Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sardines: A Sordid Story

Sardines are delicious and healthy to eat, but much of the consumption of these fish is for feeding to animals, and this is destroying the wildlife of the seas. We are possibly witnessing the fulfilling of the prophetic verse in Revelation 8:9, “one third of the living creatures which were in the sea died” (World English Bible).
Already several fish ecologies, such as the fish by the coast of Namibia, have collapsed. Sardines and anchovies are in some places the main prey of the predators up the food chain, including birds, seals, dolphins, and whales.

Much of the sardine catch is ground up and fed to farmed fish and factory-farmed chickens and pigs. World-wide, 14 million tons of wild fish, such as sardines and anchovies, are fed to mass-produced food animals. About 75 percent of the fishmeal and oil fed to carnivorous farmed fish come from the harvest of small, open-ocean fish such as anchovies, herring, and sardines. When you eat a farmed salmon, you indirectly eat sardines and the other fish feed.

Marine scientists in organizations such as Oceana are advocating reductions in commercial fishing for sardines and other food fish. The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science convened the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force of thirteen preeminent fisheries scientists to develop recommendations on forage fish management. Its report recommends cutting “global fishing for crucial prey species” by half. It stated that “globally, forage fish are twice as valuable in the water as in a net.” The report, published in 2012, is called “Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs.”

The global fishing industry is now engaged in a vicious circle of the destruction of the ocean food base. After the large fish such as tuna are depleted, fishing then goes after the smaller fish, and then the depletion of the fish at the bottom of the food chain further reduces the animals higher up the chain, which then induces a greater catch of the smaller fish. The “little fish” now amount to 37 percent, by weight, of the global fish harvest, up from 8 percent 50 years ago.

An economic analysis of using fishmeal as livestock feed includes an ethical application, since the concept of the pure market economy necessarily involves ethics. The pure market consists of voluntary human action, and the concept of voluntary action requires a universal ethic to designate acts a good, evil, and neutral. Voluntary action includes acts that are neutral and good, while involuntary acts, those that coercively harm others, are morally bad or evil, and outside the market as violations of natural moral rights.

Such ethical analysis includes the origin of property rights. Our equal self-ownership endows human beings with property rights to their own personhood as well as what they produce. But self-ownership does not extend to natural resources such as wildlife. The premise of human equality, from which natural moral law is derived, implies an equal global benefit from the surplus of natural resources such as the fish in the ocean, and equality applies also to future generations. Hence, natural moral law requires a sustainable harvest from the seas. One cannot logically blame a non-existing “free market” for the depletion of the world’s fish. The fishers do not have a morally justified property right to the ocean’s wildlife.

The efficient and equitable way to harvest the global fish stock is to set a quantity limit to the catch of each animal type and location, and then let fishers bid in auctions for portions of the catch. The funds from the auctions would be economic rent that should be devoted to research, monitoring, and enforcement of the catch quotas. Market demand would then allocate the fish to the most wanted uses. The limitation of the fish catch, such as half the current amount, would raise the price of sardines and other such fish, and would most probably greatly reduce the use of sardines for fishmeal for livestock. The industry would find substitutes, or reduce the amount of livestock as the feed price rises.

A sustainable harvest of oceanic fish requires an international agreement. Such treaties have been difficult to establish and enforce. Those governments which are more responsible and seek such agreement could implement the treaty, and then impose penalties on the countries that refuse to cooperate.

At any rate, there should be more popular awareness of the fish depletion problem, before Revelation 8:9 becomes reality.


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