Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Last Hunters

But Rose, who goes to sea to study the northern stock, said, "Fishermen are seeing many strange things that are a sign things are not right." The cod have been reaching sexual maturity younger and smaller. Undersized four-year-olds are spawning. This is not surprising. When a species is in danger of extinction, it often starts reaching sexual maturity earlier. Nature remains focused on survival. But Rose also said cod were seen spawning in water temperatures of minus one degree Celsius. Cod are supposed to move to warmer water for spawning. Fishermen keep reporting aberrations, such as fish in an area where they have never been before, or at different depths, or a different temperature, or at a different time of year.

Perhaps even more disturbing, Rose's studies have concluded that the northern stock has stopped migrating. The stock had normally followed a 500-mile seasonal migration, but rose believes that after 1992, the survivors came inshore and stayed. He does not know the reason for this but speculates that bigger, older fish were the leaders and are no longer there to lead. It is also possible that cod migrate because they need food and space for spawning. With the population so reduced, this is no longer necessary.

Whatever steps are taken, one of the greatest obstacles to restoring cod stocks off of Newfoundland is an almost pathological collective denial of what has happened. Newfoundlanders seem prepared to believe anything other than that they have killed off natures bounty. One Canadian journalist published an article pointing out that the cod disappeared from Newfoundland at about the same time that stocks started rebuilding in Norway. Clearly the northern stock had packed up and migrated to Norway.

Man wants to see nature and evolution as separate from human activities. There is the natural world, and then there is man. But man also belongs to the natural world. If he is a ferocious predator, that too is part of evolution. If cod and haddock and other species cannot survive because man kills them, something more adaptable will take their place. Nature, the ultimate pragmatist, doggedly searches for something that works. But as the cockroach demonstrates, what works in nature does not always appeal to us.


A Biography of a Fish That Changed the World

Mark Kurlansky

Vintage 1999

Happy Hunting...

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