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The war on fish

Denise RussellDenise Russell

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Matt Smith:

Ahoy there, and welcome to the La Trobe University Podcast. I would be your host, Matt Smith, and with me today is Dr. Denise Russell. Ahoy there, Denise. Welcome aboard.

Denise Russell:

Thank you.

Matt Smith:

Dr. Russell is from the Philosophy Program at the University of Wollongong, and she’s here to do some deep thinking with me. So Denise as you can see from my boat, I fancy myself quite a nautical gentleman. Podcasts aren’t making as much money as they used to, so I decided to take to the ocean and become a fisherman as I’ve swashed a few buckles in my time. So I guess the first thing I should be asking is how much control does a country have over its waters?

Denise Russell:

Well, there’s political control and practical control. In terms of what’s laid down in the law of sea, every country can make a claim out to 12 nautical miles around the coast, and a nautical mile is almost two kilometres. And that’s the same sort of ownership as the country has on land.

And in for 200 nautical miles out from the coast, there’s a thing called the exclusive economic zone where countries can lay claim to that for economic exploitation, so in particular fishing. But I mean you can lay claim to it but not be able to do anything about protecting it from other people coming in. The practical reality is that many countries lay claim to 200 nautical miles around their coast, but can’t effectively stop illegal fishing because they haven’t got the boats or they haven’t got the political will to do so.

Matt Smith:

So it’s a bit of gentleman’s agreement thing.

Denise Russell:

Well, it’s legally binding agreement. But in practice, it doesn’t have all that much force in many countries.

Matt Smith:

Well, I’ve notice that there’s quite nice fishing to head off the coast of Taiwan, and I can’t see anybody’s name on those fish. Can I go over there and help myself?

Denise Russell:

Well, you’re not supposed to within 200 nautical miles of Taiwan. Unless there is a provision if there are surplus stocks, then the coastal state is supposed to allow other fishing vessels to go in. But the coastal state determines whether there is surplus stock or not, and really no coastal state is going to say that these days because fishing is so depleted.

They’re going to say well there aren’t really any surplus stocks for other people to come and fish. If anybody is going to fishing here, it’s going to be us. No, you can’t go in.

Matt Smith:

I can’t go in.

Denise Russell:

No.

Matt Smith:

Is there a problem with people going into other territory waters in and fishing?

Denise Russell:

Huge problem, a huge problem.

Matt Smith:

Tell me a bit about that.

Denise Russell:

Well, you started off as a pirate, and you’ve got that example in Somalia with a lot of foreign fishers especially from Europe coming into Somalian boarders from about a decade ago, and taking fish in those waters. And then the Somalian people thinking, well, we’ve lost our livelihood. What are we going to do? And so that was one of the main moves into piracy, which is now a huge issue in that area. But nearly every country that is not in the developed world, you’ve got a problem with foreign boats going in. Around Africa, there are huge problems apart from Somalia; Western Africa, Senegal, places that there are foreign fishers there.

Sometimes the government will get money, will be paid off a bit. But then that’s often syphoned off other things in the local fisherman and just left with no job and no possibility of getting the fish themselves because they can’t compete with these huge fisheries.

Matt Smith:

Tell me a bit about the different aspects of ethics when applied to the ocean. It seems to be the main problem is that while there is territorial control, nobody exactly respects those or it is not terribly well enforced.

Denise Russell:

Most countries around the world, they simply can’t enforce control at 200 nautical miles out from their coast. They just haven’t got the surveillance or the boats to do that. But there’s also beyond 200 nautical miles, is the high seas. And that supposed to be an area where anybody can fish.

But what’s happening there now is that all the fish the high seas are just being fished to extinction with nobody taking responsibility for the overfishing like the bluefin tuna, which crossed huge waves of ocean. They are just being fished so hard that they’re probably won’t exist in about years.

Matt Smith:

Well, fish are clearly an important resource to the world’s food supply. But how important are they and how are they being treated in all of this?

