The problem with being a conservationist is that we have
all become like Cassandra, the doom and gloom prophetess princess of Troy.
It is our burden to make predictions based on the observed
ecological stupidity of humanity and to cast these predictions out as
warnings. And like Cassandra we appear doomed to have our predictions
ignored or dismissed.
This is especially frustrating after we have been proven
right so many times over the years and still the anthropocentric mind set
continues to ignore the warnings. They ignored our warnings about the
inevitability of major oil tanker spills. They ignored our predictions
about commercial fishery collapses, about global warming, about the
consequences of salmon farming and the list goes on and on.
Back in the early 1980’s I warned the Canadian government
that the Atlantic cod fishery would collapse within a decade. It collapsed
in 1992. The government announced a two year moratorium and I told the
media in Newfoundland and Canada that a two year moratorium was
ridiculous. I said at the time that the cod would not recover in ten years
or fifty years and may not recover at all.
The Canadian government and its small army of scientific
posers that I call biostitutes dismissed me as a doom and gloom
environmentalist. I was called naďve, ignorant, stupid, and overly
dramatic. Thirteen years later, my prediction is becoming reality.
This month researchers who have studied data over a 40
year period have discovered that the food chain in the North Atlantic has
been drastically altered with the disappearance of the cod. What this
means is that the entire Northwest Atlantic marine ecosystem is being
restructured because of the collapse of East Coast cod populations and
these same scientists are now saying that the data indicates that recovery
of the cod may be impossible.
Ken Frank, a scientist who co-authored the report in
Science magazine, said the findings provide an unsettling picture of the
marine environment on the eastern Nova Scotia Shelf.
“It is worrisome,” Mr. Frank said in an interview from his
office in Halifax. “It kind of suggests that we're locked into this
alternate state right now and unless there is some kind of unusual event,
it may take quite some time for the cod domination to return.”
He said the near disappearance of cod and other large
species, such as haddock, flounder and hake, has led to what he calls a
cascade effect. That is, large predators have declined dramatically, but
the fish they preyed upon – herring, capelin, shrimp and snow crab – were
allowed to thrive and eventually underwent a population explosion.
Cod, which used to sit on the top of the food chain, have
now been replaced by smaller fish.
That also trickled down to the lowest members of the
marine food chain – zooplankton and algae – which are being depleted at a
faster rate because more and more fish are feeding on them. This has also
raised the concern that the smaller fish species could diminish the
nutrients they rely on.
“Their levels have now decreased because they're being
eaten heavily by the exploding group,” said Mr. Frank, who works for the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans at the Bedford Institute of
“It was always known that when you deplete a predator, its
prey will increase. But it was never suspected that this would cascade or
extend all the way down to the base of the food chain.”
Let me see, “it was never suspected?” Of course not,
because the government of Canada was listening to biologists and not to
ecologists. Of course it was suspected. I suspected it and I was told I
was crazy at the time for suspecting it.
These same scientists now say that they have also always
known that the cascade effect existed in fresh water species, but they
have never been able to prove until now that it could be found in the
ocean. But if they had followed the precautionary principle they could
have saved the cod. Instead they chose to remove the cod from the
eco-system first and observed the effect afterwards.
The new report has raised concerns that the new marine
environment will slow, and possibly prevent, the return of cod numbers
which were once the economic foundation of most of the fishing communities
along the Atlantic coast. The new dominant fish species are now preying
upon young cod and with cod deposed as king thanks to the government and
the fishing industry, the replacement species are thriving and keeping the
cod from recovery.
The strange thing is that there is a need for dominant
predators to keep the fish that prey upon the cod in check. Harp, hood and
grey seals do that very well but instead of encouraging their populations,
the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is intent upon reducing
the numbers and some want to wipe the seals out altogether.
This report will not change things because many
politicians, media people, corporations and government scientists have
been blaming seals and not people for so long that they will never humble
themselves to admit they were wrong. They would rather remain wrong and in
denial than to admit they screwed up an entire marine eco-system.
