Over-fishing is painfully evident – action, no more studies

“Today, fishery managers are continuing to ignore the law and allow unsustainable fishing for too many of our economically and ecologically important fish. It’s time to listen to the science and put long-term sustainability ahead of short-term profits.”  ~Mark Powell

I recently wrote a blog about how McKinsey&Co, the super-high-priced management consulting firm, have done a “study” in conjunction with the University of California to develop computer models for sustainability of commercial fishing. Great, more studies and computer models.  It’s too late for more studies and computer models, we need drastic action now.

I am reprinting an article here from the June 2011 edition of The Guardian newspaper that dramatically shows the extent of overfishing. The visual graphics are disturbing.  I hope it spurs more people into action to save our ocean life.

It’s hard to imagine the damage over-fishing is wrecking on the oceans. The effects are literally invisible, hidden deep in the ocean. But there is data out there. And when you visualise it, the results are shocking.

Information is Beautiful on vanishing fish stocks

This image shows the biomass of popularly-eaten fish in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1900 and in 2000. Popularly eaten fish include: bluefin tuna, cod, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, mackerel, pollock, salmon, sea-trout, striped bass, sturgeon, turbot. Many of which are now vulnerable or endangered.

Dr Villy Christensen and his colleagues at the University Of British Columbia used ecosystem models, underwater terrain maps, fish catch records and statistical analysis to render the biomass of Atlantic fish at various points this century (see the study)

Researching this image, I read Professor Callum Roberts’ harrowing book, The Unnatural History Of The Sea (Amazon US | UK). He uses historical accounts of the ocean to depict the sheer fecundity of the sea in the times before industrialised fishing.

These early accounts and data on the past abundance of fish help reveal the magnitude of today’s fish stock declines which are otherwise abstract or invisible.

They also help counter the phenomenon of “shifting environment baselines”. This is when each generation views the environment they remember from their youth as “natural” and normal. Today that means our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That’s considered the environmental baseline.

The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.

So this is a kind of collective social amnesia that allows over-exploitation to creep up and increase decade-by-decade without anyone truly questioning it. Today’s fishing quotas and policies for example are attempting to reset fish stocks to the levels of ten or twenty years ago. But as you can see from the visualization, we were already plenty screwed back then.

As Prof Roberts writes: “The greater part of the decline of many exploited populations happened before the birth of anyone living today.”

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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