CODFISH, SEALS AND FISHERMEN
When I was just a small child in the 1950’s the United States stubbornly clung to having a mere three-mile-limit, and Russian fishermen could come quite close to our shores with boats loaded with spying equipment. They also overfished the Grand Banks and our other offshore waters with deep, bottom-churning dragnets to such a degree the codfish population crashed. Even when the three-mile-limit was pushed far off shore, the codfish never came back.
The fishermen have taken a lot of heat for the failure of the codfish to return, and university biologists have worked hand in hand with paper-shuffling bureaucrats in Washington, far from the briny swells and crying gulls, and these lubbers tell sea-going men, men who know the sea like the back of their hands, what to do about the sea.
The fishermen have no choice but obey the bosses in high places, and their fishing has been cut back more and more. It has not made a lick of difference. In fact, if you wanted to use absurd logic, you could say the situation proves that the less you fish the less fish there are. Either that or you could say that whenever Washington gets involved, things get screwed up.
In actual fact there are three main reasons the codfish population hasn’t come back, despite the fact a single mother codfish lays over a million eggs.
The first reason is that the Atlantic goes through a cycle, roughly sixty years long, called the AMO, (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation,) and in a simplistic way this suggests that the best breeding conditions for a codfish only comes around every sixty years. Right now we are back to the conditions of 1953, the year I was born.
In actual fact the shifting positions of warm water and cold water created by the AMO mean that there are different places in the North Atlantic, which, every year, may be having their peak year for breeding codfish.
You will please notice that fishermen have no control over the AMO.
Even if there was a population explosion of cod, there is another harvester of cod besides fishermen: Seals.
Seals happen to be very cute, and they started being protected when their soulful eyes touched people back in the 1970’s. Recently their population explosion has gotten out of hand. For example, in 1994 on Muskeget Island there were 19 grey seals, and by 2011 it was difficult to count them all; there were between 3500 and 3800. The population of Grey Seals in Massachusetts alone has passed 15,000, and the population of Harbor Seals in New England has passed 100,000. (Read More: http://www.talkingfish.org/newengland-fisheries/booming-new-england-seal-population-creates-a-management-challenge
Even if there were only 100,000 seals in New England, if they each ate five codfish a day, that would a million codfish every two days. That adds up pretty quickly. We are talking a sizable catch of 182.5 million codfish per year.
The seals will not obey the environmentalists who tell the fishermen to fish less, even though they owe their lives to environmentalists, for rather than fish less, the seals fish more and more. What is especially annoying to fishermen, who are not allowed to shoot seals, is that the seals like to follow boats and steal fish right out of the nets.
Is this a return to natural conditions? Not really, because for thousands of years, long before the “white man” came, the natural predator of seals was Native Americans. Native Americans had really neat sea-going canoes; dugouts made of the trunks of huge white pines, and hunted for not only seals, but also whales (though likely the baby whales were preferred.)
Even the most ancient of known mound-building Native American people, the Red Paint People, who lived north of New England, had swordfish bills in their graves, and, because swordfish lack swim-bladders and sink to the bottom rather than floating to the shore, this is taken as indirect evidence that, even as long ago a ten thousand years ago, (before Stonehenge in England,) seagoing humans hunted our shores. In other words, this may be the first time in ten thousand years seals are not hunted.
What other natural predator may have existed, ten thousand years ago, which hunted seals? Evidence is scant, however a subspecies of polar bear may have roamed this far south, as the seas rose after the last ice age, and covered the ancient shorelines.
The only predator we are sure of is the Great White Shark. And now that seal populations are booming, such scary sharks are becoming more common off Cape Cod. For the first time since 1936 a swimmer was attacked, last summer.
That single attack made people think more about culling the population of seals than the suffering of hundreds of fishermen. Likely this occurred because people are greedy, and tourism brings in money, and news of swimmers being eaten by Great White Sharks is bad for business. Unfortunately, besides the tourists brought in by whale watching, there are tourists brought in by seal watching, and, because seals are cute while sharks are downright ugly, some think the Great White Sharks are the ones who ought be culled.
Perhaps we ought bring in a population of polar bears. They are cute, and eat seals, and people feel all warm and cozy when the polar bear population goes up, and, if a few swimming tourists got eaten, well; you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
You’ll notice nobody talks much about 182.5 million codfish getting devoured. Why not? The answer is obvious. Ever look a codfish in the face? They are most definitely not cute. (Nor are most of the fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on codfish.)
I hate to sound cynical, but it seems to me a lot of the university biologists, rather than basing their conclusions on science, are basing conclusions, (which usually conclude fishermen should make less money by fishing less,) on a sort of political correctness founded upon money, votes, and, damn it all, cuteness.
If university biologists were true scientists they would ignore all the nonsense of the non-scientific idiots ruling Washington, and study a third and likely most significant reason for the decline in codfish populations. This involves the fact that, when a mother codfish lays a million eggs, they are very tiny eggs. In fact, for the first few weeks of a codfish’s life, codfish are basically plankton. It is only after three or four weeks that they stop swirling about the surface, and sink to deeper depths and start behaving like a more ordinary minnow.
During the time they are plankton they are constantly growing. Many of the species of plankton about them do not grow. A tiny critter that devours countless codfish may need to turn tail a week later, because the cod it missed might turn around and eat it.
Consider the interesting computer modeling this might involve, for a geek at a university. How often in nature does the predator become the prey? Does a baby deer grow up to eat a mountain lion, or a baby rabbit grow up to eat foxes? However, in the world of codfish, such is the case. What an interesting “K,” (The equilibrium constant,.) to play around with!