Denise Russell:

Well, about 1.4 million people have fish as part of their diet. And in Southeast Asia, that is the usually the main part of their diet. So if fish stocks were to decline so that they aren’t available for food, it would have a tremendous impact on a huge amount of the human population.

It’s been clear for at least a couple of decades and probably longer that fish can definitely suffer, and the fishing practices usually lead to great suffering of the fish. And then of course there’s the water pollution in the oceans, which leads to degraded environments and the fish is getting diseases and that leads to suffering as well. So no, they’re certainly not treated with respect.

There’s a recent film that I saw a couple of days ago called “End of the Line’ which had this horrific portrayal of the killing of tuna in the Mediterranean where they herded into shallow water and men jump into the sea and just hack at them. And these are fish that are about to meet along. They’re just struggling to get out off the way, blood all over the water. It’s just a scene of absolute cruelty.

Matt Smith:

I read as well that some people use dynamite in fishing. Is that a problem?

Denise Russell:

In Southeast Asia, dynamite has been used, and of course that is terrible for the fish and terrible for the coral reefs. But since 9/11, it’s been hard to get dynamite. So what’s been used instead is cyanide and other poisons and it’s so short term. Because once you dynamite and area or poison an area, it’s very, very difficult for that habitat to recover. So you might though these means get fish to come to the surface and then be able to collect them easily but how many years have you got for fishing in that way, not many.

Matt Smith:

Are fish farms a good thing? Are they may be part of the solution?

Denise Russell:

Well, it might seem like they have. But fish farms depend on the wild populations. You’ve got to either bring the juveniles of the fish into the farms in order to grow them. Or the other thing that might happen with some species or with most fish species, is that you’ve got to use wild fish in order to feed the fish in the fish farms. So for instance with salmon, you need about four kilos of anchovies to create a kilo of salmon. So you might be able to have a fish farm of salmon, but then you’re depleting the fish stocks of anchovies in the wild. And all of the fish stocks are under threat. So if you develop aquaculture, then in the end you’re not going to have the food that you’ll need in order to keep it going.

Matt Smith:

You’ve written a book that’s published this year by publisher called Pluto, and it’s called ‘Who Rules the Waves? Piracy, Overfishing and Mining the Oceans’. Can you tell us a bit about that book?

Denise Russell:

Well, that book came together because I investigated a lot of the problems in the oceans like the ones you mentioned but also indigenous sea rights and whaling. And I thought maybe it would be possible to think about a common solution for those problems. And basically the book was an attempt to explore that. So not to just to think about fishing in isolation from whaling in isolation from piracy and so on, but to think of these as all things that are happening in the oceans that maybe could be in some sense be addressed in similar way.

And by that I mean changing the idea of who owns the oceans, you know this idea about having 200 nautical miles supposedly in control of the coastal state and the rest open slather, sort of changing that management regime. And regarding most of the ocean as collectively owned by all humanity, and then managed and so that it benefits all humanity and not just the most powerful.

Matt Smith:

The problem with that would be who’s going to be responsible for the managing of the ocean.

Denise Russell:

Yes, yes. Well, what I try to do in the book is set up a system or suggest a system of management from the totally global level right down to the regional level where you could bring policies into place that would be working for the general benefit rather than just the interest of the fishing lobby or the interest of a whaling fleet.

There are some precedents but they wouldn’t be well known. There’s a body that looks into undersea mining and it’s an independent international body and it is responsible for giving licenses anywhere in the world for undersea mining beyond the limits of the coastal state. And a part of the profits of that mining are shared between poorer nations.

So it might be the US doing the mining but as part of the license agreement, they require to share the profits with poorer nations. So that organization could be a model and could be expanded on to give a management structure for a lot of different things that are going on in the ocean.

Matt Smith:

Denise, true or false – fish are friends not food?

Denise Russell:

Well, it’s very hard to say that fish shouldn’t be food when millions and millions of people depending on fish for their diet. But I would like to think them as friends.

Matt Smith:

Well, Dr. Denise Russell thank for your time today. You are now cleared to disembark.

Denise Russell:

Thank you very much, Matt.

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