Solving the non-existent toothfish problem

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance wants to create the largest-ever marine reserve around most of Antarctica. Why? The Herald published an article the other day by Geoff Keey, outlining the main issues. He makes a couple of strange comments.

First, he says the Ross Sea is “likely to be one [of] the last places in the Southern Ocean to lose sea ice because of climate change, making it an important refuge for ice-dependent animals.”

But Keey must be unaware that the Antarctic continent has lost no sea ice to climate change or any other cause. On the contrary, it has been gradually cooling over 30 years of observations. So it may be an important refuge, but not because its capacity to provide a refuge is diminishing or even threatened.

So why is a reserve necessary? He waffles a lot, but manages to say:

“The Ross Sea is a living laboratory, invaluable for humanity to learn more about the planet we need to manage better.”

Which is perfectly unconvincing. He mentions several times the “need for protection” and the protection it “deserves” without enlightening us as to why it should get any. Then he comes out with a whopper of a contradiction:

Keey claims their proposal is not anti-fishing and doesn’t limit toothfish catches, but it will exclude fishing from the most ecologically important areas.

Give me a break! Speak plainly, Mr Keey.

Keey reveals the environmentalists’ basic fears when he confesses that they’re looking for international support for Antarctic reserves “while the region’s eco-systems are still intact.”

It seems that the moment fishing takes place the ecosystems are no longer “intact”. Whatever that means. But if fish are there, even reduced in numbers, they show the ecosystem is most certainly intact.

At the end, though, he reveals the fundamental illogicality of this reserve proposal. Because he admits they’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s not real, it’s predicted. He says they want to:

“protect one of the world’s least impacted and most remarkable places from exploitation before it happens.”

In numerous places around the world, including our local Goat Island marine reserve at Leigh, just north of Auckland, regions stripped of species by incautious exploitation have been restored within a few years of non-exploitation to a hugely productive and beautifully abundant underwater paradise.

So what does it matter if exploitation occurs for a while? There will, with good scrutiny, be plenty of time to act if things get out of control. In the meantime, people can eat. God knows, there are enough who go hungry. The enviros conveniently forget them, don’t they?

For the exploitation occurs, after all, for a good reason. Even if poor people won’t be buying expensive toothfish, their harvest liberates cheaper species instead.

But people are starving, so let’s hide the food.

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