Archive for October, 2009

Organized Crime

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Who knew that organized crime and drugs can play a part in the management of a fisheries? Fisheries management is a tough game, made difficult by biological uncertainty and human socio-economic concerns. Adding organized crime to the mix is just unfair.

A distant example. Abalones are molluscs that eat seaweeds such as kelp in the shallow subtidal regions of rocky coasts. The muscular abalone foot is prized as food in East Asia. On the Pacific coast of South Africa – a coast of rocky headlands, sand beaches, and wind blown surf – an abalone fishery emerged several decades ago. One species that grows particularly large has been targeted.

South African abalone (

South African abalone (

Commercial and recreational fisheries quickly grew, but so did illegal poaching. Chinese gangs worked the coast, exchanging methaquone, the drug of choice in the region, for the abalones, which they shipped across the nearby and porous borders, and sent off to Hong Kong for further distribution through China and other East Asian countries.

The abalones plunged in numbers, heading toward extinction. As a result, recreational fishing was banned in 2002, commercial fishing was banned in 2008, and the species has been identified by CITES as endangered, making trans-border shipping much more difficult.

Yet the poaching has continued, perhaps even increased, as some of those who used to fish legally now do so illegally. The Asian market hasn’t changed. The value of the poached animals remains high. The Chinese gangs and the drug trade haven’t disappeared.

This abalone fishery is a long way away from most of us. But organized crime in fact is intruding increasingly in fisheries in many places – Sri Lanka, British Columbia, Russia, Japan, perhaps every where.

Efforts to prevent poaching are also increasing – the International Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network ( is a good example, worth looking at.

But once again, we have seen the enemy, and it is us.

Sick Seas

Friday, October 9th, 2009

(Michael Berrill,

“Sea Sick” is a recent addition to the list of valuable books describing just how seriously we are threatening the planet’s current living systems. The author, Alanna Mitchell, is an experienced journalist who travelled the world for a couple of years, getting an education about the state of the oceans from the very best scientists working on the various problems, and she shares this well.

Gradual acidification of the oceans is occurring as atmospheric concentrations of CO2 continue to climb, and coral reefs are therefore vulnerable to extinction. Altering wind and current patterns have profound and global effects on ocean productivity and terrestrial climates. Huge economies such as China’s drive too much of change. Overfishing persists everywhere. Rivers dump such huge nutrient loads into coastal waters that dead zones continue to grow in size and number every year.

It is all very bleak.

Actually, throughout her book, she includes descriptions of efforts to alleviate the stresses, from new aquaculture initiatives to the green policies emerging in China, yet at end of it all she has clearly lost hope. A dozen pages before the end of the book the bleakness has overwhelmed her “I’ve begun to think that the ocean is in palliative care and I mute witness to its death rattle”, and “I’m out of hope, mired firmly in the desolate present”.

And then she takes a final trip, this time down in a submersible to 900 meters off the edge of Florida’s continental shelf, and she has what she calls an epiphany, and finds hope. She recognizes the relation of hope to faith, but senses there is foundation to it – that all is not necessarily lost. She ends by calling us to action, seeking a new and global wisdom, now, before it is too late.

I was left thinking about hope. We use the word in so many ways all the time that defining it seems impossible.

Still, I think that if we place our hope in a sea change in human wisdom, then time is certainly our enemy. But if we nourish and share the changes that individuals, communities, NGOs and even governments have initiated around the planet – well, then perhaps we may be able to buy the time we need to find that wisdom. Is that what hope is?