Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 4 October 1998

Where Is All The Marine Life?

by William Rossiter, CSI President

In August the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reported that worldwide fisheries were severely depleted from catches 155% above sustainable levels, and that without a cut of two thirds of the total fishing fleet the overall industry would be devastated. The report was prepared for a UN fishing nations meeting in Rome this October. One solution reportedly successful in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand is to issue tradable fishing rights for a percentage of a catch. Another, practiced in the United States, is for governments to purchase boats, gear or permits, reselling the boats to different markets, and train workers in new careers.

Japan's official position seems to be that whales are to blame for over fishing. The 29th South Pacific Forum in the Federated States of Micronesia reiterated on August 26th its support for the moratorium on commercial whaling and endorsed plans to establish a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary for great whales to complement the existing Indian and Southern Ocean sanctuaries, but only after rejecting Palau's move to give the right to veto the sanctuary to Japan, the biggest aid donor to island nations. Japan's confidential cable to the South Pacific Forum Secretariat argued that "such new sanctuary, as well as the existing whale sanctuaries, also causes excessive and unnecessary protection of cetaceans, which would heavily damage appropriate balance of marine ecosystem and could be destructive for fisheries activities..." and "Whales, including blue whales, fin whales and bryde's whales consume larger amounts of marine living resources than fisheries production." Along with many other offended delegates, Australian officials were scathing about Japan's claim, saying whales largely ate krill and not the tuna and other major fish resources harvested commercially in the South Pacific.

Japan imports 30% of the global commercial fisheries production, largely caught with massive Japanese fishing fleets scouring the world's oceans. "Japan's Strategy to Control the World's Living Marine Resources" is a startling resource from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness. Japan has invested millions of dollars in economically weak, developing nations in a "vote consolidation operation", funding International Whaling Commission memberships, fish processing plants, and marine related development. The results include blatant block voting on Japan's behalf at the recent IWC meetings, massive over fishing within economic zones and the open ocean by Japanese fleets, and a surge of exploitive pressures at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biodiversity. For more information please contact Lesley Sutty, ECCEA: LSUTTY/0002225812@mcimail.com

Of course it's not all Japan. To illustrate the destruction of local fisheries by international fleets consider the unusual alliance of the Cilician Basin Mediterranean Monk Seal Project and a group of artisanal fishermen from Bozyazi, on the Turkish coast. They are concerned with the imminent extinction of the Monk Seal, the most endangered mammal in Europe. Monk Seals are increasingly being killed as they compete with large international fishing trawlers catching dwindling fish stocks. Fishing gear is damaged when hungry seals attempt to steal fish trapped in gill nets or on long lines. Smaller catches and falling profits have made it difficult for locals to repair damaged gear. Large trawlers fishing illegally close to land remove large amounts of fish and the profits to far off cities and destroy juvenile fish nurseries, the key to restocking the fish populations. The coast guard consists of one boat for 150 miles of coast. Local fishermen want to acquire a powerful control boat to be manned by local authorities to patrol the region, and a radio station so this boat can be in contact with all local fishing boats in the region, allowing some control of the illegal fishing. Of course they need money to do this.

In addition, a recent report in Science documented that sea surface average temperatures measured since 1916 rose suddenly within ten months of 1977 by almost two degrees off California, affecting the whole eastern half of the northern Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska. The warmer waters since 1977 are linked to declines in some temperate species and the wholesale migration into northern waters of fish and animals that normally live in the tropics, including a 5% per year decline in fish populations since 1986, a 70% decline in zooplankton, a 90% decline in sooty shearwaters, and significant northward migrations of warm water organisms including a short-beaked dolphin Californian population that went from about 15,000 in 1970 to a 1991 estimate of 226,000 and could be as high as 400,000 now. Near shore species like abalone, sea urchins and kelp plants have been devastated, and related warm weather in the 1980's was linked to the wholesale death of young fur seals, sea lions and related animals in Alaska.

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