Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire. Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race. He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.”
RALEIGH – When humans think about Climate Change, we tend to think about it from the perspective of humans. How many humans will Climate Change displace? How many humans will Climate Change kill? How many cities will Climate Change destroy? But what if animals had a voice What if they could speak and express their thoughts about what has happened and what is coming? Let me introduce you today to our guest speaker, a spokesfish named Finnegan.
“I imagine you have never heard of a talking fish before. But that’s what I am: a living, breathing (through my gills), intelligent, talking fish. My name is Finnegan, and I can normally be found out swimming around the ocean Today I have come to shore to talk about all the terrible things that humans are doing to fish like me. We, fish-kind, are living peacefully in the ocean minding our own business, only to witness humanity destroying us from every possible angle Just like you humans, I have thoughts and feelings about what is happening to our world. Today I speak for all fish-kind, and let me tell you, there will not be very many of us left in fish-kind unless humans wake up and stop acting in such despicable, horrible ways towards us fish.
Let’s go back in history a bit, all the way back to the time of Jesus in the Bible, 2,000 years ago. The Bible records a typical fishing expedition that humans might undertake in that era. The Gospel of John, Chapter 21 tells a fishing story. In this tale, Jesus says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish]. ”And even with Jesus’s divine intervention, the humans only caught 153 fish in their nets.
In this era the boats were small, and the nets were small, and the total number of fish caught was small. Why? Because it was all human-powered, and this really limited the scope of things. A strong human being can maybe produce. With humans rowing the boat, the boat can only be so big. With humans hauling in the nets, the nets can only be so heavy. Also, on the entire planet, there were perhaps a total of 300 million people at the time of Jesus, and hardly any of them ever went out in the deep ocean to fish.
Things stayed this way for many centuries. Even in 1800, the population of humans was only 1 billion, and the humans had not yet invented diesel engines, electric motors, steel ships, gigantic nets, underwater sonar to find fish, aerial fish spotting, GPS systems and so on that would lead to today’s war on fish. Widespread pollution was not a big factor either. Life for us fish in the ocean was still pretty good. Humans could only murder so many fish.
The whales almost went extinct
Well, except for one group, and they are not actually fish. The whales got hit hard. Whales are gigantic, they aren’t very fast, and they must come to the surface to breath. The book Moby Dick was published in 1851, A dead sperm whale like Moby is 50 feet long and weighs 90,000 pounds. He represents tons of blubber and oil worth a huge amount of money. And therefore, every living. whale was in peril. Once the huge factory ships got rolling, the whales were doomed. By the 1960s, whales were practically extinct due to the relentless slaughter. The only thing that saved the whales was a worldwide ban on whaling by the IWC, the International Whaling Commission, which protected whales from extinction.
Whales are a cautionary tale for us fishes. Also, a whale is a lot more impressive and charismatic and lovable than a herring or a codfish will ever be. Like I said, things were OK for fish in 1800, 1850. But by 1900, things started to change in a seriously bad way for us fishes with the invention of steel ships and big diesel engines and powerful electric motors. These new technologies made it easy to deploy and haul in huge purse seine nets and trawling nets. Now a few humans Example: In this photo, this single net contains 800,000 pounds of mackerel in one scoop. See also this video to understand the modern pillaging of fish stocks by the factory ships: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8_T0csbx_I&t=128s
The giant problem from overfishing
The fish in the ocean are free for the taking, and the corporations operating these huge factory ships make money from each fish they catch. And people love to eat fish. And the population of humans is always growing. Therefore, the incentives to catch more And more and more fish get stronger every year. The Chinese fleets of industrial fishing boats can be especially awful, sweeping up every fish in their paths.
The amount of fishing is now overwhelming, and the pressure on fish is massive. So just think it through. Eventually all the fish get caught, and a fishery collapses. It is thought that fishing fleets will have extracted just about every fish from the ocean by 2050. All of the fisheries will collaps.
The extinction of fish and the collapse of every fishery is not an existential doomsday scenario for humankind necessarily. You people will eat something else, and make your fish oil capsules some other way. Some fish, like salmon, can be farmed.
But it is a doomsday scenario for fish-kind, and the world’s oceans. All of the fish in the ocean will be gone. All the predators that eat the fish will be gone. The oceans are likely to die with the fish unless humans wake up and something changes to save the fish, just like you saved the whales.
Fish are especially endangered for several different reasons:
- Just about every species of fish in the ocean is delicious in one way or another. People love to eat fish, and there are now billions of people. Other fish get ground into fish meal fed to livestock or fish farms.
- Therefore, just about every species of fish is valuable, and is being relentlessly hunted by industrial fishing fleets.
- The technology used to find fish has improved significantly, and the number of boats that are chasing fish has also increased significantly. Pretty much every kind of fish is being exploited.
Right now, humans are extracting trillions of fish, or about 77 million tons of fish, from the ocean every year. Things like illegal fishing and bycatch may amount to another 30 million tons. Not only can I talk, but I can also read, and you should read articles like these to understand the giant problems fish-kind face:
What does it look like when overfishing occurs? One example is what happened to Cod in the northeastern United States fishery. Cod were once so plentiful that humans could harvest one billion pounds of cod in a year. But then giant factory ships with huge nets captured And pretty soon, around 1992, there were no cod left – the fishery collapsed.
Another example that is easy to see is the oyster harvest in the Chesapeake Bay. In 1880, the harvest of oyster meat totaled 100 million pounds. But because of overfishing and pollution, oysters almost went extinct in the Chesapeake Bay.
What should humans do?
Soon, unless humans change their ways, all the fish will be gone. It is not just the fishing fleets that endanger fish and other marine species:
- Fish are also impacted by pollution. Human waste, human oil spills, human pesticides, human fertilizers, etc. all end up in the ocean and kill fish habitats.
- Then there is climate change. There is no question that oceans have been warming. This tends to push fish toward the poles, so they can find temperatures that are comfortable to their own bodies and to the foods they eat.
- Then there is ocean acidification, turning all the oceans significantly more acidic and making life harder and harder for every fish and shellfish. See this article for details on the ocean acidification problem.
- Then the are the ocean plastics – one of the most depressing aspects of human behavior. See this video for details on how bad the plastic problem is in the oceans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwTDvqaqPlM
So now I, Finnegan the fish, am here to ask you the human species a question. What do we in the animal kingdom have to do to get you to stop all of the horrible things that you are doing to our planet? How do we stop your overfishing? How do we stop your carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels? How do we get you to solve the ocean acidity problem that you humans created? How do we get you to stop pouring plastics into the ocean, and then how do we get you to clean up the existing mess you have made with ocean plastics?
- You humans COULD stop burning fossil fuels.
- Humans COULD start extracting excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans.
- Humans COULD ban single-use plastics.
- Humans COULD ban industrial fishing fleets and let us fishes recover from decades of slaughter.
- Humans COULD stop polluting the oceans.
But will humans actually be able to accomplish any of these things? Probably not. Looking at it from my perspective, from the perspective of fish-kind, you humans are monsters. Why don’t you humans stop being so horrible with your murderous fishing fleets and all of your plastic and pollution and acidity? Get your act together! Help us fishes out!
Even if you as a human being don’t care one iota about the fish like me, what if you think selfishly about yourselves, the human species? Because if you kill all the fishes and all the other animals, and if you overheat the planet By 3 or 4 degrees C, humanity is going down too. We all share the same fate. We fishes will simply be some of the first to go. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. I’m Finnegan the fish, signing off. ”