North Sea Cod and farmland birds

Two articles on management – fisheries, land and wildlife – in the Guardian:

Cod levels in the North Sea are showing signs of recovery, but limits must be enforced to ensure it continues, experts warned today.

For the first time in six years, the annual report on fish stocks in the north east Atlantic by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) has not called for a complete ban on North Sea fishing.

To continue this recovery, Ices, which advises governments on fishing quotas and coordinates marine research in the North Atlantic, has recommended that catches be limited to less than 50% of the 2006 catches in the North Sea, Eastern channel and Skagerrak, an area off the coasts of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Cod fishing in Kattegat, the Irish Sea and the west of Scotland, should be reduced to zero as the stocks are at dangerously low levels, Ices warned.

The committee of scientists said overall removals – including fish landings, discards and unaccounted-for removals – of less than 22,000 tonnes would allow the fish stock to recover to the minimum target of 70,000 tonnes by 2009.

Being neither a catcher nor an eater of fish, I wouldn’t say I’m directly invested in this sort of thing. Being a human being, I’m at least indirectly dependent upon life in the sea to sustain life on land (not least through the oxygen it makes for me). As an econometrician, I find the pursuit of the metrics of fish wonderful:

Ices calculates whether a stock is considered to be within safe biological limits by looking at its spawning stock biomass, estimates of fishing mortality and catch estimates. Ices classifies cod as being “at risk of being harvested unsustainably and suffering reduced reproductive capacity”.

That sounds like so much fun.

On to birds!

A European-wide ruling to increase wheat supply could have a “devastating effect” on Britain’s already threatened farmland birds, the RSPB warned today.

The decision this summer by the EU to reduce “set-aside” land across Europe in a bid to increase next year’s wheat crop by 10m tonnes will have a direct impact on populations of specialist farmland birds like the yellowhammer, grey partridge and skylark, the RSPB said.

The claim comes as new government figures show that populations of specialist farmland birds – birds that breed or feed mainly on farmland – have declined to a record low.

The RSPB called on the government to make more funding available for “agri-environment” schemes. These allow farmers to farm in a “wildlife friendly way,” Mr Madge said. “Maintaining hedgerows, ditches, building beetle banks and skylark plots all help.”

Honestly, it’s less interesting than the fish, econometrically. Economically, moreso: declining-to-extinction cod stocks will prompt a response, even from the vector of extinction. Fishing businesses will lay off overfishing, if/as/when they realise that they’re truly putting all future fishing yields at risk.

Farmland birds, not so much. We don’t hunt them, we don’t eat them. Their value is (almost purely) in terms of species’ diversity. Which is not to be under-estimated, but bloody easy to under-value, because there’s hardly any market. Ornithologists won’t muster the resources to save set-aside lands from being farmed for highly profitable (in the short-term) food crops.

‘We’, meanwhile, will remain fairly non-responsive. We see ‘birds’, so we figure ‘birds’ can more or less take care of themselves. Even if we acknowledge that the birds we see are not the species dying out, we don’t much respond – there are still ‘birds’, right? Isn’t ‘birds’ all we need? Good luck selling the argument that every species depends upon a minimum level of diversity in every other species to a mother of 3 in the cereal aisle of her local supermarket.

Eco 1 students: this is the scarcity problem. We need the land; the birds need the land. The land can’t serve both our needs, and we need to decide whether the food that the land can yield serves our needs better/more than the ‘service’ provided by the contribution of farmland birds to species diversity.

It’s the new “if you can’t the sucker in the room …” joke. If you spot the external market for your survival in the room, you won’t.

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1 comment so far

  1. opit on

    I don’t have reference cites near by – but am quite sure cod was the staple of Atlantic fishing : so much so the economies of countries like Denmark and Norway rested on the fishing industry and it was number one on the hit parade.
    Newfoundland in eastern Canada was the home of summer fishing camps for about two hundred years before Europeans managed to secure their homes from reprisals from native people – the original owners no longer around.
    Anthropologically, peoples living by the water were the ones with time to disperse into more varied activities because the basic business of securing a supply of protein was more easily attended to. Also, wind and water made commerce much more practical.
    So, an often overlooked component of British prosperity was the merchant marine.


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