War-toons No 2

Here are cartoons 17-29 illustrating issues in the marine reserves debate. Newspapers and magazines wishing to be franchised (syndicated) for publication, please contact the author. All copyrights Floor Anthoni.


For best printing results, adjust print setup such that two cartoons are printed on each page (all margins <0.5").
-- Seafriends home -- war index -- conservation index -- Rev 20040818,

When a government department is in need of support for its unproven ideologies, it often looks overseas for experts that are only too willing to be invited for exorbitant pay. Both nationally and internationally a travelling circus mushrooms, whose performers entertain business lunches, conferences and parliaments. One's memory does not need to be jogged much to remember the issues of nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, deregulation, privatisation, free markets, corporate take-overs, financial management, global warming, genetic engineering, to name a few. Recently the Department of Conservation has armed itself with the offensive weapon of propaganda, to win the public for a cause it cannot prove. But the public is gullible only up to a point, becoming steeled in fending off persuasive attacks while learning to distinguish fact from fallacy. For its rounds of propaganda, DoC has an unlimited budget with which it pays speakers, writers and presenters. It also uses this budget to influence the media. That is why web sites like Seafriends have become a haven for those who seek the truth and who wish to do the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. Just imagine what good could be done with the amounts wasted on false propaganda! Do we really want our government departments to behave like this?

It is quite common in society that people of power or fortune have achieved this by dishonest means. They are the sharks of society. One would believe that the legal profession would stand above such predicaments, but these professionals are modern versions of ancient warriors and gladiators. Every dispute in modern society gets settled through the courts where huge amounts of money change hands, usually ending up in the warriors' pockets. The difference between right and wrong is merely an amount of money as those who have this resource have the law on their sides. Likewise, environmental legislation, intended to do good, often ends up benefiting the wealthy while disadvantaging the poor, not to mention unborn generations. Worse still, decisions are left in the hands of people with very little knowledge of the environment, as also common sense and justice become minimalised. Is this reallly the best we cando?

Counting fish underwater is not easy. The traditional way is by sending divers down to count them along transects while also identifying them on their path (Under Water Visual Census, UVC). But some fish like snapper are very shy, whereas others like blue cod are inquisitive, following the divers along. Unfortunately, also the amount of time one can spend underwater is limited by decompression illness, the cold and what humans can endure. With the Baited Underwater Video (BUV), a video camera on a tripod, scientists can stay on board while viewing the goings-on under water. They use this method to count fish, by attracting the fish to the centre of the camera field using a box with pilchards, and pilchards tied to the outside to actually feed the fish. When fish numbers are at maximum, they count them and measure their sizes from the recording. Other scientists have criticised this method as being in conflict with principles for measuring apparatus. One does not want such apparatus influencing the value measured. Unfortunately, the bait does exactly that. In doing so, it exaggerates the outcome, resulting in fish density estimates that are also unreliable.  How much credence should we give such data?

Every fisherman thinks himself responsible, taking only what is reasonable, but outside imposed countable bag limits, this is a rather subjective measure. The fact is that as the number of fishermen increases, the available fish stocks decrease due to overfishing and pollution. It could be said that there is little merit left in fishing for sport (fame?), for fun (habit?) or even for need (greed?). Can obese anglers justify their need? So what should we do? 
Obviously, we need stocks to recover to higher and safer levels, but that also makes them easier to catch. Would stringent bag limits protect the fish in the sea? Perhaps we should also look at our need for fish, which stems from its high protein and mineral content. Eating fish once a week is considered a good idea and a quantity of about 100 gram (quarter pound) is all one needs from a nutritional perspective. Eating a lot of fish could even damage one's kidneys as excess protein needs to be excreted. What about the carcass tossed overboard as the fish is filetted? This too contains much protein and minerals. Why not cook a nutricious broth from it or cook the fish whole? Surely by eating and wasting less, we would also need less and keep more in the sea for others and for our children?

Fish tagging is one of the things marine scientists do, but why? One reason is that the more primitive an organism, the more it resembles others of the same species. So when studying sea urchins, don't attempt to tell them apart other than by carefully placed tags. Higher organisms like whales and dolphins have sufficient individual markings to tell them apart with the aid of identifying photographs. The tag-and-release (also called tag-and-recapture) experiments aim to estimate populations from the ones caught but tagged and returned to the sea. These fish hopefully assume normal life in the population, and when caught, allow fisheries scientists to make an estimate of the size of the population. For instance, when tagging 100 fish and catching 1000 afterwards, of which 5 were tagged before, means that the population is 1000/5x100= 20,000. However, if fish die as a result of tagging or if fish migrate out of the area, the tagged ones caught are less, and the estimate of the population is too high. Tagging is also helpful to see how far and where to fish migrate. Because fish tagging is a simple procedure, amateur fishers can help discovering more about our seas.

Some fishers react to conservationists' demands for 10-30% of the sea locked up forever, with a shrug of the shoulders: "We'll fish elsewhere, because there is still 70-90% where we can fish". However, since marine reserves have not shown any benefit to outlying areas due to perceived spill-over or export of larvae, a 20% reduction in area also amounts to 20% less fish to catch. It appears as if 20% has been taken from every fish as we knew it, as the cartoon suggests. With catches amounting to over 1 billion dollar in export revenue, a 20% reduction also means loss of opportunity for future generations and a hefty rent to pay. In addition, the estimated number of jobs lost, amounts to over 1000. The number of fishers having to fish elsewhere is in the order of tens of thousands. So one should go about marine reserves in a cautious way, considering alternatives and particularly what the most pressing threats to the sea are, which includes land-based pollution. As pollution increases rapidly decade by decade whereas fishing is controlled better and better, there is absolutely no haste to rush for more reserves.

