Fisheries and Environmentalism

(from "Public Perception of Whaling", ICR, 1994)

Dr. Fukuzo Nagasaki
Institute of Cetacean Research

Fishing as an industry is inherently dependent on the environment; a favorable environment is a prerequisite to its viability. Nonetheless, the fishing industry itself is blamed - as is the case in whaling - of being disruptive of the environment. Where did this argument come from? What is the significance of the widespread acceptance of this assertion in the Western world? In this paper I will examine this question, and suggest some appropriate measures that may be taken in the future.

The 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment, held in the midst of the Vietnam War, adopted a 10-year moratorium on commercial whaling by cleverly substituting the whaling issue - with the catch phrase "Save the whales" - for the environmental issue. At about the same time, the environmental issue became more diffuse.

The nature of the so-called environmental question is muddled. Supposedly, it seeks to find the most effective ways of utilizing the riches of nature, including the earth's environment in which we live, for people of all countries and of all lifestyles. To achieve its aims, international cooperation is essential. In reality, however, confrontation, rather than cooperation, is the rule. For instance, the confrontation between "wise use" and "non-use" positions with regard to the use of natural resources can be noted in many fields. The non-use position refuses to see preservation and use as two sides of the same coin; rather, it insists that preservation should be both head and tail. This position, which fails to consider a proper balance between the two aspects, is often observed in the environmentalist movement these days. This imbalance becomes especially unmanageable when it is emotionally charged for any reason, resulting in fierce confrontations not only in fisheries, but also in agriculture and forestry.

The Japanese fishing industry is not the only victim of unbridled environmentalism. I fear that the damage extends to developing countries, which rely for their livelihoods on primary industries - agriculture, forestry, and fisheries - as well as to local communities in remote places whose inhabitants have long maintained their existence by living in harmony with nature. Here, too, the one-sided argument of most industrial countries appears to be lurking in the background.

I doubt if there is anyone who thinks that humankind evolved into modern civilization while preserving nature in a pristine state. Most people are fully aware as to what has taken place in Europe and on the North American continent, and how the inhabitants there have expanded production. Everyone knows that improving our living environment brings about changes in the natural environment. On the other hand, changes in the natural environment often have undesirable effects on the way we live. Knowing perfectly well that using nature to secure our livelihoods conflicts with the idea of preserving the environment, we nonetheless seek more convenient modes of living, resulting in ever-rising levels of consumption. Meanwhile, the world population increases at a rapid rate. The situation is very serious indeed. At this critical juncture, unbalanced environmentalism is running rampant, causing, I am afraid, serious delays in our efforts to take appropriate measures to cope with our fundamental problems.

Earlier, I mentioned that fishing is an industry which depends on the environment. If the condition of the sea were to deteriorate progressively from its natural state, the adverse effects on the fishing industry would become ever more serious. At extreme levels of marine deterioration, fisheries would no longer be viable. Fishermen are more aware of this fact than anyone else. Recently, however, the fishing industry - a potential victim of environmental degradation - has been denounced as the disrupter of the environment on the grounds that fishing destroys the ecosystem. Environmentalists, for example, still denounce whaling as an activity that can destroy the ecosystem. According to a recent study on whales, the maximum sustainable yield from a herd of 1,000 whales is conservatively estimated at about 2%, or 20 animals. Who could seriously think that harvesting 20 whales each year from a population of 1,000 might destroy the ocean ecosystem?

The wise use of marine life has long been the key to the fishing industry. The fishing industry will not be viable unless it continues to adhere to the principle of wise use. Using marine resources by skillfully maintaining the delicate balance between use and preservation is, and will remain, the fundamental task of the industry. The notion of non-use is alien to the fishing industry; it simply will not do. Fishing, however, can upset the balance between use and preservation. Overfishing is not a rare phenomenon. The problem in that case, however, lies in the way fishing is practiced; it does not mean that the fishing industry itself is inherently irresponsible. In no country in the world will the active practitioners of fisheries subscribe to the philosophy of non-use of marine resources. Such a position, I suspect, is promoted by powerful groups from outside the industry - those who are not involved in fisheries. If those who are in no position to take advantage of marine resources - those who are outside the direct interests of the industry - irresponsibly advocate the non-use position, then those who are practicing wise use of marine resources should mount a well-organized counter-offensive.

Some time ago, certain groups reminded us of the limits to the earth's resources, and advocated ocean development as a means to cope with increasing world population and rising demand for resources. Where has this ocean development fever of the 1960s and 1970s gone? How does ocean development relate to recent environmentalist arguments? It does not seem to me that any one of these - ocean development projects, 200-mile limits, or the environmental preservation movement - is an integral part of a well-coordinated policy.