Ken Frank commenting on the report said, “The collapse of
cod should serve as a lesson that if you want to keep the populations
sustainable you've got to have a conservation ethic in mind,” he said.
“You've got to resist the temptation to fish so heavily that the stock
will deplete itself.”
Now where have I heard that said before? Oh yes I said it,
twenty years ago. I would like to say that no one was listening. They
listened alright and dismissed me as knowing nothing and not having the
proper credentials, meaning I didn’t work for the government.
Ken Franks said that there is a strong indication that the
phenomenon of cascading might be found in other areas of the North
Atlantic where cod has diminished. Duh, you think Ken?
Mr. Frank is exploring whether the food chain has been
disrupted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Grand Banks and the Labrador
Shelf. Meanwhile back on the West Coast of Canada the B.C. government and
the Federal Department of Oceans and Fisheries are doing everything they
can to totally collapse the wild salmon populations. It is another blind
bonanza of profits in their support of salmon farms.
Disease, escapement, competition, pollution and now sea
lice are all plaguing wild salmon populations, yet all this is ignored as
the salmon farms on the West Coast do to the wild salmon what the drag
trawlers did to the cod on the East Coast.
It’s not that the politicians and government scientists
never learn, they just always seem to learn to late when it is to late.
The government should be hiring ecologists to make considered predictions
based on the basic laws of ecology.
The problem is that these pesky ecologists tend to be
unconcerned about the profit factor and make annoying suggestions like
shutting down fisheries or cutting back on quotas. This kind of talk is
unpopular with fishermen and with the politicians they vote for.
And of course politicians don’t generally care what kind
of environmental problems will result in a decade or two decades. They
just care about the next election.
I’ve been concerned about and have been working on marine
ecology issues since 1975. I will continue to do so long after many of
politicians and the bureaucrats that I have opposed have retired. You
don’t hear from them anymore. Unlike myself they were in for the short
term and their only concern was re-election or a good pension. The fact is
that the politicians and bureaucrats of the Canadian government over the
last thirty years have presided over and they are responsible for the
death of the major fisheries. Their incredible arrogance not only drove
the cod into commercial extinction and promises to do the same with the
salmon, but they actually transformed through their policies, an entire
vast marine eco-system. They plundered it and they perverted it and they
continue to apply their arrogance as the only solution to the problem they
My predictions have indeed become more dire every year.
What I am predicting now is nothing less than the entire ecological
collapse of the North Atlantic eco-system. A combination of global warming
and species depletion and disruption that will have its inevitable
consequence. The three basic laws of ecology have been violated for to
The Law of Diversity that rules that the strength of an
eco-system is dependent upon the diversity of species within it.
The Law of Interdependence that rules that all these
species must be interdependent.
And the Law of Finite Resources that dictates that there
are limits to growth. You don’t need expensive complex, long winded, drawn
out studies to predict that an eco-system is in trouble. You just need to
observe if the three ecological laws are being respected.
Therefore in the case of the Northwest Atlantic we can see
that over the last three decades the diminishment of large fish species
and the reduction in number of seals, whales, dolphins and seabird
populations has resulted in a diminishment of diversity.
And the chain of interdependence has been broken and the
smaller species are now becoming dominant in numbers and reducing the
young of the larger species. And of course the law of finite resources
simply translates that too many people and not enough fish will result in
an excessive extraction of species and numbers from the eco-system leading
to escalating diminishment of diversity and interdependence.
Translation – We have irreparably damaged the entire
Northwest Atlantic Eco-system. Now there is no pleasure is saying I told
you so but it is a fact that I told you so. Of course there is no reason
for the government of Canada to listen to me now. They never listened to
In Canada, you get the Order of Canada for plundering the
land and sea and you get nothing but contempt for any effort to protect
and conserve nature and wilderness. You see the Canadian government has
never had much use for prophets – they have preferred profits.
Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Director - Sierra Club USA
Director - The Farley Mowat Institute
President - Oceanic Research and Conservation Action Force
P.O. Box 2616
Friday Harbor, Wa 98250
Tel: 360-370-5650 Cell: 310-701-3096
Go on to A Dog Sits
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