Monday, July 13, 2009

'End of the Line' doesn't have to be

By Ed Zieralski

As a documentary, “The End of the Line” makes a strong case for its premise that the planet will run out of wild seafood by 2048 if European and Asian fishing fleets continue to abuse the ocean.

There's no denying that, on a global scale, this film gaffs the often too optimistic message from fishermen that there are plenty of fish in the sea. There aren't.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are following Atlantic cod into near-extinction. Other species are being overfished now that Chinese fishing data has been corrected to show how misleading its numbers were in the past. Catch rates were increasing because the Chinese were padding their catch numbers.

The fishing effort detailed in this film is as overwhelming as some of the amazing pictures of fish rolling out of ships like newspapers used to tumble from presses.

An estimated 1.4 billion hooks are used every year by long-lining fishermen. The fishing line used each year by long-liners could encircle the Earth 550 times. And the mouth of a giant trawlers'net can hold 13 747 jet planes.

It's no wonder scientists are calling for massive marine protected areas, for more reductions in fishing fleets, for consumers to start eating bait fish like sardines and anchovies instead of bluefin or buying only seafood caught from sustainable fisheries like the tuna produced by San Diego-based American Tuna.

What the film doesn't do, however, is point out the incredible job the United States has been doing to stop overfishing by regulating both its commercial and recreational fleets.

“United States fishermen are the most regulated fishermen in the world,” said Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products during a post-movie discussion at Kensington's Ken Cinema Friday night. “The End of the Line” is at the Ken Cinema all week. Go. It's $9 well spent.

I expected anti-fishing propaganda, and I got it, but not nearly the creelful I thought I'd get. This film is beautifully shot and directed by Rupert Murray, narrated smoothly by actor-environmentalist Ted Danson and loaded with eye-opening data gathered by author and fly fisherman Charles Clover for his 2004 book “The End of the Line,” on which the movie is based.

Here in California, we have witnessed a tremendous comeback in many fisheries like white seabass, halibut and rockfish. Trawling has been outlawed. Gill nets inside three miles are gone.

“End of the Line” author Clover said it best: “The conservation of fish stocks in the United States is 25 years ahead of the European Union because environmental groups have challenged the executive when it breaches its legal obligation to conserve fish.”

Add fishing conservation groups, working together with environmental-preservationist groups, and that's the Marine Life Protection Act process, a workable solution if extremists from both sides are pitched overboard as by-catch. The MLPA process will work if the framers include water-quality issues and pay attention to the existing fisheries management that has produced sustainable populations of fish and other marine life.

It's far from being the end of the line in California.

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