About 20 years ago, keen interest arose in developing new systems for ocean management. One of the main thrusts of this movement was the international agreement on 200-mile fisheries limits, as agreed to at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. Under this agreement, coastal nations were allowed to claim management jurisdiction over resources in waters up to 200 nautical miles from their shores. The result was that Japan's deep-sea fishing industry slowly but steadily lost traditional fishing grounds and was forced to retreat. This development was an unprecedented disaster for Japan's deep-sea fishing industry, which, until that time, had grown by leaps and bounds. The 200-mile zone allows coastal nations to claim fisheries resources within these coastal waters. As such, it addresses the question of the distribution of the earth's resources among nations, not the principles that guide the use of marine resources. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has a number of provisions which purportedly relate to these latter principles, but few believe that marine resources are today being utilized according to these provisions.

The impact of the animal welfare movement on fisheries is concerned more with the principle of use than the principle of distribution. Perhaps "principle of use" is not an appropriate description. This logic presupposes a choice between use and non-use of marine resources. An environmentalist approach such as this may come as a puzzling surprise to those engaged in fisheries in Japan and elsewhere, but has become a familiar issue in the commercial whaling controversy over the past 20 years. One of the consequences of the movement is the moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been in effect since 1986. Another consequence is that the U.S. Congress failed to ratify the interim convention on the Conservation of North Pacific Fur Seals on the grounds that it presupposed harvesting of fur seals. As a result, the attempt to adopt an interim convention was abandoned, and we are now left with no international agreement on fur seals. This loss is unfortunate since the original convention was highly acclaimed at the beginning of the century as a fine example of international management of marine resources. It helped, through international cooperation, to prevent the depletion of the resources and maximize the stocks of available resources.

There are some people who boycott fur products. They say that furs are attractive only on animals. And certainly, our daily lives would not be inconvenienced if we could not wear seal furs. Even mink is unnecessary. Man-made fibers are just as good as fur, and the wealthy will not truly miss fur. Such arguments, however, are beside the point. The important question is what environmentalists propose to do with the livelihoods of people in out-of-the-way places who catch seals, sell the fur, and eat their meat. Is it not an important function of public policy to guarantee a healthy and stable livelihood for people in such places? Those who wear furs are not greatly inconvenienced by the constant barrage of criticism about their clothing habits, but the many people who hunt fur would lose their jobs as a by-product of any boycott.

The International Whaling Commission established a sanctuary in the Indian Ocean and imposed a total ban on the catching of marine mammals there. What would be the significance of telling people in the Indian Ocean's remote coastal communities not to catch dolphins and whales? It is inconceivable that measures like this can ensure the maintenance of the ocean environment. Now, they say that the purpose of this Indian Ocean sanctuary is research. Yet the whole idea of carrying out research by limiting the activities of coastal communities is beyond comprehension.

There are some who propose tuning the Antarctic Ocean into a marine park, a sanctuary in which the harvesting of all forms of marine life will be prohibited. They insist that catching not only whales and seals, but also krill should be banned - on the grounds that krill is what whales feed on. Although fishermen still regard the proposal as nothing but a distant agitation, the potential threat to the industry of this proposal should not be underestimated.

Until recently, the high seas have been considered open to everyone, whereas coastal nations have had jurisdiction over territorial waters and economic zones. The high seas, although less "open" than before, have always provided fishermen with open fishing grounds. An open sea which does not belong to anyone, however, is an ideal target for application of the principle of non-use. Coastal nations may implement their own economic policies within their respective economic zones, and have the right to do so. The environmentalists, therefore, hesitate to impose their unconventional principles on these economic zones. From here on, their unconventional measures may, however, be imposed on common areas and commonly-owned resources, as exemplified by bans on drift-net fishing and the catching of salmon on the open sea, as well as the possible prohibition of marine-life utilization in Antarctic waters. The "open" sea may well become a closed place indeed.

What, then, would be the nature of the guiding principles of marine resource utilization as espoused by the advocates of animal welfare? Theirs is an ideology that respects the right of all creatures to live. It objects to the killing of creatures regardless of the reason. It even objects to placing nature's creations in such an unnatural environment as an aquarium and leads to the insistence that experiments on live animals should not be permitted, even for scientific purposes. Although it is true that creatures have the right to live, the argument contains an inherent contradiction. Those groups or individuals who espouse such an ideology often try to hide this contradiction behind conditions. Although they would not allow the slaughter of even a single whale, they have no compunction about disregarding the rights of cattle and hogs, which are slaughtered daily on the grounds that they have been raised by humans. Needless to say, such an argument is nothing but an arrogant, dogmatic assertion. It is a dogma that treats particular things and particular people differently from other things and other people.

