Gloucester Daily Times
December 11, 20007
Wrong ideas do incalculable damage.
The tendency is to attribute bad ideas to malice and foresight. More often than not, wrong ideas only stem from ignorance. At least that appears to be the case in relation to the fishing industry in the United States. Repeat after me: Overfishing is done by the natural predators; overfishing is not done by the fishermen.
The depletion of traditional bottom fish species is attributed to the behavior of fishermen. Wrong. The depletion of traditional bottom fish species is due primarily to their natural predators, the pelagics - herring and mackerel - that live in the middle of the water column.
This dynamic becomes incontrovertible as soon as one stops sponsoring the wrong conception of a fixed, linear and pyramidal food chain, a line whose starting and end points are entirely arbitrary. The reality is that the line is constantly in flux, and the predators of today become the prey of tomorrow.
Herring and mackerel are not the constant prey and feed of bottom fish, needing to be protected from being caught by the fishermen. At times, the opposite is true. Herring and mackerel are the predators of bottom fish. Ours is still one of those times.
Herring and mackerel are abundant because, rather than being the feed of the bottom fish, they are fed by them.When herring and mackerel are in abundant supply, they provide a barrier for bottom fish, keeping them from going up and down the water column. And they need to go up and down the water column because, when bottom fish spawn, the larvae need to go up toward the light and the food - the plankton - that exist at the very top of the water column.
And once they grow up, the codlings want, indeed, they need, to go back to their habitat among their friends and relatives to reproduce, enjoy life and savor better food than plankton.
It is when they go up and down the water column that bottom fish become a feast for the predators: herring and mackerel.
The only way to provide for a natural replenishment of the bottom fish is to catch the pelagics. It is to take them out of the water column.
All this is elementary. All this is proved by history and by statistics. Just now that some herring and mackerel are being caught again in New England waters, the stocks of bottom fish are rebounding at an accelerating rate. When, 40 and more years ago, pelagics were caught by Lippman Marine for use as fertilizers and chicken feed (ouch!), the bottom fish were in abundant supply.
And yet, just as a balance is gradually being restored through the increasing catches of herring and mackerel, the New England Fisheries Management Council is now being pressured to curb those efforts. Limits, of course, there have to be; one cannot pass from one extreme to the other.
But the numbers indicate that we are still a long way from helping form a natural balance between natural prey and predators. Pelagics still need to be taken out of the water.
All this is not even simply elementary any longer. There are reams of science that prove the existence of these natural cycles. And yet, all this knowledge is being neglected by those who are urging a stop to the catch of herring and mackerel in New England waters (hereinafter, "the herring lovers" for short).
It is as if the herring lovers had never heard of the Lotke-Volterra model - the first predator-prey model, developed for fish caught in the Adriatic Sea by Lotke, a mathematician, working in collaboration with Volterra, a biologist. That is not undigested news. This is a model that was developed just about a century ago.
It is as if the herring lovers had never heard of chaos theory. This is a complex development in mathematics and geometry that has occurred during the last couple of generations and has revolutionized most of our stale linear thinking processes.
It is as if the herring lovers had never heard of a study published in Science a few years ago that even lemmings do not live and die all by themselves. They do not periodically go down a cliff just for the fun of it.
Rather, they are being subjected to the same forces as all other living creatures. When their predators are in short supply, they multiply incontinently. And then, once their own food supplies begin to dwindle, they are weakened and their predators get the upper hand: Their stocks collapse temporarily.
It is as if the herring lovers never had listened to a lecture by our magnificent national park rangers, who instruct us that even trees are subject to the same interrelationships in their natural habitat as fish and other living creatures.
Balance one ought to search for. The golden mean is the ideal to tend toward. Let us shy away from all extremes.
Try as I might, I never find evidence of recognition by the herring lovers that herring and mackerel are also the predators of bottom fish. Hence, some herring and mackerel must at times be taken out of the water to re-establish a balance among the species.
To follow their recommended policy - to stop taking herring and mackerel out of the water at this time - is to condemn local fishing communities to a perpetual state of crisis.
Carmine Gorga is president of Polis-tics, Inc. of Gloucester.