Sunday, May 15, 2011

Surround Net Fishing: Worse than Shark Finning

This was written in 1812 by a Frenchman on Guam. It concerns a flotilla of Carolinian sailors visiting Rota on their way to Saipan:
"We witnessed an instance of the Caroline islanders extremely irregular dietary habits. The alcade, whom we had just left, had presented them with a roast pig, a basketful of corn cobs, 150 breadfruit cooked in an oven, perhaps fifty yams, and an abundance of coconuts. They did not stop eating all day long, sometimes even rubbing and kneading their belly with their hands, as though wanting to stuff more food in. By sunset, nothing more than a few breadfruit and coconuts remained - and yet we ourselves had given them, in addition to the alcade's gifts, two chickens, two loaves of bread, two large pastries, a dozen yam roots, and some oranges. The following day, not one of them ate more than a coconut. That, they told us, is their normal ration per day on the crossings from Guam to Satawal and back. It was hard for us to grasp they could be so abstemious, having just seen them devour, or rather inhale, such a prodigious pile of food. In general, the Caroline Islanders seem to concern themselves very little with the future. Convinced that it will always and soon enough be time to cut their intake down to the miserable ration of on coconut per diem, they abuse whatever fortuitous abundances comes their way."
While written from a colonialist point of view by someone of European descent 199 years ago, does this not perfectly describe the decision making process in the Northern Mariana Islands? Let's do what what feels good right now, and we'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

It is this way of thinking that is moving the NMI towards lifting the decade-old surround net ban. The bill passed the House 15-4 and now heads to the Senate.  If signed by the governor, the bill would reauthorize the use of gillnets and surround nets, something I have touched on in my ramblings.

This seems counterintuitive, but the best way to catch more fish is to catch less fish.  To put it another way, the management of fish will allow fishermen to catch more and catch bigger fish.  The latest and best science tells us that properly managed marine protected areas lead to more fish biomass, bigger fish, more individual fish, and more fish diversity.  On top of that, tourists pay big money and travel thousands of miles to go swimming with fish.

Saipan has three small marine protected areas, but they are no way near properly managed and they are nowhere near large enough to provide sanctuary for Saipan's overfished and depleted waters.

I freely admit that the benefits of a system of properly managed marine protected areas would not begin to reap benefits until tomorrow, therefore, it will not even be considered.

So what of shark finning?

I put shark finning in the title of this blog post because Richard Seman, one of the strongest opponents to the shark fin ban, was the only person to testify against lifting the net ban. I've had my run-ins with Richard over the years.  To have this guy against the net ban should hint at how horrible these nets are.

Kudos to Richard Seman.

And speaking of sharks, I thought I'd share the account of a shark interaction from the Frenchman's journal. In this mention he is shooting birds with his rifle from the proa and the Carolinian sailors are jumping in the water to retrieve them:
"These islanders are such splendid swimmers that it is almost a matter of indifference to them whether their head is under the water or out of it; the sea, it appeared, was their natural element, despite the frequent dangers with which it threatened them. Once, as they were on point of diving to retrieve a bird, a shark appeared. They merely watched it until it had moved far enough away and no longer presented an immediate menace, then one of them plunged into the sea and returned in the usual manner."
Respect, not fear. If you want a copy, An Account of the Corvette L' Uraine's Sojourn at the Mariana Islands, 1819, is available on Saipan.

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