Sustainable purse seining an oxymoron

Friday June 27, 2014 Published in Letters to the Editor
How a purse seine net gathers up every fish. How a purse seine net gathers up every fish. Greenpeace

Dear Editor, Re - Wed June 25 front page. In my books “sustainable purse seining” is an excellent example of an oxymoron.

I believe it is not possible for purse seining to ever be sustainable. Why?

  • Scientists have already accepted that the use of FADs is not sustainable practise in commercial fishing, yet we allow purse seiners to continue using them in Cook Islands water.
  • Scientists around the world are frequently warning us that fish stocks are reducing, in fact, some species are becoming endangered, so how can fishing en masse be sustainable?
  • Scientists are now reporting that even skipjack stocks are reducing.
  • When Ben Ponia was in Mauke he described skipjack as being the “rabbits of the ocean” ie prolific breeders.  So when even the “rabbits” can’t breed fast enough to keep up with fishing demand, what do think is happening to the other species getting caught up in nets with the skipjack?
  • There is a reason net fishing is banned in some lagoons. A net does not discriminate, it does not choose which marine life to take and which to let go.
  • It’s not just about numbers, it’s about the rate of the take. A purse seine net is massive, it can take out whole schools/families/clans.  Is MMR checking out the biological, social, and ecological impacts to the fish community of taking whole schools in one go? Scientists are researching these issues now. They already know that fish schools have leaders who guide migration and spawning. They already know if only the weak are left to breed, because they are on the outer edge and miss the net, we will be left with weaker offspring.
  • ·       To put it in terms perhaps better understood: If we mysteriously lost one family a night in Mauke how long do you think we could sustain our population? Do you think those able to, could breed fast enough to keep up with the rate of loss? As the gene pool reduced what would happen to the quality of offspring? What happens when the households with breeding potential are taken out? How long does the population last then? How long would it take for a society to recover from such an event?
  • Finally, a purse seiner can take out in one day the amount of fish that a local fishing venture would catch in one year. You’ve just given the US purse seiners an extra 400 fishing days, that's 400 years of fishing for a local venture! Why would you give a foreigner what could potentially be jobs for locals?

Why do we not hear about proposals to develop our own fishing industry which could be sustainable because we wouldn’t be fishing at such a great rate, we would care more because this is our own country and our children's futures at stake. And I believe we could get a better return on better quality fish, not bruised or damaged as happens in purse seining.

We could fish less and get a better price for that fish, so suffer no loss in income over the long term.

Do you think a large commercial operation is going to care if they’ve overfished our waters or will they just move on to someone else's waters?

Palau has banned all commercial fishing in their EEZ. President Tommy mentioned in his speech to the UN that this action isn’t just for the sake of Palau, but so that migrating fish stocks have a chance to remain healthy for the rest of the Pacific. Wow, talk about “thinking globally and acting locally!”


Do we have any leaders so forward thinking?

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