Dead Zones, Part 4

The discussion of oceanic “dead zones” that we’ve been pursuing over the last few blogs brings up even a bigger issue: the connection between our food choices and the health of all oceans.

When we consider the exploding global demand for meat and its link to environmental damage, we usually think of beef, and with good reason. For instance, raising cattle demands enormous amounts of pastureland. Creating this new pasture is a major reason for global deforestation, much of it in the Amazon basin. But the rising demand for meat is not exclusively centered on beef. It also encompasses fish. Two blogs ago, we revealed some disturbing statistics from a United Nations report in 2010 estimating that 82 percent of all major world fisheries are either fully exploited, over-exploited or in recovery from over-exploitation. This destruction is only being accelerated by the growth of industrial fishing techniques centered on giant factory ships.

The environmental damage caused by industrial fishing is not limited to the overfishing of targeted species such as salmon, cod and shrimp; it extends to the incidental capture of non-target species. In the fishing business, the euphemism for this is “by-catch.” The biggest offender in the creation of by-catch is a method of fishing called bottom trawling. This technique uses a large net, open at the front end but closed at the rear, that’s dragged across a swath of the ocean bottom, catching everything in its path. When the net is hauled in, only the target species are kept—the by-catch is thrown overboard. These animals are dead, of course, as no aquatic species can survive the press of several tons of fish that are smashed into the closed end of a bottom-dragging net.

The damage to our oceanic environment caused by bottom trawling and other industrial methods of fishing has been appalling. And like dominoes falling over, it has caused other problems as well.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.