Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Series of Some Significance: First, kill the codfish

[The following post was presented earlier in four separate parts. They are now combined for the sake of convenience - at no extra charge.]

Live Small Part 1 - Can you pick out this face?

Do you recognize the face? Do you know who it is?

[“Photo from Seacoasts of Canada by P. Berton”: GH]

Hard question, eh? And I’m not talking about the young child. I personally don’t have a clue. I’m talking about the two fish.

Do you recognize the face?

Allow me to give you a clue:

“Until the 1980s, the waters off the Grand banks teemed with cod - so many that the supply was deemed inexhaustible. Some thirty-five thousand people derived their living, directly or indirectly, from East Coast cod, which represented 10 percent of the world’s entire catch and helped make Canada the world’s largest exporter of fish.” (Ch. 8, Seacoasts of Canada)

I would wager that 9 of 10 Canadians would not know who it is. The days when a giant cod could dwarf a small boy are long gone.

The one on the right was five feet long and weighed sixty pounds. And though both were caught in a trap at Battle Harbour, Labrador, I would wager 5 of 10 Labradorians under the age of 30 have never seen a codfish this size. 10 of 10 likely never will again.

Today, when one sees cod for sale at the market, it will be a small one.

And it should remind us of big mistakes in the past from which we’ve learned but few lessons.


Live Small Part 2 - Mistakes charge compound interest

I wager that 9 of 10 Canadians wouldn’t recognize a giant codfish if they tripped over one.

[“Photo from Seacoasts of Canada by P. Berton”: GH]

However, 10 of 10 won’t likely ever be blessed with the opportunity to trip over one in their lifetime.

Why do I say this?

“...on July 2, 1992, with the celebratory clamour of Canada’s 125th birthday party still ringing in his ears, John Crosbie, then minister of fisheries and oceans, conceded a fact that he had earlier tried to deny but that a small group of scientists and inshore fishermen had already realized: the cod were gone.

“The situation was so desperate that all commercial fishing was outlawed for two years, a moratorium that had to be extended and is still in force. The shock that followed was like an earthquake: hard to believe, difficult to explain, not easy to accept.

“Since that time some Maritimers have talked wistfully of the “return” of the cod, as if some pelagic pied piper has spirited them away temporarily to lurk in an obscure backwater before returning to the fish pastures of Newfoundland. It is exactly that kind of wishful thinking that lies behind the original decline of the East Coast’s greatest natural resource.

“Like the salmon fishers of the West Coast and the prodigal whale hunters of the Arctic, human predators plundered the Atlantic of its bounty with little thought for the future, believing, against all evidence, that the supply of cod was limitless.”
(Chapter 8, Seacoasts of Canada)

Such foolish mistakes - “nature will supply all forever” - charge high compound interest.

[“There are limits to what we can and should do.”]

Almost 20 years have past since thousands of Newfoundlanders pinned their hopes on the limitless supply of cod. Two decades of tough times some would surely say.

But they’re a rugged, proud people. Many have survived to this day by other means.

Many now trust that the Alberta oil sands and offshore oil and tourist dollars will keep the home fires burning.

I wish them all well and that the lessons learned about East Coast cod will help those living on another East Coast - in a land far away - escape the same upheavals.


Live Small Part 3 - Sharks are falling into the jaws of man

I have almost finished reading Carl Safina’s book, song for the blue ocean’, 440 pages of dense material and the world’s smallest font.

(Please see ‘Read This’, side margin. I highly recommend the book, and was happy to hear recently my youngest son has started into it).

Throughout, a ‘live small’ philosophy is encouraged, based on Safina’s first-hand observations of some of mankind’s insatiable appetites.

Earlier I mentioned events on the East Coast of Canada. Now we travel to another East Coast, simultaneously so different yet much the same.

“Hong Kong is a modern metropolis of six million bust souls, a comfortable, clean, safe, hustling city, with dense morning mists, workers on bamboo lattices building skyscrapers, and businesses and products with names like Very Good Trading Company and Double Happiness Cigarettes.” (pg. 404, song for the blue ocean)

And everywhere, shops.

