Net Neutrality for World Fishing Fleets
We all know what ‘net neutrality’ means in the cyber-world, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all Internet communications equally, and not discriminate or charge differently.
Yet aboard fishing boats there are different nets, with different purposes, that are destroying wildlife.
“Well,” you say. “There better be none of that, I’m a great protector of wildlife and you’ve only to check out my bird-feeder for evidence.” But, I include all life in the oceans as wild, as it is in the woodlands and plains (including your birdfeeder), in that it is precious and untamed.
The next time you pop open a can of tuna, grumbling at the damn costs going up, give a shout-out to the 300,000 whales and dolphins that are killed every year as bycatch by the fishing industry, making it the most prominent cause of death for these animals. Around 50 million sharks are killed as bycatch every year. That’s 5,769 whales and dolphins and nearly a million sharks killed every week.
Think about that when you go to bed tonight, Before your morning coffee, a thousand whales and dolphins will have died in nets.
Except for the Japanese (who illegally catch and eat them) whales and dolphins are very popular among the public. Sharks not so much but, like wolves, foxes and coyotes, they are essential to the balance in the seas.
So, here’s something else I have to worry about—thanks for that, Jim.
I understand that there’s only so much woe in the world we can handle. And, for god’s sake, can’t we please not have to take on whales, dolphins and sharks along with genocides in Yemen, starvation in Afghanistan and Russians gathering on the Ukraine border.
But someone has to raise a voice or else nothing changes. George Monbiot has done an elegant job of that, as he always does, and please-baby-please take a moment to read his piece in the Guardian.
And (again, except for the Japanese) it’s all avoidable.
As George points out, these massive months-long freezer-fishing industrial forays into international waters normally deploy between 50 and 70 miles of gillnets. Can you imagine a net that stretches between Chicago and Milwaukee or Prague and Dresden, essentially grabbing everything in its path?
Gillnets have been banned from many waters because of their very high rates of bycatch, and their mysterious tendency to go missing. That ‘mysterious tendency’ is a clue to the cure for the disease. Gillnets don’t last long and factory-fishing ships are stingy with storage space. Rather than checking those nets for damage and storing them for repair, it’s cheaper to drop them overboard and allow them to drift, charging off the cost of new nets for the next trip.
So, let’s suppose.
Suppose it was illegal to buy gillnets without turning in the old ones? That wouldn’t save all the critters killed but it would cut down, probably by a third, the killing done by drifting nets. As for the nets themselves, whales and dolphins are very sonar-alert animals (yes, they are mammals, not fish) and a bit of research might provide warnings for them that would not affect schools of fish. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it’s worth a try.
George Monbiot’s whistleblower is a commercial fisherman himself.
Interestingly, he came to George, who he knew to be a long-time critic of commercial fishing, because he was sickened by what he saw in the ports. He watched as Gillnets were loaded aboard countless boats and none were taken ashore. Where could they be? He knew where they could be, because he caught up so many in his own fishing experience, always bringing them in for proper disposal. And—who would have thought?—all the valuable parts, like floats, weights and metal connections had always been cut away.
So here’s a story to begin your day and I don’t know what to do with it.
You are not a commercial fisherman, nor am I and we have no voice in the trade. But he (George’s whistleblower) and other fishermen “have written to the authorities until we are blue in the face”, but he says he has been repeatedly stonewalled.
When Monbiot approached the Scottish government, it told him: “We take protection of the marine environment seriously and are clear that any form of dumping and other illegal activities is completely unacceptable … We would encourage anyone with intelligence relating to suspicious activities by vessels to report this to us on our website.”
Yeah, sure. And the check is in the mail.
But the internet is a tribal space, where voices gather.
Some to share pictures of kittens and puppies, others to rage at the world and join conspiracy theories, but others (perhaps like Monbiot’s story) go viral. A story gone viral, particularly if it’s aimed at the Scottish government and other international maritime laws, might just have the push to get through a thick head or two.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), particularly through its Regional Seas Programme, acts to protect oceans and seas and promote the sustainable use of marine resources. It is the only global intergovernmental mechanism directly addressing the link between terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. Well now, perhaps there’s a place to begin.
My personal mea culpa.
It may not surprise you that, in addition to my other wildlife offenses such as hunting, I am a fisherman. Loving the sport of fly-fishing, but not much caring for the taste of fish, I have always been an enthusiast for catch-and-release. You may recall from other conversations that I make it a point not to kill anything that I don’t eat.
You’ll find no mounted trophies in my modest residence, although I muse from time to time about which politicians might look well on my wall, a Boris here or a Donald there. Having said that, I agree that catch-and-release is not a solution to commercial fishing, but I have hopes for other solutions, not the least of which is the elimination of gillnets cut adrift.