It’s a Big Ocean With Lots of Room for More Fish
Civilization began as societies learned to plant and raise grain, fruit, and vegetables in farms, orchards, and gardens rather than wander the countryside gathering them, and learned to raise and herd cattle rather than chasing them with spears.
For thousands of years coastal communities have relied on “hunting and gathering” for fish, and coastal fish farms are fairly recent. Now though, fish fertilizing and farming is heading out to the open seas.
A $2.5 million investment for 120 tons of iron sulfate fertilizer helped feed and yield 175 million tons of Pacific Northwest salmon. More on that enterprise below.
The University of Washington’s March 14, 2014 issue of Conservation features an optimistic article on open ocean farming by Paul Greenberg.
In earlier articles I’ve looked at open ocean farming (The Wild World of Open Ocean Farmed Fish and Farming the Deep Blue Sea) and the challenges entrepreneurs face with mariculture technology and regulatory barriers. Only the state of Hawaii has even allowed open ocean farming.
But Greenberg writes that ocean entrepreneur Neil Sims’ diligent politicking allowed at least two fish to swim their way through the bureaucratic federal maze:
The two fish Sims sent me were almaco jack. To my knowledge, they were among the only fish ever cultured in what is known as the U.S. “Exclusive Economic Zone” or EEZ—the federally controlled stretch of water extending from U.S. coastal boundaries all the way past the continental shelf, some 200 nautical miles from shore. [Source.]
Greenberg notes that the United States Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) are fairly new, and thanks to vast U.S. coastlines and island territories, provide double the space for future fisheries than all U.S. land for agriculture:
Thanks to a series of political maneuvers over the course of the past half-century, the U.S. has come to control the world’s largest EEZ, with over 2.5 billion acres of ocean—more than twice what we have for growing landfood. And yet, this vast expanse produces relatively little food for us, either from the farm or from the wild. At present, 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad. Most galling to people like Sims, the majority of that foreign seafood is aquacultured. We Americans love farmed fish, it seems, but we just don’t seem to want them produced in our home oceans. [Source.]
The transition from gathering to ranching to farming required a series of transitions in property institutions. Most of the overfishing that wiped out ocean fisheries is recent, in the last fifty to sixty years. Europe’s wild salmon fisheries were wiped out just in the 1960s when the annual Atlantic salmon converge area was discovered off the coast of Greenland. Without institutional rules to limits catches, new larger fishing boats harvested unsustainably. Greenberg explains:
On a series of exploratory fishing trips in 1951, Jørgen Nielsen, chief of Greenland Fisheries Research for the Danish government, deduced that a large percentage of Europe’s and North America’s wild Atlantic salmon converged annually in a relatively small portion of Greenland’s waters. Nielsen, as was his duty, placed this information into the hands of the Danish fishing fleet. What followed was an unregulated, species-decimating blitzkrieg in which Scandinavian fleets effectively stole salmon from the nations of the world. Their catches rose from 60 to more than 2600 metric tons within a decade. Catches were so phenomenal and seemingly limitless that a Danish captain named Ole Martensen bragged to a Copenhagen newspaper that he planned to go to Japan to learn the techniques of fishing on the publicly owned high seas. [Source.]
Greenberg’s short article doesn’t discuss the similar fate of the Atlantic Cod fishery of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Cod, the Fish That Changed the World, was wiped out by these new fishing fleets (build with Canadian government subsidies) just a decade later. Government fisheries scientists contributed to overfishing by being way too optimistic in setting catch limits.
The disaster of the Grand Banks is a compendium of the mistake being made in fisheries all over the world. When scientists began to manage the Banks in the 1950s the promised to assign “safe” quotas to Canadian and foreign fleet They failed. The cod catch fell from 810,000 tonnes in 1968 to 150000 tonnes by 1977. Canada blamed foreign disregard for quota extended its jurisdiction 200 nautical miles offshore, and evicted the foreigners. Scientists set catch limits calculated to allow stocks to recover, predicting catches of 400,000 tonnes by 1990. In anticipation the government helped people in Canada’s Atlantic provinces to buy new boats and fish plants. The bonanza never happened. Every year scientists of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) estimated the size of the fish stocks, and set the “total allowable catch”, or TAC, at 16 per cent of the fish, which theory said should allow stocks to increase. But stocks never rose enough to allow TACs greater than 260 000 tonnes, falling well short of predictions. [Source.]
This New Scientist article outlines the cod fishery disaster and how the political pressure to “create jobs” overwhelmed the doubts of the fisheries scientists:
“Politicians used the uncertainty to set catches as high as possible.” This meant 235 000 tonnes. In January 1992, the DFO recommended a TAC of 185 000 tonnes. Then it did another research cruise-and cut that to 120 000. Then in June, it recommended banning fishing altogether. Suddenly, the scientists realised there were no cod old enough to spawn left. [Source.]
Fertilizing the Oceans
Turning from from yesterday’s failures to tomorrow’s likely successes, we have the 2012 entrepreneurial adventure funded by the Haida tribe in British Columbia. Robert Zubrin writes in NRO (April 22, 2014):
[The] Haida voted to form the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, financed it with $2.5 million of their own savings, and used it to support the efforts of American scientist-entrepreneur Russ George to demonstrate the feasibility of open-sea mariculture — in this case, the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.
Now it is being reported that everywhere from Alaska to the lower 48, baby salmon that swam out to sea, instead of mostly starving were treated to a feast on newly vibrant ocean pastures where once they could neither thrive nor survive. They grew and grew and before too long they swam back to our rivers a hundred million strong.The SE Alaska Pink catch in the fall of 2013 was a stunning 226.3 million fish. This when a high number of 50 million fish were expected. Those extra ocean pasture fed fish came back because their pasture was enjoying the richest plankton blooms ever, thanks to me a 11 shipmates and our work in the summer of 2012. IT JUST WORKS.
Environmentalists and U.S. federal government agencies were thrilled when they learned that ocean fertilization could both sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide and spur plankton blooms that could feed millions of salmon. (Ha, ha, just kidding.)
Here’s a page with links to dozens of 2012 articles critical of this ocean fertilization project. Turns out everyone involved forgot to secure a proper permit from governments at various levels, from British Columbia, Canada, and the U.N. (and whomever else would have had a chance to say no).