End of the Line 10/28/10

A new documentary predicts a bleak future for the world's fish supply

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A new documentary on circuit in South Africa, The End of the Line, predicts that by 2048 there will be no more seafood available for consumption, as the world’s fish supply has dropped by 90%, unless we do something now.

Currently, the fish on your plate got there by one of these fishing methods:

1. TRAWLING (BAD): Huge nets are dragged across the ocean floor destroying eco-systems to catch as much fish as possible.  Tons of by-catch are caught including dolphins, sharks and turtles, which are often killed and thrown overboard.  The docci claims that the nets are so huge, they can encapsulate more than 13 747 Boeing planes!

2. LONGLINING (BAD). Lines are dragged behind boats with hooks attached to them, in the hope of catching certain fish – up to 1.4 billion hooks in the ocean every year. The gut is enough to encircle the globe more than 500 times! Often the gut is discarded in the ocean, killing animals like sea lions, turtles and birds by choking and ingestion.

3. POLE & LINE (BEST). A hook-and-line method that tows fishing lines behind or alongside a boat with specific lures for fish.   This is a much more accepted, environmentally-conscious method, and it targets specific species of fish rather than destroying habitat or causing by-catch.

4. PURSE SEINING (BAD) A huge net is thrown and fishermen pull the bottom of the netting closed—like a drawstring purse—to gather fish into the center.  So much by-catch, and it is not a targeted method at all, catching anything and everything, even though only a certain type of fish is targeted by the fishermen.  In the case of blue fin tuna, the fish are hacked and pulled onto the boat, leaving streams of blood behind.

Is fish farming an alternative?  Would you say that anything reared in an unnatural environment, cramped conditions, over-feeding and often disease-ridden fish with little access to sunlight is better than the real thing? I would argue no, and the documentary suggests marine reserves as a viable option.  This will create interlinking areas of ocean where fishing will be banned and scientists will monitor the well being of the fish stocks and the marine ecosystem.  There are challenges to this solution, such as protecting migratory fish and also enforcing the no-fishing policy.

In South Africa, we’re lucky to have the option to do something if we eat fish.  I’ve been using the very sassy SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Service) service since its inception by WWF (World Wildlife Fund).  When faced with my choice of fish, I text the name to 079 499 8795 and I get an instant reply telling me if the fish is in the “green”, “orange” or “red” zone.   I also keep a small SASSI guide in my wallet to help me make the right choices at fish shops and markets.  It’s a fantastic initiative, and I am really glad it’s finally taking off as the power and responsibility for sustainable fishing and seafood is given to you, the consumer.

The movie really is a goodie and I would go so far as to suggest showing it as educational material in schools.  It focuses on an argument for sustainability for socio-economic reasons, rather than concentrating on an emotional argument.  I think, if change is to happen, this will be the best way to sway consumer and politicians alike… Although, we will have to see.

End of the Line is running nationwide at Nu Metro and Ster Kinekor cinemas this month.

By Roline Bosch

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5 Responses to this article

editor October 28, 2010 Reply

There was a segment on Carte Blanche recently where they talked about the film. (You can read the transcript on their site http://beta.mnet.co.za/carteblanche/Article.aspx?Id=4154&ShowId=1).

They say, “The End of the Line makes the point that the oceans belong to all of us, and so we can’t just blame government and fishermen: as consumers we drive those trends.”

Part of the interview involved talking to Dr Samantha Peterson, from SASSI who commented on the watchlist initiative:

‘Five years ago when we released the list Kingklip was on our Orange list and that was because the species was on the brink of collapse. As a result of consumer pressure and consumer awareness there has been some fantastic changes that have happened in that fishery. A closed area has been brought in around the spawning grounds of Kingklip and we are starting to see the first signs of recovery in the Kingklip population.’

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Roline.Bosch October 28, 2010 Reply

That seems like very good news. I would be very interested to know what the conservation numbers are like for South African waters and how they compare to international standards. I’ve heard that the picture officials paint of the numbers differs greatly to that of the reality in this country. I’d very much like to see a follow up story on what the situation really is like here.

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KaB October 28, 2010 Reply

@ Roline…I think SA are pretty good actually, esp in comparison to other countries. Our fishing operations, whether linked to government, local agencies etc working within the industry, are quite good re: standards and quotas etc. Of course there are the issues, which comes hand in hand, but we’re not as ill-equipped on this issue as some may believe.

Going to be doing quite a lot of research on this and will speak with some friends of the family who are actually involved in it…will report back as soon as I have some inside scoop!

Locally, as in the Cape, Geelbek are quite low in numbers and are on the ‘orange’ list, as well as the Hottentot. You can generally get these in many places, which is sad.

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Roline.Bosch October 28, 2010 Reply

I look forward to hear what independent professionals have to say.

I’m glad that certain franchises, such as Ocean Basket, comply with SASSI standards. Apparently, when asked why they decided to form a partnership with the fishing-watchdog, they said, “Because our customers want it” – a wonderful thing to hear that South Africans are being responsible.

I’d like to see more individuals asking restaurants if the fish they serve come from sustainable resources, as Charles Clover does in the documentary, and asking if they comply with SASSI standards.

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Editor November 2, 2010 Reply

Not sure if you know about this?

There is a discussion at UCT this evening about the film.

The discussion entitled: “The End of the Line” – How Sound is the Science Advanced? will be chaired by Dr Kim Prochazka (Acting Chief Director Research, Branch Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries).

Professor Doug Butterworth – Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town

Associate Professor Colin Attwood – Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town

Dr Samantha Petersen -Sustainable Fisheries, WWF South Africa

Date: Tuesday, 2nd November
Time: 17h00-18h30
Venue: Room M304, Mathematics Building, University of Cape Town

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