At this point, we need to determine the identity of those who make up the opposing sides of this controversy of wise use and non-use of marine resources. Without knowing thoroughly the identities of those who advocate the non-use position, it would be difficult to devise appropriate countermeasures. Our knowledge of who the non-use advocates are, however, is variable and not always consistent. For instance, some would mention the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and several European nations. Others may define their opponents as a group of so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which act as pressure groups on their respective governments. But such general definitions of the opposition fail to reveal the true intent of the non-use arguments. I will therefore give my own observations on the juxtaposition of the two opposing sides.

Within the International Whaling Commission, the confrontation over the commercial whaling issue has raged for more than 10 years and still remains unresolved. Let us examine who has been confronting whom and on what issues. Although the whaling issue may appear, at first sight, to reflect a conflict between the whaling and non-whaling nations, the reality is much more complex. At the 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm, the anti-whaling nations - led by the United States - rallied around the slogan "Save the whales." If whales had indeed been on the verge of extinction, we might have expected a movement to save them to have unprecedented appeal to people on the street. It would be easy to mount a grassroots campaign to raise funds in such a situation. In fact, though, the movement was able to raise ample funds for its activities, and at the same time succeed in planting in the minds of the general public a belief that whales were facing extinction.

Subsequent activities of the International Whaling Commission protected those species of whales that deserved protection. The focus of the debates then shifted to those species of whales whose stocks are abundant - primarily the Antarctic minke whale. As far as this species is concerned, the extinction argument is moot. Realizing this, the anti-whaling lobby switched to the "uncertainty" of our knowledge of stock sizes as its next rallying point. Similar success in this campaign enabled the anti-whaling nations to enact the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, a moratorium to which they had long aspired.

The present position of the anti-whaling nations is contradictory; it objects to Japan's research whaling while questioning the uncertainty of the available information. Although the slogan has changed from "the extinction of whales" to "the uncertainty of the data," it has become gradually clear that their true intention lies elsewhere. What they are really saying is that not a single whale should be killed, regardless of the purpose. Eating whale flesh is seen as inexcusable. Moreover, such thoughts are, it seems, meant to be modified by the word "Japan."

The definition of the term "whales" in this view is also steadily expanding - first to include dolphins, and now to encompass all marine mammals. The ban on harvesting has finally extended to other fish and krill on which whales feed. At this point, the nature of the confrontation has clearly shifted to one of differences in food culture. Nations such as Japan, Iceland, and Norway have traditionally relied on marine resources for their diet. On the other hand, most people with roots in Europe are livestock consumers. They raise hogs, cattle, and sheep, and slaughter them for human consumption. In other words, we find a juxtaposition of two food cultures - one marine-resource oriented and the other based on livestock farming.

The former culture takes its foodstuffs from among the many available marine products, and does not limit its food intake to particular species. Marine life is localized and seasonal. Living off the products of the sea is not feasible unless a variety of resources are utilized whenever and wherever they are available. Maritime nations must eat anything available - seaweed, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, squid, octopus, and so on. They cannot survive unless they do, and whales and dolphins are a part of this. The Japanese do not particularly seek out bizarre foodstuffs for their plates. It is just that they have traditionally eaten anything that was handy. To that end, they have developed a great many ways of processing and cooking fish and shellfish. We might say that this is a skill acquired by a maritime nation.

By contrast, livestock-farming peoples historically relied on a certain limited number of species all year around. As the word "livestock" suggests, they lived with a herd of livestock - sheep for example - and moved from place to place in search of grazing for the animals. The size of a herd could be no larger than necessary, yet large enough to guarantee sustenance. The wisdom of a livestock-farming people was found in how they controlled the size of a herd. Nowadays, though, they no longer move about in search of feed; livestock are raised primarily on grain.

In the past, these two fundamentally different forms of livelihood coexisted and few problems arose between them. However, as the world population increases and per-capita food consumption rises, the total demand for food resources is growing, and this easily leads to over-utilization of resources, especially by fisheries. Over-fishing may lead to a depletion of marine resources. Species extinction is not out of the question for certain types of fish and whales near the top of the marine food chain.

The sea, and particularly the high seas, has essentially been for common use. The utilization of such open-access resources by a particular group of people may be resented by others who do not utilize them. These latter may then characterize the fishing activities of the former as disruptive of the environment. By contrast, livestock farming entails neither hunting nor the possible extinction of animal species. Any increase in demand can be met by an increase in the number of animals raised. There is no shortage of feed grain. If a shortage does develop, the acreage of grain under cultivation can be increased to compensate.

