Friday, May 27, 2011

Short-sighted Fisheries Policy

NOAA has stated that while bluefin tuna populations are declining rapidly, there's no reason right now to place list the fish as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Perhaps NOAA policymakers are receiving pressure from the fishing industry and/or Obama Administration not to suggest protecting the bluefin. Or perhaps NOAA is just engaging in short-sighted policies, given that the bluefin is probably only a couple of years of needing that protection.If NOAA is engaging in number counting and won't list the bluefin before it reaches a certain point, it isn't doing a good job of thinking about long-term fishery management and the need to protect a species before it goes extinct.

Andrew Revkin suggests in the linked piece that if the goal is to sustain the fishery that the ESA is the wrong tool. I don't necessarily disagree with this. In my own work, I write about how the ESA was probably the wrong tool for protecting the northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. However, I also argue that at the time, it was the only tool in environmentalists' tool box. Without court orders to stop old-growth logging in national forests, the rest of those forests would have all been logged by now (nearly all of them were planned for logging operations by 2000). Today, those forests are saved for the time being, even as the fate of the owl remains dicey.

Given the anti-environmental attitudes in Congress and among much of the public, do environmentalists have another tool in the toolbox other than using the ESA if they want to save the bluefin and other species from oblivion? I'm not so sure they do. So I'd like to see Revkin explain what other realistic possibilities are out there for people concerned with fish populations. He suggests some ideas here, but changing values are unlikely and just admitting that species are going to go extinct is not useful.