Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Annals of the Anthropocene: when the ocean becomes the farm

When I started posting weekly "Warming Wednesdays," I rapidly discovered that even an elementary acquaintance with climate change issues would force me to learn much about the scale and impact of our human effect on the planet about that I'd barely considered. Shortly after that, I became prepared to believe, against all my "natural" instincts, that we now live in the Anthropocene, an age in which human activity, ingenuity, and intelligence will determine what sort of environment exists on Earth. No, I don't really have my mind around that notion, but I'm trying.

In the interests of trying, I'll be posting here occasionally under the heading. Annals of the Anthropocene a supplement to the ongoing Warming Wednesdays series. None of this is my area of expertise, but that is true for most of us; for all of us, learning to think about human impacts and our consequent responsibility is simply part of being the lead species that we are in this time.

Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: the future of the last wild food is one of the most thought provoking volumes I've encountered in the last few years. It's an exploration of the insight that, just as on land, farming -- cultivation and management for human needs -- is coming to our relationship with the oceans. He explains:

... the interplay of domestication and wildness is one of the most important issues going on with fish today. Choosing which fish will be our domesticated "seafood" will have huge ramifications for our species and for the planet. In fact, we are right now zeroing in on our cattle, pigs, sheep and goats of the sea. Across menus and markets, we are starting to come to a consensus on what we're looking for in fish: something pink and succulent like a salmon; something white and meaty, the category that's usually filled by a number of near shore fish that are often called "bass" or "snapper"; something white and flakey that you can deep fry, i.e. codfish; and something that's steak-like and dense for grilling and sushi, like tuna. So we have roughly those four "fish-flesh" types on our menus. The most important ecological question facing the oceans today is how we can sustainably meet this demand using different methods of capturing and farming fish.

Greenberg traveled all over the world seeking to understand aquaculture. He interviewed its scientific inventors and environmentally conscious fish farmers -- and also the inevitable industrial fish producers who leave endangered and depleted fisheries in their destructive wake.

He tries to imagine how farmed but relatively healthy oceans can co-exist with billions of hungry humans.

Fishermen need to start seeing themselves more as herders than hunters. The open-ended nature of fishing has to change. Highly damaging fishing methods like the most destructive forms of bottom trawling, purse seining (encircling entire schools of fish with a large net), and certain kinds of long-lining need to be taken off the table. To paraphrase the UK-based writer and conservationist, Charles Clover, you wouldn't just drag a net along the Serengeti knocking down all the trees and killing all the birds, zebras, lions and elephants, just so you could extract the wildebeest. That, in effect, is what some of the worst industrial fishing practices do. That sort of behavior shouldn't be allowed.

On the fish farming front, well, we need to look at what the organic land-farming movement has found — that monocultures and feedlots are not the answer. Polycultures are the way to go. I'm reminded of the "three sisters" culture that native Americans used. Corn, squash and beans were often grown together. Corn provides the pole structure for bean plants, beans fix nitrogen for the corn and squash provide ground cover and weed suppression for all three. In Canada they are just starting to polyculture salmon together with mussels, commercial brown algae and sea cucumbers. Tilapia, likewise, can work well with hydroponic crops like tomatoes. With fish farming we have an opportunity to make polyculture our starting point rather than our desperate attempt later on to fix a taxed and broken system.

This book is fascinating and important as we stumble into the Anthropocene. Greenberg likes fish and fishermen; that makes for easy reading.

1 comment:

rental mobil jakarta said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Related Posts with Thumbnails