Editors' Blog

Green Living editors dish on the latest trends and happenings in sustainability.

We might be reaching the end of fishing sooner than we think.

Last week’s Hot Docs Film Festival showcased a number of notable environmental films. I was lucky enough to see “End of the Line,” a documentary exploring just how severe overfishing has really become and the interwoven politics guarding an imminent ocean disaster. The film was based on investigations carried out by London’s Daily Telegraph environment editor Charles Clover whose book entitled End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat sought out the truth about the way fishing is currently carried out. The story is compelling and hugely timely, but as one might expect, offered a rather somber verdict. Scientists interviewed in the film present evidence that the rate of overfishing is depleting fish stock (in particular the blue fin tuna) far faster than the species can adequately restore itself. The research predicted that the species currently hunted will likely become unavailable by the year 2048 if the rate of fishing is permitted to sustain its current pace. In recent weeks, the World Wildlife Fund has even come out with a statement that tuna (bluefin, yellowfin and bigeye) may disappear from oceans entirely as soon as 2012 if the apparent demand for it continues to rise.

For me, I felt most saddened by how governments seem so unable to penetrate the complex fish market system with effective enough controls that would actually limit how much fish is caught. This is in addition to seeing increasing strain placed on coastal peoples to cope with a traditional food or commodity supply steadily decreasing from foreign boats trawling for every last fish. Will it take an empty ocean to get governments to implement regulation that would set appropriate boundaries? 

Yet even heavy regulatory enforcement isn’t enough if the cod crisis is any indication. According to Greenpeace Canada “Despite strict management in the U.S. and Canada, cod populations remain overfished. Canadian populations are so low that some are listed as endangered or threatened. By the early 1990s, the numbers of Newfoundland’s northern cod stock had declined by 99.9 per cent relative to their abundance in the early 1960s.” Looking closely at Greenpeace Canada’s Seafood Redlist of 18 species to avoid, I would think it would come as a shock to most Canadians that Atlantic haddock, Farmed Atlantic salmon and Atlantic Sea Scallops are to be explicitly avoided when they are so readily (often abundantly) available in even small grocery stores.

Greenpeace has identified that 63% of seafood is sold in the retail market. This can be seen as a hopeful indication that the consumer could be the critical leverage point in ensuring that supermarkets implement a policy to offer only sustainable seafood options, i.e. ones which are being monitored to prevent overfishing, are legally caught and ones which are not harvested using methods deemed destructive to habitats or humans. Be on the lookout for industry's media relations response, which has already been hinted at.

The film offers avenues for taking action with its campaign, and so does Greenpeace. But it seems the first step to change would begin with a personal pledge to always knowing exactly where your food comes from and how it reached your plate.

- Amanda Rappak

image credit: Flickr.com/carbonNYC