More Fish in the Seas

Among one-sided news articles on environmental issues, "Troubles Bubble Under the Sea" (Sept. 10) reaches new lows.

The article's uncritical analysis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on the world's fisheries identically parallels the spin placed on it by such environmental groups as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

The greens "cherry picked" the document for the value-laden label "highly exploited" without indicating that this really means "sustainably fished." They glossed over the fact that the report actually found 65 percent of fish stocks to be in good condition and a few percent more of depleted stocks recovering.

Nor can one presume that the remaining third described as "senescent" are actually depleted or overfished. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has for years classified the Northeastern Lobster Fishery as overfished, despite record harvests. Dr. Brian Rothschild, director of the Center for Marine Science and Technology at UMass-Dartmouth, cites NMFS's new precautionary approach as creating unwarranted designations of "overfishing." This bureaucratic algorithm takes the conservative estimates of Maximum Sustained Yield he and fellow scientists have compiled and cuts them in half yet again.

The University of Rhode Island's Christopher Dyer, a world-renowned marine anthropologist, refers to sediment records of historic fish-scale deposition in analyzing pelagic populations alleged to have collapsed from overfishing, including the sardines of Steinbeck's Cannery Row. These studies repeatedly have shown fish numbers fluctuating with similar magnitude, prior to human harvests.

Journalist Michael Parfit concurred, writing in 1995, "I spent well over a year studying ... the state of the world's fisheries for a National Geographic magazine article.... I began armed with environmentalist reports that claimed fisheries were collapsing worldwide. But I couldn't find such a disaster." His research suggests, "... all evidence, including that from the United Nations FAO, indicates that the ocean is relatively healthy. The processes that create food in the sea are largely intact." To be fair, Mr. Parfit expresses concern for improving the integration of human and marine processes over the long run but clearly decries green "catastrophism" as detracting from, rather than contributing to, this goal.

Other marine crises cited in the Monitor article emerge from sources that reveal a telltale sign of bias. It is difficult to imagine that anyone can cite statistics from the Worldwatch Institute with a straight face. This same authority reported unequivocally that the 1980s would see us in the grips of global famine as a result of population growth. And the author's principal foil for painting such a dire picture of worry among marine scientists is a "conservation biologist" - a "discipline" as surely peopled with handmaidens of the "Apocalypse R Us" crowd, as any industry lab is replete with those faithful to "corporate interest."

While there is some veracity to the article's examples of pollution and systemic marine challenges, there are innumerable academic and industry sources who don't reach the conclusion from these circumstances that the article does.

The sense of imminent crisis used to foster the compulsive US mind-set on the environment, which demands drastic and immediate upheavals in land use or fisheries management in pursuit of some mythical zero impact standard, is out of touch with reality.

Brian Bishop

Exeter, R.I.


Scene on a TV set

You got it all right in the editorial "Life Copies Seinfeld Copying Life" (Oct. 9). Just one little detail: Kramer is not Jerry's "down-the-hall" neighbor. He is Jerry's across-the-hall neighbor. I seem to recall that Kramer's front door is exactly opposite Jerry's.

Otherwise, a cool ed piece.

Owen Elliott

Juno Beach, Fla.

Editor's note: OK. Now that Kramer has installed a screen door, he seems all the more across.

Your letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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