Monday, December 6, 2010

Fisherman as Villain

When the zero carbon lobster project got some media attention last summer, I should not have read the comments. Some were very positive. Some were just nasty. One stuck with me.

" There is no greater destructive
job to the planet than that of the fisherman." -Comment in Huffington Post.

Really? I suppose so as long as we don't consider mining, manufacturing, oil drilling, mountain top coal extraction, box stores, forestry, highway transportation, commercial agriculture or beef, pork, chicken, and soy bean production.

There is no shortage of professionally crafted persuasive and fundraising messages insisting that fishing activity has brought oceans to the brink of mass extinction. Fishermen are portrayed as ruthless pillagers of the oceans. Grisly photographs are shown; the kind we don't usually see in connection with other food production where chicken seems to have come into existence skinless and boneless in a styrofoam tray. Vilification of fishermen also diverts attention from ocean acidification, agricultural, home pesticide, road and industrial runoff, military, cargo vessels, and cruise ships (where does all the, ya know -stuff- go?), and of course grounded oil tankers and exploding drilling platforms.

Perhaps industrial scale fishing, like industrial scale food production of any kind, rapidly depletes resources and causes other degradation of the home we all share. I offer a few points of comparison between fishing and other food production, particularly concerning smaller boats where the catch rarely goes into an intercontinental shipping container.

Fishing works with the natural environment instead of against it. Fish live wild until they are caught. With the exception of methods such as bottom dragging or dynamiting a coral reef, the surrounding environment is left intact. The creatures know when the moon is full. The move about, eat and reproduce as they please. The ecosystem maintains her rhythm.

Contrast this with, say, soybean production, the foundation of so many vegetarian and purportedly green-friendly foods. How much acreage is plowed up? How many trees are removed? How many smaller plants, animals and microorganisms are displaced? How much water is diverted from its natural destination? What quantity of chemicals are introduced into the earth and the oceans?

Food production is a big source of trouble and potential. More local production and marketing means less transportation, refrigeration, processing, preserving. More small scale local production means a broader distribution of economic opportunity and benefit.

Small, local food production means making the most effective use of what your environment is good for. For those of us blessed enough to live and work on the ocean, our contribution to a web of environmentally healthy and economically vibrant food production originates here.

The imagery of the rapacious fisherman is ripe for a little public makeover. We can keep the eye patches for when we really need them, say, Halloween and regulatory hearings.

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