Staci Strobl, Crimcast co-founder
Last night I enjoyed a delicious meal of local flounder at B. Smith's in midtown Manhattan. Unfortunately, due to illegal over-fishing, this flounder may have been in-bred in its small sub-population off the southern coast of Long Island and more of an endangered species than I had thought.
Overfishing happens when fish are caught faster than they can reproduce, often the result of the market demand for seafood, poor management of fisheries and destructive fishing techniques. If unaddressed, it can threaten marine ecosystems and imperil the availability of fish for people whose diet depends on it. Once populations of fish get too small, they in-breed and are susceptible to diseases which can wipe out the population for good. According to the Save Our Seas Foundation, one in five people in the world depend on fish as their main source of protein.
Under federal regulations, New York fishers can only bring in 7.6% of the total haul of flounder in a given season and each fisher has a particular individual quota per season based on the most recent data of the strength of the fish population.
As a result of the limitations, the number of licensed fishing operations in the state are down approximately 20% over the last decade. And, many New York fishers are landing their catch in other nearby states where the quotas are higher-- even as the fish almost all end up consumed in the same place-- New York City. Recently, Senator Chuck Schumer has called for reform of the fishing quotas which he believes are hurting New York fishermen and women. Indeed, the declining economic viability of fishing in Long Island appears to motivate over-fishers, suggesting that important economic incentives are needed to control this harmful activity.
A recent federal prosecution shows that Long Island commercial fishers are falsifying records in order to over-fish for greater profit. At least one of them has been held accountable. Charles Wertz, head of C&C Ocean Fisheries, under-reported approxim
ately 80,000 pounds of fluke (summer flounder) that he over-fished between 2009 and 2011, earning an extra $200,000. In an agreement with prosecutors, the
fisherman will lose his fishing licenses and pay over $500,000 in fines.
This enforcement activity is good news for scientists who warn we may be facing the apocalyptic "end of fish." A 2006 study projected that fish and seafood populations will collapse by 2048. Lead scientist on the study Boris Worm explained:
At this point, 29 percent of fish and seafood species [worldwide] have collapsed -- that is their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating... The good news is that it is not too late to turn things around.. [With areas of marine protection we] see that diversity of species recovered dramatically, and with it the ecosystem's productivity and stability.
Protecting fish populations through specifically regulated ocean spaces is a key part of the equation of preventing the fish apocalypse, also known as the aquacalypse, as well as working with the fishing industry to make under-fishing profitable. For criminal justice policy makers, however, the most helpful role to play is to demand the enforcement of federal and state over-fishing laws and to make sure national laws support the United Nations' Fisheries & Aquaculture Department Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Crimes against fish are crimes against a humanity who needs fish protein. But for those who don't require anthropocentric rationales, it is a matter of co-existing with other life forms on an increasingly environmentally-threatened planet. Humans wiping out an entire form of life, consisting of multiple species who have done nothing but swim gracefully in our vast ocean waters, seems morally indefensible to me as well.