Monday, August 19, 2013

Bleeding the Seas Dry

Hello again everyone. I hope you are all doing well. Personally, I have a bunch of new and exciting things going on in my life and to top it off, I have decided that I will not be ending this blog this fall. This summer was really eye opening and made me realize that the fight to save the animals that I have blogged about will never be worth giving up on. I will fight for these animals until either they are gone or I am gone because each and every one of them have a purpose on this planet and frankly each and every one of them are beautiful in their own ways. So that is a tid bit of news on this end. Now onto the blog itself...

The other day I was out on the Ocean, and no sooner did I exit the Manasquan Inlet did I spot a pod of dolphins. Naturally I had to stop the boat and try to get some pictures. The pod probably had somewhere between 20-30 bottlenose dolphins. It was a quiet morning so as each one came up for a breath of air, I could literally hear them blowing air out their blowholes. Suddenly the lead dolphin lept a good part of the ways out of the water and took a dive. Literally like a flock of birds, every other dolphin followed and were simply gone. No waves made, perfect dives. Odds are they found some food down below, but I sat there for a little bit and just had to think. How could anyone kill these animals? Eventually I came upon some lobster fishing grounds and it looked like a recreational fishing bonanza. Boats to the north, south, east, and west. Boats all over, but from what I could see, all abiding by the rules and regulations of fishing. I saw several fish get tossed back into the sea including "pest fish" such as sea robins and skates. People fishing to feed themselves and their families and doing it in a sustainable way. That's how I personally feel it should be. Then the harsh reality hits. I look to the east and there is the big commercial fishing vessels.

While the recreational fisherman take their 1 or 2 fish home to cook and eat, just one of those fishing boats are literally scooping thousands of fish and shellfish out of the water in the matter of minutes. Entire schools of fish just wiped out by one boat. Entire beds of clams taken out of the sea. Of course it is for human consumption, but the problem is that it is just far, far too much. Sea food is incredibly popular around the world and the demand for it is going nowhere but up. As the world becomes more and more overpopulated, more and more fish are needed to fufill the needs of man. Whether it be the rapidly reproducing capelin or the slow reproducing sharks, there are simply no longer enough fish to go around.

What we are doing is literally bleeding the seas dry. Anything short of algae and jellyfish and a few other select animals, we seek out, kill and eat. Commercial fisheries make a ton of money, no doubts there, but what happens when the fish are gone? What happens when human greed takes everything the sea has to offer? What happens when unsustainable fishing methods set the tone for fishing around the world? The answer to all of those questions are quite simple. Nothing good. I did a blog a few weeks ago about the oceanic food chain and the effect of taking an animal like a shark out of the equation. Simply put, the enitre food chain falls apart leading to a vastly different ocean that what we have today. Here is where the above dolphin story comes in. In early July, dolphins were found washing up on beaches in New Jersey with large knife and net wounds. One dolphin was cut from its throat to it's gut. Literally just sliced open to die. Why? Why did this happen and who are the culprits? I have a gut feeling that the answers to both can be found in commercial fishing. Chances are these dolphins got caught in a drag net, damaged it, and as a result of that damage, they were brutally killed. It sounds barbaric, but I honestly think that is exactly what happened. I have never met a recreational fisherman whose ever wanted to harm a dolphin. I even know one who accidentally snagged one. As soon as he realized what was going on, he cut the line.

Despite laws and regulations, commercial fishing often plays by its own rules until it is caught in the act. Way out at sea, there are no police boats to check catches and make sure everything on board checks out. There is no prevention or punishment if endangered species get killed in the process. It's a sick industry that needs to be seriously looked at. Bycatch is by far the most alarming thing to me about commercial fishing. Some companies do certainly go through their catch and toss back undesirables, but I have seen some really eye opening things in flats of frozen fish. I once saw a flat of atlantic butterfish that had more young squid in it that butterfish. I've seen flats labeled as frozen mackerel consist of roughly 50% mackerel and %50 herring. I've also seen flounder, herring, and other species of small fish in capelin flats. The most alarming to me though is that I have found spiny dogfish in flats of both herring and mackerel. Spiny dogfish are listed as a species vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN's red list. You might say, "okay so that's one or two sharks it's not really a big deal". Well it is a big deal because if a flat has one or two that means chances are good other flats in that shipment probably have them and who knows how many were shipped other places as bycatch. It's scary if you seriously think about it.

This summer I've heard more and more people saying that sharks are coming closer to shore and nobody knows why. I am certainly not a scientist by any means, but I think the reason that these predators are coming closer to shore is obvious. Commercial fishing has to take place a certain distance from the shore. Normally, these species of shark that are being seen inshore tend to stay just offshore where these fish are. The fish however, are no longer there due to being fished out. So the sharks move inshore and eat the fish that are their. It's not that sharks are "getting braver" or "more bold" when it comes to approaching the swim zone, but they are doing what they have to do to survive as we continue to just eliminate them and their food source from the planet.

Commercial fishing isn't going to go anywhere and I totally understand that. I just fear that sooner than later we are going to have a crisis on our hands because facts are facts. The world's fish stocks are plummeting and it is not due to so many people going out to catch 1 or 2 fish. It is becuase these commercial fishing vessels are pretty much taking what they want, when they want, and how they want. If they get caught doing something illegal, they pay for it and move on. Afterall, what is a fine compared to a massive amount of money in the pocket? This past spring there was a fleet of menhaden fishermen just off of Long Branch, NJ where they were not supposed to be and they got away with it. They weaved right through the recreational fishermen who were fishing for bass and scooped up all of the menhaden, literally hundreds of thousands of fish gone in one foul swoop, in waters that they are not supposed to be doing it. I don't know if anyone called to have them stop or what, but I'm guessing chances are not good with that.

Sharks, dolphins, mantas, bluefin tuna, whales, and just about every other animal in the sea are nearing a state of peril. They all need our help and I will continue to fight for them on here and hopefully out in the field as long as I am physically and mentally able to do so. Stay tuned because Opertaion Forgotten is not yet over.

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