Overfishing of oceans should be addressed with sensible protection

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2003

One area where the environment truly needs assistance is in the overfishing of the oceans.

This is a classic "tragedy of the commons," wherein common ownership of property (excluding territorial-limit claims), has resulted in common misery looming on the horizon.

The seas feed many and are being called upon to do even more. Yet, they are not inexhaustible. Certain fish population levels have declined 90 percent, by some estimates. Naturally, prices are rising.

For some, this is a signal that government must leap into action, creating no-fishing areas, passing laws and issuing regulations.

Florida already leads the nation in the number of marine protection areas that are off limits to fishermen, and more are being contemplated. Recreational fishermen in Florida, who don't believe they are a large part of the problem, particularly resent this approach, but with Florida heavily dependent on tourism, business interests are no less attentive.

In any case, even drastic fishing bans don't seem to be resolving the problem.

Also, whether no one is allowed to catch fish or there are no fish to catch, the bottom line is the same: no fish to eat.

More rational policy would explore other options.

One approach is known as individual transferable quotas. Such programs have enjoyed success in several countries, according to Jonathan Adler of National Review.

Meanwhile, the private sector already is making a large dent in the problem through aquaculture, or fish farms.

It seems unlikely that fish grown in landlocked waters ever would replace the bounty of the oceans, but the Economist says that already half the seafood eaten by Americans is farmed.

Because raising certain types of fish requires feeding them a lot of fish, pessimists believe aquaculture is a net loss. But fish is being used less as feed for other animals and also the use of fish as fish food has been lowered substantially by better techniques.

Sensible protection of the seas including Florida's priceless coral reefs and better farming methods could stave off the calamity that a total loss of this valuable food source would entail.

Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Aug. 17

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