists longlining as the least efficient technology.

It may be coincidental, but fishing for tuna, swordfish and shrimp are also the fisheries that kill the most sea turtles, and longlining fishing is strongly implicated in pushing the Pacific leatherback to the brink of extinction.

If you need another reason to question the wisdom of destroying marine biodiversity by industrial fishing that uses more energy than it produces in edible protein, don’t forget that swordfish and tuna are also high in toxic mercury.  Eating it is hazardous to your health, especially if you are a woman of child bearing age or a child.

High fuel prices offers politicians an opportunity to reduce fishing effort by helping many of the fishers find alternative employment.  The worst thing that could happen would be a knee-jerk reaction to provide fisher with additional fuel subsidies.

STRP will be closely monitoring and opposing nany political attempt to “bail out” fishers by providing them with cheaper fuel.  If we want to help fishers, the oceans and ourselves, we need to find alternatives for fishers, not help them catch the last fish and kill the last sea turtle.