Monday, September 28, 2009

Make that the chicken salad...

In an example of intransigence in the face of contravening new evidence, the efforts to harvest tuna without inadvertently killing dolphins, fishing regulators have clung to an answer that is arguably worse than the problem.

In other words… the only species that “dolphin safe” tuna is good for is dolphins!  The bycatch rate for EVERY OTHER species is lower when fishing dolphin-associated tuna vs. floating object associated tuna! The reason for this is obvious- floating objects attract everything nearby, while dolphins following tuna doesn’t attract any other species.
If you work out the math on this (and you don’t have to, because the environmental justice foundation did) , you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.
By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.
Here we get into the ethical debate.
Is it worth saving dolphins, who were not and are not endangered, at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other fish species who are endangered? [More]

(The brief post explains the problem in helpful, but not overwhelming detail for landlubbers like me, so please read the backstory)

The lingering issue for environmentalists who seem to be favoring sea mammals at the expense of other species is getting trapped into the same kind of stubbornness they despise in enviro-skeptics. You can bet those outside the Green community will point to this mistake as typical for environmental efforts of all kinds, but getting organizations and passionate followers to recognize errors is really hard.

Unless flexibility and the reality of trial-and-error are accepted as legitimate ways to address problems like this, we are limiting our tool kit to imperfect projections from computer models, hunches and ideologies.  We need to embrace and view unexpected consequences as adding to our body of knowledge, not admissions of fundamental philosophical error.