Conservation efforts needed for overfishing

By JEFF NORTH,

As miserable as Kansas was, Mississippi has been just as rotten. A three bale cotton crop is wide open and just waiting on the pickers and we can’t do a thing about it. The front that inundated the south with excessive rainfall has stalled and seems will not budge. Gray, gloomy skies prevail and it is just downright depressing. I told a producer the other day I think I have contracted Rickets from a lack of vitamin D. Nothing tries the soul more than sitting on the sideline with a huge crop and not being able to gather it.

To some, Mississippi State and Ole Miss football tries the soul just as much. Of course this disaster is for another day and time, football, that is. If the weather won’t leave, then you just have to leave the weather. So this is exactly what we did and by the time you are reading this I hope I am knee deep into boiled prawns, grouper sandwiches, and beverages that the Florida beaches are famous for. Hopefully I can bring a pocketful of sunshine back with me when I return and the pickers can roll.

The surf was totally captivating as our leisurely drive took us closer and closer to our destination. The heavy mist created a deep aqua-green color far different from what I have noticed in the past. It was almost mystical. Possibly the position of the sun and the fall equinox had something to do with the different look the gulf was offering. Regardless, it was hard for me to take my eyes off the crashing waves and the endless sea. From time to time schools of fish would break the surface with an explosion of foam while chasing smaller baitfish. I couldn’t help but think of biology class as this classic example of the food chain unfolded.

 

Further offshore I could pick out larger fishing vessels. Some of these were private charters and others were giant commercial trawlers. Each gleaned the sea of her bounty, just in far different ways. I began to think of the schools of fish I had been watching and how unsuspecting they were of the danger that lurked farther offshore from the hook and net. They were in as much danger as the baitfish schools were and didn’t even realize it. Each grouper and snapper that went into the live well and each metric ton of tuna would find a dinner plate or a fresh market soon. My thoughts then drifted to the fragility of our fisheries and whether or not the harvest pressure we apply to our resources can handle it or not. The question became, should I order my grouper and shrimp, or not?

Not that long ago we viewed our oceans and seas as an inexhaustible resource. Today we now know this is just not the case. There is more demand for fresh tuna, swordfish, oysters, and crabs than ever before. At one time fishermen were somewhat limited to the range of water they could cover and still safely return. Large scale commercial fishing operations began in the late 1800s. At the same time, railroads were constructed and connected fishing ports to interior cities thus increasing markets for fresh seafood. Fishing techniques progressed to large scale nets and long hook lines that exponentially increased harvest. Some hook lines reach over 60 miles in length. With the aid of sonar, large schools of fish that were at one time undetectable are now very vulnerable. Whether we want to admit it or not, our oceans are in deep blue trouble. So what can we do about this?

 

As with anything to do with our wildlife and fisheries, conservation is the key. With this said, conservation is never easy. In 1976 Congress passed the Federal Fishery Conservation Management Act. This legislation extended control to fish, minerals, and oil 200 miles from shore. Basically, it banned foreign fishers from American waters. Of course, this still didn’t protect the resource from our compromising nature. As a nation, we are indeed greedy. To combat our own overfishing exploits, total allowable catches (TAC’s) were set up to administer and regulate species harvest by areas. Though these actions by federal authorities are designed to help, and they do, we are still not out of the woods.

A survey of 300 major fish species completed by the U.S. Marine Fisheries Service in 1998 showed that 90 species were over-fished. In 2006, a new report showed that 82 percent of the major fished species suffers from over-fishing. This survey includes shellfish as well. I am quite certain the percentage is even higher now. So again, what do we do about it? Well, it’s a hard subject to talk about but it ultimately boils down to the human population spiraling out of control. With more mouths to feed there is an increasing demand for not just fish, but for everything. We are driving ourselves into overpopulation with no place to go. With increased numbers, and this applies to wildlife as well, there is more opportunity for disease and health problems from an expanding species population. It is Mother Nature’s way of keeping populations, including humans, in check. Take Africa and China for example. The human population in these countries is and has been spiraling out of control for centuries leading to famine and huge losses of life from disease.

 

Going back to our fisheries issue, the answer is really simple. There is nothing wrong with the resource, the problem is with us and our exploitation of it. We are to blame, as we are with most of our other problems. They are self-created. It’s up to us to fix them and truthfully, I doubt if we ever do anything about it. I ask myself the question, should I order the shrimp and grouper that I came to the beach for? You probably know the answer when I say I am just as much to blame as anyone. Think about what we do to our natural resources and see if you can come up with solutions to problems we all create. Let me know if you have ideas, we may be able do something yet to save our planet.

Until next time enjoy our woods and waters, and remember let’s leave it better than we found it.