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Tragedy at sea

March 1, 2012
by Patrick Love

Free ebook!

At the start of the year, I was thinking of doing something about the Titanic, 2012 being the centenary of its sinking, and a chance to quote one of the greatest illustrations of hubris ever uttered (if it ever was): “God himself couldn’t sink this ship”. Technically, God didn’t, but as we all know, one of His icebergs did.

Then the Costa Concordia sank and I decided to wait. But for the past couple of days, the misadventures of the Concordia’s sister ship the Costa Allegra have featured prominently on the French news.

This is because, first of the association with the other vessel, and second because the Indian navy supplied spectacular footage of the cruise liner being towed by a fishing boat. And third because there were French people on board. (Localism is a long journalistic tradition. When the Titanic sank, Scottish daily The Aberdeen Press and Journal announced the news with the headline “Northeast man lost at sea”.)

Two questions come to mind. When will Costa change the name of whatever is left of their fleet to something forgettable? And why does a fishing boat need engines powerful enough to haul a gigantic cruise liner hundreds of miles across the ocean?

The unsurprising answer to the first question is as soon as possible. The more surprising answer to the second one is nets.  The Trevignon, the trawler that rescued the Costa Allegra, needs its 5000 horsepower engines to deploy a net that measures 1800 metres by 300 metres in a circle around the fish then lift a catch weighing a hundred tonnes or more out of the water and onto the deck in under 20 minutes.  

The fish it hunts are tuna, which as this video from the WWF shows, are bigger and faster than a Porsche. And more expensive too, the record being $736,000 for a single fish, or $2737 a kilo.  That’s over four times the record we talked about in this post in 2010, and even this will probably be beaten fairly soon because bluefin tuna are becoming ever rarer.

In fact, lots of fish are becoming rarer. Approximately 30% of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion and 50% are fully exploited. One sign of this is the number of new species appearing in shops and restaurants to compensate for the lack of traditional species.

Green Economy in a Blue World a new report from the FAO, UNEP and other organisations shows that with up to 40% of the global population living within 100 kilometres of the coast, the world’s marine ecosystems (the “Blue World”) provide essential food, shelter and livelihoods to millions of people. Human impacts are taking an increasing toll on the health and productivity of the world’s oceans, but, the report argues, it’s possible to unlock the vast potential of the marine-based economy in a way that would significantly reduce damage to oceans, while alleviating poverty and improving livelihoods.

Useful links

OECD Green Growth Studies: Food and Agriculture focuses on primary agriculture, but also talks about fisheries and aquaculture .  

OECD Insights: Fisheries provides the answers to the following questions:

  • What did Queen Elizabeth have for her 80th birthday dinner, and why couldn’t she have it for her 81st?
  • What was a wondyrchurm, and what did the government decide to do about it?
  • Why was Prohibition good for gangsters and bad for fishers?
  • Who invented fish and chips?
  • How did an amateur taxidermist change the global food industry?
  • Whose contract says they can’t keep their appendix?
  • How much is a trawlerful of fish worth?
  • What does ghost fishing catch?

If you’re too modern to buy the print version of the book or too lazy to download the free ebook, you can look up the answers here.

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