Fishing out the gene pool
Figure 1: Some of the artificial reef materials traditionally used by South Indian fishworkers include
(a) stones attached to coconut leaves, and (b) screw-pine plants and coconut stumps. Other
'materials of opportunity' that are now used are (c) concrete rings and (d) concrete waste.
Furthermore, modem high technology aquaculture is increasingly being shown to be
environmentally damaging, producing high biological loadings, and high levels of organic
pollution from the excessive use of pesticides.
Particularly damaging is the clearance of mangrove trees along the coast, as they play a key
role in the marine production cycle, providing nurseries for small fish. The trees have been
replaced by intensive shrimp farms, a form of aquaculture which is totally inappropriate for
the needs of hungry people in the South and which in some cases causes marginal farmers
to be displaced from valuable agricultural land, thereby destroying an important local source
of employment and food.
Capture or nurture fisheries?
The problems caused by capture fisheries include the hunting to near extinction of the great
whales, the collapse of the Peruvian anchovy fishery, the demise of the North Sea herring
(rescued from the brink of extinction), and the destruction wrought on the shoals of Pacific
tuna and squid by the 'walls of death' monofilament drift nets, which can be many kilometres
long. There are many other examples, such as the reduced number of species now caught in
South India (see box). It is estimated by FAO that all important stocks of demersal fish
species (those found on or near the sea-bed) are either fully exploited or overfished, and that
many more highly valued stocks are in decline1. The problem of overfishing stems from the
traditional view that the oceans' resources are infinite, combined with the free-for-all
mentality towards open access common property resources. Where fish stocks are considered
common property and are available for exploitation on a first-come-first-served basis, fishing
becomes a hunting activity, dependant upon the ingenuity of the hunter and the efficiency of
the hunting technology. Given the rapid developments in the design and use of this
technology, it cannot be sustained.