A study in the journal Science has some bad news about our future: According to a team of researchers, the world’s fisheries are going to collapse by 2048. The study’s lead author, Canadian scientist Boris Worm (yes, his name is Worm), has been trolling for media attention, most notably with this doozie of a press statement: “Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world’s ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are — beyond anything we suspected.” Is it true? Should we start stocking up on smoked salmon and oysters? Initial signs point to “no.”
The fish-extinction bombshell appears to be more about attracting attention and prestige than objective truth-seeking. Case in point: Worm accidentally sent a note meant for his colleagues to The Seattle Times in which he wrote that the scary prediction could act as a “news hook to get people’s attention.” And Worm’s team completely ignores one of the basic economic laws of scarcity: A constriction of the supply of a resource (in this case, fish) causes its price to increase. And if something costs more, people buy less of it.
The problems don’t stop there, though. A number of notable fisheries experts have criticized the study:
Ray Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, called the predictions “just mind-boggling stupid.” He went on to say that the Western world has already “figured out how to do effective fishery management.” On National Public Radio, University of British Columbia Professor Kyle Waters called the study “extremely misleading” and “wrong.”The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called an aquatic apocalypse “unlikely,” labeling the report “statistically dangerous.” Serge Michel Garcia, FAO’s director of fishery resources division, told the French press: “Such a massive collapse … would require reckless behaviour of all industries and governments for four decades, and an incredible level of apathy of all world citizens to let this happen, without mentioning economic forces.”South Korea’s fisheries ministry called the report “too radical,” warning that we need much more scientific data before taking any drastic steps. In response to the study, Norwegian Fisheries Minister Helga Pederson said: “I don’t think the oceans will be empty in 50 years time.”Vito Calomo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission, told reporters that “We’ve been fishing for 400 years, but the fish have always come back.”
Despite the level heads of people who actually know something about fisheries, we can expect assorted fearmongers to make the most of this bad “news,” however ludicrous it is. Even the animal rights movement is getting into the act. This week the Farm Animal Reform Movement sent a phony “astro-turf” letter to hundreds of newspapers, claiming inevitable seafood shortages are as good a reason as any to embrace strict vegetarianism. At least 15 newspapers have printed this phony letter, each under a different signature. For online examples, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.