“So long and thanks for all the fish” is not an option


My head hurts. I have a sinus cold with a cough and my back is aching (from an old injury) which hurts a lot every time I sneeze. I probably could use some extra Vitamins C and D and some omega-3 in my diet.

Omega-3 is important because we humans can’t produce our own (as with Vitamin D) but need it for healthy growth, brain, eye and nerve functioning, and to reduce inflammation. And of course the primary source of omega-3 is fish—which brings us to ocean resources.

Our oceans are under assault. Climate change is contributing to ocean acidification, which dissolves the shells on shellfish. Rising ocean temperatures are affecting fish migration patterns. Overfishing has reduced finfish stocks to extinction levels, most notably cod and Atlantic salmon, once among the most abundant species on the planet. Pollution, including the stuff dropping out the bottoms of aquaculture cages, chemical runoff from agriculture and urban waste of all kinds, is destroying the world’s ocean habitat.

Meanwhile, here at home the owner and two managers of Atlantic Canada’s largest aquaculture company, Cooke Aquaculture, are being criminally charged on 11 counts relating to the deliberate poisoning of the Bay of Fundy a couple of years ago. To kill off infestations of sea lice, the company allegedly doused their salmon stocks with the pesticide cypermethrin, which kills off not only sea lice but also their fellow crustaceans, lobsters. The case goes before the courts on December 13, and it goes without saying that, since the lobster fishery is also big business out here, this is serious business.

We all know bad things are happening, but why? Don’t we (Canadians) have at least three federal agencies—the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Department of the Environment—to supervise these things? Yes. Well, sort of.

One of the biggest problems is DFO’s multiple role. The department is the historic regulator of Canada’s fisheries, yet under its watch Canada’s finfish stocks have collapsed from Atlantic to Pacific over the past 100 years. DFO is also the regulator of the aquaculture industry, which, as currently operated, is a direct threat to the wild fishery, for example using Atlantic salmon in Pacific aquaculture, which potentially endangers indigenous salmon. In addition, DFO has been the lead research agency for applied fish science, and some of this research should be regarded as controversial, given that it’s being done to support a flawed (open sea cage) technology. And finally, DFO is one of Canada’s key promoters of the aquaculture industry. With such conflicting mandates, who then regulates the regulator when conflicts arise? Apparently no agency other than the courts.

The second big problem is the corporate practice of “externalizing” costs. In other words, offloading costs on others. One of the most pernicious forms of externalizing is polluting and degrading “the commons,” our mutually owned environment. Overfishing is one example of degrading. An example of pollution is open cage aquaculture that dumps out tonnes of fish food and excrement onto the ocean floor every year. Other forms of externalizing include offloading the cost of research and development on the government, or simply not upgrading to new, more environmentally friendly technology because the old stuff prints easy cash.

But, more than technology, it’s the intersection of the economy and the environment that’s particularly difficult to navigate politically. When times get financially tough, people start caring more about putting food on the table than leaving it in the ocean. Simply put, profits come first—especially in an internationally competitive global economy in which every country is scrambling for cash.

What brings it all to a head is the need to feed the expanding world population, which will rise to 8 billion in just 15 short years just as fossil fuel required to power the world’s farming and fish-producing industries becomes increasingly depleted and more expensive. Since we haven’t invented solar powered boats and tractors yet, the odds are that we’ll be looking to biofuels to top up the tank, which will put a further strain on food production. Not to mention the fact that over 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and thus is completely reliant on corporately produced food.

OK, my head still hurts. Clearly, the problem is people. Too many of us. Or too many of us doing the wrong things (beyond whether Cooke’s management is guilty or not). So what can we do?

Barring dropping a smart weapon that painlessly eliminates 6 billion or so people from the planet instantaneously without damaging infrastructure (just kidding… I hope), we need to get politically smart about industry and job creation.

Jobs are not what we think they are. Jobs are simply the exchange of time for valuable services. And what could be more valuable than building an environmentally sustainable human society? But as every Occupy Wall Street protester knows, there are a few people at the top who stand between us and creating environmentally sustainable jobs.

Instead of worrying about dramatically reducing population, there’s sufficient evidence to show that we need to begin surgically separating the current corporate-state alliance and politically neutralizing the 0.1 percent who currently run the show. In fact, our very survival seems to depend on it.


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