It just might be that the reason the Codfish population isn’t recovering is because a certain species of plankton is eating them all. However, if only those million babies could be sheltered for only three weeks, and released, they would devour the very foe that has been depressing the codfish population, whereupon, without that foe devouring the smallest codfish, those smaller ones would also mature and eat the foe, until the foe became few and far between, and codfish populations would explode.
It should be noted that “white men” first came over here from Europe, perhaps as long ago as the 1300’s, for one risky but lucrative reason, and that reason was to fish for codfish. There is much argument about when the fishing first started, but European fishermen certainly were sailing here before there were any “official” colonies. They had no desire to take over or start colonies, and only briefly landed here to build fires and dry their fish, before sailing back east to Europe. Why did they go to all that trouble? Because it was lucrative. Why? Because, according to histories I’ve read, the codfish were so thick on the Grand Banks they didn’t need to use nets. They used over-sized baskets, to dip the fish from the swarming sea.
Considering such a population boom is within the realm of possibility, and considering the good such a vast source of high-protein nourishment would be to a hungry humanity, I can only wonder over the fact not a single university smarty-pants has (as far as I know,) ever proposed a codfish hatchery.
We spend millions on hatcheries for trout and salmon, but not a penny on codfish hatcheries.
We spend billions on stupid wind turbines that are counter-productive, but not a penny on a single boat for the reestablishment codfish populations.
What sort of boat? It would be a boat designed to strip mother codfish of their million-plus eggs, milk father codfish of their sperm, keep the fertilized eggs and hatchling in a safe, predator-free environment until they were two, three or four weeks old, and then release them to the wild. In other words: a hatchery.
I’m sure creating such a tub would involve all sorts of problems. However isn’t that what universities are for? To use our brilliant, young minds to solve problems?
I’m sure it would cost money, however considering the trillions spent on welfare, on unproductive losers, (on thin air,) a “mere” half billion spent building three or four small, sea-going hatcheries, and staffing them, (and many students would actually like wallowing about the Grand Banks and getting sea-sick, and do it for free,) might be an acceptable risk, as an investment. Especially when there is at least a small chance that having actual hatcheries for codfish might restore populations to their former amazing levels.
I know young and naïve students would leap at the chance of supplying the hungry world with a huge stock of codfish, even if the scheme seemed a bit hare-brained to their pragmatic elders.
I also know these same students are sick to death of having to affix “Global Warming” to the final paragraph of each and every report, whether it be about the mating habits of nematodes, or about when dogs howl at the moon, simply to get a parking place at the college cafeteria
Kids are not as stupid as we old geezers sometimes think, you know.
UPDATE (June 12): I am currently researching various efforts to fish-farm cod, however aquaculture seeks to hold the cod to maturity in pens, rather than setting the tiny cod free, in the manner a lake is “stocked” with trout.
However I can already see I have a lot to learn about this subject, and will need future updates.
UPDATE 2 (June 13) This was re-posted as “The AMO, Codfish, Seals and Fishermen” on the WATTS UP WITH THAT website. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/06/12/the-amo-codfish-seals-and-fishermen/ 39 comments by 9:20 AM. Some of the comments are really insightful, including some that probe and keenly criticize some of my assumptions.
What a great site that is.
UPDATE 3 (June 14) By the time I turned in last night there were over 100 comments on the WUWT site, and I was practically purring, because of all the interesting ideas. I learned a lot, but at this point I think the most important point was raised by Willis Eschenbach, and is within these two paragraphs:
“…Trawl nets are giant nets that are dragged by large, powerful boats along the ocean floor. They basically sweep up and kill everything in their path. In addition, as a they are dragged along the bottom they stir up, muddy, damage, and destroy the ocean bottom habitat and its inhabitants. This got even worse with the invention of “rock-hopper” dredges, which don’t hang up on rocks. They allowed the trawls to scrape the bottom in many areas previously unfishable.
It’s hard to express the damage this causes, but an analogy might help. Imagine that you were fishing for deer by dragging a giant net through the forest. Imagine that in addition to deer, the net sweeps up and kills foxes, rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, lizards, and all the other forest animals. In addition, of course, in the process it knocks down and destroys the trees, smashes the bushes, and fills the air with thick, choking dust …”
Considering we have spent 20 years trying all sorts of things to restore codfish populations, and nothing has worked, perhaps it is time to try banning trawl nets. I am aware some big money is involved in big boats with big trawl nets, and big money talks in Washington DC, however if they were the problem, the rebound in the codfish population would increase the catch by a multiple of ten to twenty. Even selfish and greedy people who don’t give a hoot about the environment ought drool a bit over a prospect like that.
UPDATE (JUNE 18) I have learned a lot from the comments at WUWT about this post. As new posts appear at the top of the page, my post gradually is nudged down the page, until it finally vanishes off the bottom of the page, and enters the world of the archives. Usually there are fewer and few comments as the post moves down the page, and the comments cease once you are no longer seen on the front page of WUWT. However in this case, much to my amazement, the comments continued right to the bottom of the page, when they stood at around 165, and then even more to my amazement, continued even after the post “disappeared,” and now stand at 185.
I think a lot was due to having Willis Eschenbach joining the conversation. An interesting sidetrack developed wherein the conversation had little to do with Codfish, and a lot to do with good manners and how to debate on the internet. In fact it was so interesting that I think I will clip parts of the sidetrack and paste them as a separate post.
In the end something wonderful happened, that doesn’t always happen when you get off onto a sidetrack, especially when it involves any sort of quarreling. The wonderful thing was we actually managed to retirn to the subject of Codfish, and get back on track.
I am very grateful to all who joined the conversation over at WUWT, and made it so interesting.