As the reader may now understand, the paradigm as this writer sees it is a juxtaposition of meat versus fish, and livestock-farming peoples versus maritime peoples. Let's compare the consumption of meat and fish around the world. In terms of annual per-capita consumption of animal flesh and fish, we can divide the world into those countries which consume 50 kilograms or more of meat and/or fish a year and those which consume less. The former includes all the economically advanced nations. Even within this group, there is considerable variation in the consumption of meat. Five countries - Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Canada, and Argentina - are conspicuous for their consumption of meat, which exceeds 100 kilograms a year. Fish consumption is low in these countries. The European countries - including France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy - can also be categorized as meat-eating nations with annual meat consumption per capita in the range of 50 to 100 kilograms. Both meat and fish figure fairly heavily in the diet of the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland), as well as the former Soviet Union and Spain. By contrast, Japan and Iceland are in a class by themselves, with very high levels of dependence on fish. They can be characterized as typical fish-eating nations.

Among the countries whose per-capita meat and fish consumption is less than 50 kilograms a year, those in Southeast Asia - including South Korea, North Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand - tend to consume more fish than meat. Rice is the staple food in these countries. Other major fish-eating nations are Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire, all of which are located on the west coast of Africa. Countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America tend to be meat-eating, but consumption is relatively small. China is mainly a pork-eating nation.

This quick summary shows that fish-eating countries are a minority in a community of nations where an overwhelming majority are meat-eating. It is easy to imagine, though, that even those nations which consume smaller amounts of animal flesh will develop a greater taste for meat if the supply of cereals in those countries becomes plentiful. This should give us pause for thought as we consider the long-term prospects for the supply of food.

I want to compare meat-eating and fish-eating from the point of view of food energy. Whereas fish is harvested directly from the natural environment, the production of meat by livestock farming consumes a huge amount of basic food energy - energy expressed in terms of the calorific value of cereals - since livestock feed on cereals and other land-produced products. The production of one kilogram of animal meat requires between six and eight kilograms of feed on average. Specifically, the amount of feed required to produce one kilogram of meat is over 10 kilograms in the case of beef, between four and five kilograms for pork, and about two kilograms for chicken. Consequently, the typical diet of meat-eating Westerners consumes far more basic food calories than that of Orientals, whose staple foods are cereals. Whereas the people of a developing country consume on average 200 kilograms of cereals per year, those in industrially advanced countries consume more than 500 kilograms. Annual food consumption per capita in the United States is equivalent to 1,000 kilograms of cereals. The consumption of one American, in terms of basic food calories, is therefore five times that of an Indian and more than twice that of a Japanese.

If everyone in the world today were to eat an average of 500 grams of cereals per day, the whole world population, about 5 billion people, could be fed by the production of only about 800 million tons of cereals. The total worldwide production of cereals in recent years is estimated to be somewhere between 1.6 billion and 1.7 billion tons, enough to feed everyone. But with a large number of people throughout the world preferring meat and aiming for a Western-style diet, the existing capacity of agriculture on the planet is inadequate to meet the demand.

Supplies of marine products, on the other hand, are obtained largely by exploiting natural resources, with the minor exception of marine farming. The task is to find the most effective way of harvesting natural resources. If we primarily harvest marine resources that feed on plankton, we can count on large potential catches. If, on the other hand, we limit our harvest to fish higher in the chain, which feed on other fish, the potential size of catches will be limited. The most effective way of utilizing marine resources, therefore, is to harvest from all levels of the food chain. In that sense, the Japanese fishing industry is most effective. The Japanese habit of eating many varieties of marine products makes our production pattern economical.

This analysis reveals the true nature of the movement opposing the Japanese fishing industry in general and whaling in particular. Although on the surface it appears to be a lobby supported by a small number of radical groups, we must realize that the movement enjoys the support of Western societies in general. If that were not the case, it would be impossible for a handful of radical groups to influence the opinion of so many governments. Under such circumstances, criticizing the logic of the meat-eating, livestock-farming societies is not likely to prove an effective way of countering the anti-whaling movement. Rather, if we are to cope with the problem of increasing world population and rising demand for food, it is necessary for each nation to make the most of its own food culture, as based on a harmony with the particular local conditions. It behooves each nation and each local community to value its traditional ways of living with nature and its own patterns of food consumption.

Furthermore, we must make every effort to contain the various movements opposed to fisheries and fish-eating which today's misguided environmentalism has spawned, and which are likely to become increasingly vocal. Even more important, however, is the need for the maritime and fish-eating nations of the world to form a close alliance. Although such nations constitute a minority within the world community, there are three steps we can take to demonstrate the rationality of fishing. First, we can clearly establish a philosophy of maritime dependency and marine resource utilization by strengthening international cooperation between the nations of Asia, the west coast of Africa - which are likely to increase their reliance on marine resources - as well as the North European maritime nations. Second, we should form an organization to bring together the voices of the numerous small communities that rely heavily on fisheries in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Finally, we should set up an organization which channels the voices of the various indigenous peoples of remote Arctic regions, giving support to these people who have long lived close to the marine environment. What is expected of Japan now, I believe, is effort to unite those forces that are working to maintain and expand fisheries, fish-eating, and traditional interactions with nature.