Basking in our legacy


Jessica Hathaway

Published on
September 13, 2010

Maybe you get a little jaded after a while.

I say that because when I read that NOAA has designated basking sharks in the eastern North Pacific a “species of concern,” my first reaction was, “I wonder how they are going to hang this one on the fishing industry.” After all, Californians quit fishing them during the Eisenhower years and the Canadians got out of the racket in the 1970s.
I soon found out.

NOAA says the listing is necessary “because [the basking shark] has been overfished and its population has apparently not responded to conservation measures implemented to address fishing pressure.”

This is like blaming Louis XVI for the price of champagne.

There is no mention of possible environmental causes, even though climatic shifts such as the North Pacific has seen through the intervening decades have had demonstrably profound impacts on marine ecosystems.

Nor are we offered any stock assessment numbers, although NOAA is launching a Web site on which sightings may be logged. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the basking sharks have “virtually disappeared.”

However, while NOAA says that sightings of thousands of basking sharks at a time were once commonplace, DFO estimates are much more modest, offering a minimum historical population of between 750 and a few thousand critters.

The DFO also notes “recent evidence that basking sharks may also use deepwater habitats greater than 1,000 meters,” which could explain the lack of interaction with whale watch vessels.

In any event, my point is not to take issue with concerns about basking sharks but to underline the need for data, as opposed to conjecture and “we haven’t see ’em around lately.”

And we certainly object to the reflexive attribution of blame to commercial fishing a half century or more ago.

Jaded? Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Thank you for your time.
Jerry Fraser
Editor & Publisher, National Fisherman


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