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When the Fish Are Gone

July 28, 2013
Pacific Sardines, whose stocks have started to recover after intervention.

Pacific Sardines, whose stocks have started to recover after intervention.

It’s widely acknowledged that the world’s fisheries are in terrible shape. Indeed, several reports over the past decade have confirmed what fishing communities around the world have known much longer—fish stocks are declining, yields are falling, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a living fishing. Mediterranean Bluefin tuna and Atlantic cod stocks have already collapsed, and countless others—sole, skate, halibut, swordfish, turbot, rockfish, and others–are at risk. Indeed, a study by researchers at Oregon State University published in Science in 2006 warned that the world’s fisheries could be exhausted by 2050 unless action was taken to protect them.

A story in the August edition of Harper’s magazine  and a corresponding short documentary asks “What happens after the fish are gone”? Through interviews with local fisher peoples in Mexico, the story and video highlight the challenges faced by local communities as they struggle to cope with changing livelihoods.

Perhaps the most poignant example came as Miguel Durazo Zamora, a fisherman on the Sea of Cortez, described the choices faced by the community’s youth.

“If you, for example are my father and I see you on your boat, and you leave in the morning, at dawn, at five in the morning, and you come back when it’s getting dark, and you barely bring anything to eat. Then I look at myself and I don’t have shoes and I want to enjoy my life and you, as my father, can barely make ends meet, because supposedly the sea doesn’t provide enough. And a kid with an innocent conscience, and a narrow mind, who only sees convenience, luxuries, and easiness, and in you, as the father, deficiencies, sufferings, hunger, and so he says, “I don’t want to be a fisherman, I want to be a nacrotrafficker”.”

The film is very brief—coming in at just over six minutes. But it’s very powerful and reminds me quite a bit of the longer—but equally powerful—Darwin’s Nightmare. Both are definitely worth a watch.

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