Fish is whatever is left  

rm_fusian25 37M
3 posts
10/20/2005 6:38 pm

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Fish is whatever is left

As of 1995, some 37,000 industrial-sized fishing ships, plus about a million smaller boats, were between them taking twice as many fish from the sea as they had just twenty-five years ealier. Trawlers are sometimes now as big as cruise ships and haul behind them nets big enough to hold a dozen jumbo jets. Some even use spotter planes to locate shoals of fish from the air.

It is estimated that about a quarter of every fishing net hauled up contains "by-catch" - fish that can't be landed because they are too small or of the wrong type or caught in the wrong season. As one observer told the Economist: "We're still in the Dark Ages. We just drop a net down and see what comes up." Perhaps as much as twenty-two million metric tons of such unwanted fish are dumped back in the sea each year, mostly in the form of corpses. For every pound of shrimp harvested, about four pounds of fish and other marine creatures are destroyed.

Nothing compares with the fate of cod. In the late fifteenth century, the explorer John Cabot found cod in incredible numbers on the eastern banks of North America - shallow areas of water popular with bottom-feeding fish like cod. Some of these banks were vast. Georges Banks off Massachusetts is bigger than the state it abuts. The Grand Banks off Newfoundland is bigger still and for centuries was always dense with cod. They were thought to be inexhaustible. Of course they were anything but.

By 1960, the number of spawning cod in the north Atlantic had falled to an estimated 1.6 million metric tons. By 1990 this had sunk to 22,000 metric tons. In commercial terms, the cod were extinct. "Fishermen," wrote Mark Kurlansky in his fascinating history, Cod, "had caught them all." The cod may have lost the western Atlantic forever. In 1992, cod fishing was stopped altogether on the Grand Banks, but as of last autumn, according to a report in Nature, stocks had not staged a comeback. Kurlansky notes that the fish of fish fillets and fish sticks was originally cod, but then was replaced by haddock, then by redfish, and lately by Pacific pollock. These days, he notes drily, "fish" is "whatever is left."

--Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

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