[People] The fishing wars by Fr. Shay Cullen

The fishing wars

by Fr. Shay Cullen

325-Fr. Shay Cullen

Last week, a Taiwanese fisherman died when a Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat open-fired after one of the four Taiwanese fishing vessels reportedly tried to ram the coast guard vessel. The incident occurred 43 nautical miles east of Balintang Island, in the West Philippine Sea well inside the 200 mile limit.

Recently, the Chinese government sent a fleet of 30 fish boats to the hotly disputed area around the Spratlys Islands in the West Philippine Sea which it claims as its territory. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines reject these claims. The area is rich in marine life and possibly, oil and natural gas. The Philippines has made a formal complaint under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a UN tribunal will examine and rule on the complaint. China is very annoyed about that.

The Fishing Wars are beginning to heat up. It is not only oil and gas that is in contest but fish are needed to feed the growing world population, now at 7 billion and there will be another 9 Billion humans by 2050. How to feed them all is the big question. The imbalance of resource allocation leaves one billion people, mostly children, hungry every day and several more billions struggling to survive on two dollars a day, some on every less. It’s not a fair just world.

The planet’s resource of fish is among the most prized, many think it is free and there for the catching, but how wrong they are. The fish stocks are being decimated by destructive wasteful over-fishing and ocean pollution and will not be there much longer.

As I write this, I am looking online at a digital population clock that is running like a slot machine spinning its numbers non-stop (http://countrymeters.info/en/World). As I watch, the numbers of new births is rapidly increasing dozens by the seconds. The death rate is not keeping pace. Modern medicine keeps the old alive longer. The biggest population growth is in Asia and the Southern hemisphere, China is the most populous (1.3 Billion) and is aggressively expanding its power and sending fishing fleets into the seas and disputed waters to supply fish to feed all these people.

China and Peru are the biggest fishing nations followed by the US and Japan. China eats most of what their ships catch. Peru is the next biggest fisher nation but eats hardly any and exports most to Japan. Russia sends factory ships to the Pacific to harvest millions of tons of fish. The Philippines is number ten on the list of fishing nations and eats most of its catch. In Europe, Scotland and Spain have perhaps the biggest fleets of the North Atlantic where fish stocks are collapsing. But bans on catching certain fish species are helping the fish to recover.

The planet as it is now is being misused, exploited, and over-heated and may not be able to sustain such a huge population. This week, the planet has reached the highest level of Co2 gas in the atmosphere for more than 3 million years and the planet was hot. A report published last week says huge declines in the plants and animals will be devastating as world temperatures continue to rise. The poorer developing countries will be the hardest hit, as of now, world food supplies are at their lowest level in 40 years. Several nations are leasing land in developing countries by millions of hectares to grow food, not for the hungry local population but to feed their own populations.

Some scientists and biologists predict that the oceans could be without fish in 25 years. The over-fishing is killing the oceans as a source of healthy protein. The United Nations report (SOFIA) on the state of the world’s fisheries and aqua-culture has established that as much as 80% of the oceans’ fishing grounds are fully or over-exploited and on the edge of being depleted, that means they are in a state of collapse and will reach a tipping point when there are not enough fish left to breed and replenish themselves. Some species are already extinct or nearly so. North Atlantic herring is on the edge of extinction from non-stop fishing. Cod is endangered because cod feeds on herring and it too is over-fished. A Fishing War erupted and almost turned violent when Iceland banned cod fishing in 100 kilometers radius of its coast. The cod are slowly recovering. Strict enforced controls on the amount that can be landed must be enforced. We humans have to act now to save the oceans and their fish before full collapse of most species occur. Soon it will be all over and unhealthy chemical based fish farming is all that will be left. shaycullen@preda.org

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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