mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Smart Environmentalists Pick Fights They Can Win

While the climate change movement has been chasing down one blind alley after another for the last twenty years, other environmental issues have gotten short shrift.

The most urgent problem is the unsustainable assault on the world’s fragile fish stocks. As a paper in Marine Policy and a subsequent report in the Washington Post tell us, deep sea species of fish like orange roughy and Chilean seabass (not to mention deep sea coral, which is destroyed by fleets looking for fish on the ocean floor) are in serious danger from overfishing.

As vessels use Global Positioning System devices and trawlers, which scrape massive metal plates across the sea bottom, the catch of deep-water species has increased sevenfold between 1960 and 2004, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

“What they’re doing out there is more like mining than fishing,” said Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute…

Bottom-trawling can crush deep-sea corals, which can live for as long as 4,000 years, the scientists noted. Some fish species of the deep live for more than a century, and while they can spawn many eggs, there can be several years in which juveniles fail to make it into adulthood.

Orange roughy, which Australia declared a threatened species in 2006, take 30 years to reach sexual maturity and live up to 149 years. The leafscale gulper shark, one of several deep-water sharks targeted for its liver oil, “matures late, has only 5-8 pups per year and lives to be 70 years old,” the authors write.

Here we have an environmental situation where the science is clear (fish are disappearing), the solutions are tested and workable (slow down overfishing; create sustainable fisheries), the benefits are tangible (more fish for everyone; less destruction of unique deep sea ecosystem), but the advocacy falls short.

Greens: focus on the fish.  Protecting species from being hunted to extinction has been a hallmark of smart environmental activism since 19th century environmentalists worked on saving marine mammals through public education and international agreements.  This is a fight you can win — and it is something that urgently needs to be done.

Climate change has a way of sucking all the oxygen out of the room; the fight to save the world’s fisheries has been substantially weakened by all the money and energy that greens have poured into the stalemated fight against climate change.  If environmentalists had spent the last twenty years dealing with issues like overfishing instead of wasting their time on the Kyoto Protocol and the chimerical global carbon treaty, the earth would be in better shape than it is, public confidence in environmentalists would be greater than it is, and I suspect that greens would be more skilled at developing and implementing workable policy solutions than they are now.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Mrs. Davis

    Over fishing is a tragedy of the commons problem; economic, not environmental. The Cyans cannot admit the solution of private control, whether by lease or ownership, as it offends both their green and blue sensibilities.

  • Lexington Green

    Understanding the environmentalist movement as a cult, and an anti-human utopian cult at that, is the key to understanding what seem to be the repeated and obvious missteps from a political perspective. The goals of the movement do not originate or end in any kind of coherent or achievable political resolution. People who actually care about the environment have to jettison the entire existing activist apparatus. I have long thought that a sane, centrist movement could make great progress. There is even a good term for it: Conservation. It is a term that is currently lying on the sidewalk waiting for someone to pick it up.

  • Scott

    How I wish self-identified greens would read essays such as this and do something more than just get mad. Your advice is as good as it is probably unwanted by those who need it the most. Thank you for trying.

  • Mark1971

    More fish = more food = more humans = more carbon emissions

  • raf

    It is important for a “movement” organization to NOT have an achievable objective, otherwise they could someday face having no purpose, anymore. If your objective is power and riches, it is necessary to have a never-ending goal that you can use to inspire and control your mass followers.

  • Greg Q

    Sorry, but the previous commenters are right: few if any of the self-identified “greens” actually care about improving the environment. The are either “watermelons” (green on the outside, red on the inside) who value destroying private enterprise far more than they value saving the environment, or religious cultists who worship “nature”, which they’ve defined as “not human”. “Sustained fisheries” would just mean that humans got to continue “raping” Mother Earth for their own economic advantage. Much better to have an environmental catastrophe that makes private enterprise look bad.

    “By their works you shall know them.” Greens don’t focus on “global climate change” because they want to make the world a better place, they focus on it because it lets them feel morally superior without actually having to do anything.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The Enviro-Misanthropes follow the money just like everyone else, which means donations go up when they scream that the sky is falling, and fall when they scream save the orange roughy and chillean seabass. That’s why it’s always something life threatening or cute, it’s the money!

  • Mark1971

    More fish = more food = more humans = more carbon emissions.

  • TwoDogs

    Good point, raf. Look what’s happening to MADD – having gotten everything they wanted, they’ve turned to prohibitionists.

  • Jim.

    Ah, but concentrating on fisheries wouldn’t let them indulge in a hatred of George W Bush, who created massive marine preserves.

  • Toni

    More red than green, I’m ecologically correct only in eschewing ocean seafood. And turning off the faucet while I brush.

    This is a “tragedy of the commons” challenge. Is there any international precedent or template for rescuing food fish species?

    A very relevant and fascinating book is Cod: A History of the Fish That Changed the World.

  • Mark

    The only trick is that few people are immediately impacted by deep-sea fisheries decline, while everyone is impacted by climate change. This means it may well be harder to advocate for proper deep-sea protections, and there is a great need to advocate for sensible climate policy.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service