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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | Raping the ocean is a threat to us all

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A STORY out of the Galapagos has gained international attention.

A fleet of several hundred Chinese fishing vessels is working the sea just outside the boundary of the marine sanctuary, which is in place to protect dozens of endangered species. The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, so all of us have an interest in protecting the life there. For some, though, profits matter more than life.

Fish are completely unaware of international boundaries and treaties, of course. So, hammerhead sharks and Galapagos penguins move freely in and out of the zone, which is exactly what the Chinese are hoping for. The end result is that the marine sanctuary is not working and fishermen are catching what they want. We must do better.

If nations are unwilling to act responsibly without coercion, then the framework for international laws must be revised and strengthened. Nations like China will continue to skirt the rules as long as the profits outweigh the penalties. Of course, China is not the only nation taking advantage of flimsy maritime laws. The nations that consume the most seafood are also the nations doing the most damage to global fish stocks. What can be done?

It is time to rethink maritime laws. Just as the centuries-old concept of territorial waters does not provide a useful framework for modern superpower competition in places like the South China Sea, so the antiquated concept of marine sanctuaries is not a useful framework in the age of longline fishers, purse seiners, and fishing fleets numbering in the hundreds. Here are a few suggestions to modernize maritime laws.

No transponder, no fishing: Most fishing vessels broadcast their position in real time by using a transponder which gives their identity and heading. Many Chinese fishing vessels conveniently turn off their transponders when they approach a marine sanctuary, citing mechanical trouble. Everyone knows they are dipping into forbidden waters but with transponders turned off there is no proof. The simple solution is to require vessels to stop moving if transponders stop working. No signal, no go. That will motivate captains to “repair” their equipment speedily.

Limit the size of fishing fleets: Based on the size of the area under question, determine how many fishing vessels can operate sustainably in the area at one time. This can be done based on the relationship between the size of the fish stocks and the capacity of the vessels. Some of the largest Japanese factory ships can vacuum up a large portion the ocean in one night.

Stop indiscriminate fishing methods such as purse seiners and bottom draggers: Purse seiners launch gigantic nets into the ocean to catch everything. Fishermen take the species they want and throw the rest back dead. Untold numbers of turtles, dolphins, sharks and other useful but endangered species are killed in this way. Bottom draggers weigh their nets down to scrape along the bottom, catching desirable species and wiping out the rest as “by-catch.” Entire ecosystems are ravaged, whole areas are dealt catastrophic blows in one pass. This is sloppy, low-tech, caveman fishing and we can do better.

Strengthen laws against fishing using dynamite, cyanide and other poisons: Again, if we can’t find a better, more sustainable way to catch wanted species than poisoning or blowing up entire areas of the ocean, we have no business in the water. It is better if we stick to farming the land and leaving the abundance of the seas.

We must change the way we protect the oceans from those who would rape it. That we will do nothing until it is too late is looking increasingly likely.

 

 

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

 

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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