One of the things about the global overfishing crisis that you get used to is that you can travel to the other side of the world and hear a story that you might well have been told about one of the fish you have at home. That’s what when I went to Buenos Aires last week for the premiere in Argentina of The End of the Line. The screening, organized by Marviva and Greenpeace, had a great turnout – 200 is good when there is a local derby football match going on in town. There were some good questions in the Q&A session at the end, in which I had expert backup from Greenpeace and the local affiliate of WWF.
When the questions got on to Argentine fisheries, about which I know very little, I was grateful to Guillermo Cañete, coordinator of the marine programme of the non- governmental Argentine Wildlife Foundation (the WWF affiliate) and genuinely fascinated by what he had to say. He told the audience that the Argentine hake fisheries of the southern Atlantic Ocean, still among the world leaders in the white fish market, are on the verge of collapse due in part to the indifference of the Argentine people, who are apparently more interested in eating beef and export most of their hake.
The decline of Merluccius hubbsi, known in Spanish here as “merluza,” threatens food security and biodiversity, though the Argentine hake is still the fourth largest in the world for white fish and first in the southern hemisphere. However, this wealth is sharply deteriorating, according to the National Institute of Fishing Research and Development (INIDEP). For every 5 adult hake there were in 1986, there is now just one. The reason is that younger fish have always been caught along with the adult hake. Even faced with the decline in fish stocks, the fishing companies have refused to use devices that would let smaller fish escape the nets.
Today, more than 60 percent of the hake caught are juveniles. “If nothing is done, the hake will collapse shortly,” Mr Cañete warned. If that happens, the first people to disappear will be fishermen. The Wildlife Foundation issued a call this year for Argentines to avoid buying hake filets less than 25 centimetres long, in order to discourage the capture of small fish.
Strange how familiar it all sounds to ears tuned to the northern hemisphere and to the annual discussions about cod and European hake. As we prepare for the launch of Fish2fork and the DVD of The End of the Line in Madrid next week (Nov 30) it is worth reflecting on the lessons from another country where hake is the favourite.