A bureaucracy or government who pushes its own ideas without listening to those of the public and those who know better, is destined for extinction as history has proved time and again. In the past, the Department of Conservation (DOCZILLA) has shown utter disregard for good process, and meaningful consultation with those stakeholders who stand to lose most from marine reserves. But one of DoC's barriers is not of its own making: the Marine Reserves Act 1971, which empowers it only for permanent no-take marine reserves. Apart from the fact that marine reserves do no longer work in coastal seas due to pollution, a permanent closure does not fix the problems in the sea, while forever denying future generations its bounties. The real way to save our seas is by improved fisheries management with various degrees of conservation, a lot of education and some marine reserves where they will work and where they are needed. This solution can be provided only by the Fisheries Act, as the MRA (and DoC) cannot adapt. The last point in this cartoon refers to the fact that good ideas can work only when they find enough support in a friendly manner. Unfortunately for DoC, it has made many permanent enemies. All these indicators imply that DoC's  time has passed and its extinction from the sea is imminent. DoC out of the sea solves many problems.

Conflicts about resources arise only in times of scarcity, since while they were bountiful before, there was simply enough for everyone. This cartoon shows the reality of today and tomorrow, where the stake holders have to come to an amicable agreement. These stakeholders do not only include commercial and recreational fishermen but also the original people (and all our descendants), and not least the large old fish in the sea, sea birds and sea mammals. The only practical solution is to let fish stocks rebuild to much higher levels, and set catch quota  to below Maximum Sustainable Yield. This does not necessarily mean smaller catches, but even if they are, the loss in catch will be made good by a higher catch efficiency, fewer days at sea, less fuel used and less risk for more profit. It is almost a win-win situation, except that the marine environment will not be entirely pristine. However, because people do not live in the sea, farm the sea soil and build roads there, the sea will still be in much better shape than any of our terrestrial world.

For decades conservationists have been fighting public apathy and parliamentarians' lack of enthusiasm for marine protection. The issue was clearly waiting for a snowball effect, by which a public majority would demand marine reserves from their politicians. At schools the simple mission that marine reserves are good, finally became fruitful, resulting in a whole generation imbued with the idea that we cannot have enough of them. Now politicians use marine reserves to curry favour with their voters. Is that a good thing? Is it desirable to have marine reserves to keep politicians in power? The answer must be found in the poor performance of those reserves we already have: they are degrading by losing both their quantity and quality of life. So do we really need more of these feel-good reserves that do not deliver, but that do restrict fishing effort? Having small reserves here and there, as has been the case, does not hurt as much as the new ones, covering thousands of square kilometres at a time. But will these work? The evidence suggests that pollution there will not be  any less as the  underwater environment already shows, so they too will degrade. Do you want marine reserves to work for politicians or for the environment?

The pain of a marine reserve where fishing is prohibited forever, is not felt evenly throughout society. Those who clamoured for it loudest, are environmental groups, few of whose members catch fish. Not surprisingly they do not feel disadvantaged. Also those who are wealthy or mobile, suffer less because they can fish somewhere else. So the ones most affected are the local commercial fishermen who become displaced and those who fish for sustenance. In many remote neighbourhoods, such as on islands, there is no fresh fish in the shops, which makes sustenance fishing a necessity. Some elderly people fish to supplement their modest pensions, and many unemployed poor have no other option. Marine reserves thus must have some flexibility to accommodate social justice. However, the Marine Reserves Act does not allow for this kind of flexibility, an important reason for deep resentment. To what extent should marine reserves also be socially just?

In the spring of 1998 the crayfish in the Goat Island marine reserve showed their dissatisfaction with turbid waters arising from prolonged muddy rain storms, and they walked out in a big way: only one in six were found afterwards. They did not get far, as the local fishermen reported good catches and divers too were pleased. They said that the reserve was finally working because the fish spilled out. This crayfish walk-out surprised many because crayfish are very hardy. But they were not alone as other major events had happened before in this most hallowed of all marine reserves. In 1993 the whole kelp forest disappeared due to lack of light; then urchins became ill; the grazing parore (Girella tricuspidata) became ill and their numbers dwindled. There have been other foreboding signs, ignored by scientists working there, all broadcasting the important lesson: marine reserves do not protect against land-based pollution!

Nearly all instances where our freedoms are curtailed, are related to there being too many of us. Measures to protect fish are needed because there are too many fishers and too many people needing their catches. Popular beaches are closed to horses and dogs because these could offend too many of us. As we become more numerous while nature shrinks, simple nuisances become threats, such as polluted waters becoming poisonous. Because humans live essentially above sea level, it does not directly affect us, although this could only be a matter of time. Poisons accumulate slowly in fish and then slowly in those who eat fish, until suddenly a threshold is passed, like the proverbial droplet that makes the bucket flow over. By then it will be too late to alter the course of events. It is thus important to acknowledge early symptoms, to understand them, and to act accordingly.

Some scientists make much ado about the spill-over effect from protected areas, in the form of fish migrating out and their spawn drifting out on currents. They imagine the rest of the sea as a dangerous desert with baited fish hooks dangling everywhere. Networks of protected areas, they reason, would reinforce one another by being connected through invisible corridors. Such connectivity would enhance the resilience of each node in the network, and thus the sustainability of the whole. The cartoon suggests how such a safe corridor could be maintained, but the reality is that these wonderful ideas have not been shown to be true, and most likely never will. Because of the lack of predators between protected areas, this desert would be a haven for young recruits (those just settled out of their planktonic youth) and they in turn would tempt predators out of their reserves. Networks of marine reserves work only in our minds!

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