I always knew there was something fishy about the Spectator. My suspicions were confirmed by the article which surfaced for air last week (but which I have only just got around to reading).
The author is very troubled by the apparently catastrophic collapse in fish stocks:
In a single human lifetime we have inflicted a crisis on the oceans, comparable to what Stone Age man did to the mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger, what 19th-century Americans did to the bison and the passenger pigeon, what 20th-century British and Norwegians did to the great whales, and what people in this century are doing to rainforests and bushmeat. This crisis is caused by overfishing.
The emotionally overdone analogies (integral to any discussion concerning wildlife or the environment it seems) could well tempt me into dismissing his entire thesis. But that would prevent me from making what I regard as a more important point so, for now at least, I am willing to play along with the proposition that fish stocks are, indeed, under some degree of threat. In any event, I have no evidence to the contrary.
But at this point the author of the article and I part company, as the former goes on to lay the blame for impending eco-disaster on the proliferation of celebrity chefs with their apparently insatible appetites for exotic fish dishes. A conclusion so absurd as to be almost worthy of satire.
In common with every other ‘opinion former’, the author draws on what he regards as an unarguably correct and obvious equation: if some species of fish are dying out it can only be because we greedy, selfish humans are eating too many of them. Not once does it seem to occur to the author that if that equation were true then we surely would have chomped cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens into extinction long ago.
The dwindling numbers of marine animals is a ‘tragedy of the commons’ arising from the fact that the high seas are insufficiently owned. Apart from some nationalised coastal waters, fishermen are pretty much at liberty to trawl for as much fish as they can lay their hands on anywhere they please, anyhow they please and as often as they like. There is simply nothing to stop them.
In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that they fail to husband or manage the species they live off. There is no incentive for them to do so. However, if stretches of sea were owned in the same way as land is owned then not only would the owners be able to bar trespassers but (as with land farmers) they would have an commercial incentive to find ways to breed as much edible marine life as possible for human consumption and resultant profit. Hence the countless millions of farm animals in the world despite the prodigious rate at which we humans kill and eat them.
Until such times as the oceans are parcelled up into ‘watersteads’, stocks of marine animals will continue to decline. If you want to save the seas from becoming a watery grave, privatise them now.