Thursday, October 25, 2007

All the fish

Between high school and college I made a pilgrimage with a friend to Seattle's Fisherman's Terminal. This a port behind locks that is home to salmon boats, trawlers, purse seiners, long liners and the majestic crabbers. The salmon boats, aside from purse seiners, are mostly trollers that go out to sea using lines and hooks or those that stay in Puget Sound laying gill nets. My friend signed aboard a troller while I went out on a longliner fishing for black cod, and then halibut as the season opened. We did catch a couple of large sharks but that is another story. We did not make enough to pay the boat on that trip though so the last on was the first off and I moved to a gillnetter. We fished at night in the San Juan islands, the place I first formed my understanding that island folks are just plain nicer than others. The people of the San Juans resembled the people of Mt. Desert where I had worked before in that they recognize each others existence cheerfully. This understanding is something that has been confirmed over again in Taiwan, Japan, and Hawaii.

I can say of all I met though, there was one whose recognition of my existence has left a very lasting impression. On a moonless night with a quarter mile of net set, my skipper, who was trying to teach me the lights of the islands, knew there was something close to the net. Sensing this kind of thing was beyond me but finally, in the deep dark I did see something at the end of the net, which had a light to mark it. And then it came back. Rising above the surface of the water, three times the length of the boat came a grey whale, one of the oldest mammals on Earth. It tipped an eye up to look at us and then moved on. Now, grey wales eat shellfish, so this one, swimming up the net then back down, was just stopping by to see what was going on and to say hello. Another person making a living from the sea.

The net did not hold especially more fish. It was webbed for Chinook, but I remember there was a big King with its hook tangled. Perhaps a gesture of goodwill from the whale.

Why the fish story? Today, the UN issued its Global Environmental Outlook which said, among other things, that all current fisheries are likely to collapse by 2050. About a third of fisheries have already done so because we are taking two and a half times more fish than the oceans can produce at a steady level. Centuries ago, we thought to get energy by killing whales for the oil that could be rendered from them. The grey whale was hunted to extinction in the Atlantic. The friendly eastern pacific grey that I met might do alright if we don't take all the shellfish too.

Real Energy, the subject of this blog, can be a way to ensure that what we do does not change the habitat of species so fast that they cannot adapt, if we all work together to achieve it. But we need to know how to work together. It seems to me that when a fishery collapses because of over fishing, everyone loses and by working together we can prevent this to the benefit of everyone. If we are clever enough to catch a fish, we ought to be able to figure out how to catch just the right number. Let us make a treaty to limit our fishing to what the ocean can sustain and so gain practice for limiting our greenhouse gas emissions to a level the ecosphere can accept. Yes, we must eat less fish now, but that is better than no fish at all later.


Anonymous said...

To A Fish

James Henry Leigh Hunt

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be—
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unmoving, infamously chaste:

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is’t ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still naught but gapes and bites,
And drinks and stares, diversified with boggles?

Chris Dudley said...

Thanks for the poem. I was not aware of it or the poet.