“Ah! The place we have been looking for. Baskets and tubs of live frogs, turtles, salamanders, and aquarium plants clutter the sidewalks. Shop after shop (many selling cyanide caught fish that die immediately after eating their first large meal because their innards have been severely damaged by the poison) of live aquarium fishes line the street.”

The following sign caught Safina’s eye:

“We import all kinds raw shark fins, make all kinds shark fin products, selling shark fins, shark fin fiber.”

[“Shark fin soup - a high price in many ways”: PHOTO LINK]

As you’ll soon see, the Chinese use shark fins in much the same way my mother once used oatmeal. The same way, but very different again too.

“In the backs of many shops here, workers are drying and skinning the fins, then soaking them to get the fibers used in making soup. (A bowl of shark fin soup can cost $90.)”

“I pick up a package of shark fin fibers packed in cellophane, and in the directions on the back the secret of making shark fin soup is revealed to me for the first time:

Cook two hours with ham or chicken, in chicken broth.

“I stare at this for a few moments and read it twice. I can’t get over this! We are demolishing sharks worldwide to make ham-flavored chicken soup? I had heard that the fins add texture but no flavor. Apparently, this is true.

(My mother used to toss a handful of oatmeal into her meatloaf - not for texture - in order to make it go farther.)

“In my own wasteful throwaway society, we do not appreciate the real value of so many things. Here, so many things are wasted because they are valued in ways that are not real.

“In every restaurant we’ve been to in Hong Kong, various soups featuring shark fins are an entire section in the menu. Just as buffalo tongues, passenger pigeons, and cranes once graced the menus of fancy restaurants in America.”
(pg. 403)

Gone are the days of the five-foot-long cod fish on Canada’s East Coast.

Hopefully, soon, gone will be the days of slashing shark fins off the back of a shark (only to dispose of the rest, in many cases, in the ocean) to add texture to chicken soup.



Live Small Part 4: First the cod, then the shark, then the...

Gone are the days of the five-foot-long cod fish on Canada’s East Coast.

Soon, gone also will be the days of slashing shark fins off the backs of sharks just to add texture to chicken soup - hopefully because of wise conservation efforts.

Concerning conservation efforts, you shouldn’t hold your breath, at least according to ‘song for the blue ocean’ by Carl Safina. (The book comes highly recommended: see ‘Read This’, side margin).

Safina writes, “The U.N. reports that the “tragedy of sharks” is that, while their valuable fins make them targets, sharks contribute so little economically compared to other fishes that their research and management is a low priority, even if shark populations are depleted. This means “little hope for viable management consistent with both economic and conservation interests.”

In other words, if sharks were more valuable as a commodity we would kill them faster, likely until it was too late to save them as a species.

“Heavy fishing exerts so unnatural a pressure, such high mortality in the face of such slow reproduction (sharks are a late-maturing fish; some bear only a few young per young), that sharks are simply unequipped by evolution to withstand it.

“In almost all cases where sharks have been targeted by commercial fisheries, they have been depleted within a few years, yet global shark fishing and trade are expanding virtually unregulated and uncontrolled... people also catch sharks for skins that can be tanned into valuable leather, for oils, and for cartilage used to make the bogus “anti-cancer” pills now sold in many Western countries.

“Because of this, shark populations in most areas of the globe have declined rapidly.”
(pg. 402)

As I read ‘song for the blue ocean’ the list of animal extinctions depletions, on land and in water, grew longer.

Codfish, shark, reef fish, salmon, tuna, whale, and so on.

Fortunately, the song held a few positive notes.

Sustainable practices, sometimes against overwhelming odds, have taken hold in various regions of the world, though the grip of such practices is tenuous at best.

Again, I recommend the book. (I found two copies at Chapters before Christmas for $5.99.) With each page the “live small” philosophy is encouraged.

Live small. Live simply. Love your neighbour. Maintain a sense of humour.

Reduce spending. Pay down debts. Save money for tough times ahead.


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