Overfishing means dolphins, sharks starving

I am increasingly alarmed by the precipitous decline of the health of the world's oceans. I recently finished Taras Grescoe's "Bottomfeeder: How to eat ethically in a world of vanishing seafood", in which Taras warns us that oceans are in danger of becoming dead zones populated only "by jellyfish, bacteria, and slime". Today the Toronto Star reports that the top predators in the ocean are starving because the prey fish they rely on for food are overfished.

In Canada, scientists said Atlantic cod in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are becoming skinny because they are having more trouble finding reliable sources of small prey like capelin. In Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, striped bass are turning up emaciated because of shrinking supplies of herring and anchovies.

Whales too are having a difficult time finding prey, which researchers say might be affecting their ability and decision to mate. For many endangered whale species, diminished food sources could mean their populations will have trouble recovering.

Seabirds are being particularly hard hit as they choose not to mate because they can't guarantee food sources, Stiles said, citing the example of puffins in Norway where there was a 64 per cent drop in the number of birds having chicks in one year.

The problem is that as stocks of larger species are depleted, fishermen work their way down the marine food chain and fish smaller prey. Biologists warn that there might be little left in the world's oceans as fishermen fish out the seas.

What kind of world do we want to live in? If that world includes healthy oceans, abundant with fish, we should consider establishing marine reserves free from fishing. Taras Grescoe points to New Zealand as a hopeful example, where the establishment of marine reserves has restored biodiversity, boosted populations of fish, and won converts among the fishermen who now benefit from a stable catch.