THE BLOG
10/18/2006 01:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Goodbye, Fish & Chips

There are so many stories that interest the rest of the world* but not the US media, but one that particularly dismays me about the state of the world's ecosystem in general and the North Atlantic in particular is headlined The End of Cod. Yes, the once-common and cheaply available cod is nearly wiped out. The Times of London reports that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is saying that "A complete ban on cod fishing is the only way to prevent the species from dying out in the North Sea."

You probably didn't even know the cod was in trouble, right? Cod populations have already been nearly wiped out on our side of the pond. The waters off Newfoundland, so rich with cod it attracted fishing boats from Northern Europe long before Columbus was even born, have been virtually fished out. A moratorium on commercial cod fishing has been in effect since 1992. A study from the University of Western Ontario (it's here if you really want all of it) delves into the reasons for the cod's collapse: "overfishing, government mismanagement, and the disregard of scientific uncertainty." It's a classic example of "the tragedy of the commons."

Americans didn't think much about the collapse of Newfoundland's cod industry, given the unlikely event that they even heard of it. I happened to be in Newfoundland in time to listen to coverage of the first anniversary of the moratorium, and to the anger and despair felt by people in their far-flung villages, where generations had been fishing for more than a century. Many of those villages are now abandoned. A recent CBC story about Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans quotes an MP about what happens to a community when an abundant fish stock like the northern cod collapses.

Since 1992, after the moratorium, we've had 50,000 people leave ... because their fishing opportunities, their economic livelihoods are gone.

[For the record, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is about the size of California, and when I was there the population was less than 600,000, most of them clustered around St. John's, the capital.]

The UK's economy is certainly not as dependent upon fishing as Newfoundland's and other Maritime provinces, but there are some coastal villages who may suffer the same fate as Canada's. Most of us in America, though, probably haven't even noticed that cod's not on the menu much anymore.

* A perhaps more important story that not only US, but also most Western news outlets have ignored is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations "celebrating" the 10th anniversary of the World Food Summit by
reminding rich nations of their pledge "to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015," and how far off they are. "More than 850 million people still remain hungry and poor [about 18 million more than in 1996]. Action should be supported to improve rural livelihoods by reversing the decline of public investment in agriculture over the last two decades," says FAO head Jacques Diouf in The Independent of London, the only First World media outlet that seems to have picked up the story. (If the Indy link goes behind a paywall, try Infoshop News.)