Monday, February 29, 2016

Why do we not care about fish?

In June 2015, the whole world got to hear about the death of the lion Cecil in Zimbabwe, by an American recreational big-game hunter, i.e., someone who kills big animals for fun. The whole idea of killing animals for fun seems distorted and out of place in our days, but this is a market that still generates millions of dollars a year. Every year, perhaps thousands of large animals, like lions, rhinos and giraffes are hunted by people who appreciate and can afford this dubious and expensive type of fun. A study has estimated that annually an average of 244 lions only are hunted in Africa! What was different in the case of Cecil is that he was a lion being studied and tracked during years by researchers from the University of Oxford. When his killing made the international news (you can guess that the large majority of hunted animals never does), we got to see what I remember as one of the most intense conservationist reaction by the general public in my life time. People were just outraged by the unnecessary death of Cecil, and as a response, some airlines voluntarily decided to ban the transport of hunting trophies (basically the heads of the dead animals), while the USA added two lion sub-species to their list of endangered species, making it harder to American citizens to kill these animals. On the other hand, Namibia said that such a negative response to hunting would impact the conservation efforts in their country, as they use the money from the hunting market to support their conservation initiatives. Perhaps the times have changed and Namibia will find out that it is possible to make as much, if not more money by letting people watch live animals in nature, as long as the country is stable and safe to visit. The topic is controversial nonetheless and there is no easy answer to whereas there can be sustainable trophy hunting.

Photo from

While this is all good and we are happy that there is such a concern for nature slowly brewing in society, this is still a blog about fisheries, right? Many of us that care about fisheries probably realized that society is ready to take responsibility for the charismatic animals, such as lions, but not yet for fish. In a timely piece on Animal Conservation, Costa-Pereira pinpointed with accuracy such mismatch between our conservation interests and the unlucky less charismatic fish species. Most people do not see anything wrong with recreational fisheries and for that we will go on posting pictures of ourselves holding large and, sometimes, endangered fish species in our social media. This will still be cool for decades to come. Worse than that, we will keep discarding almost a third of our catches in the oceans, because we never intended to catch them in the first place. 
Perhaps we are being too impatient and we should take one step at a time: today Cecil, tomorrow swordfishes, and perhaps one day we will just care for all creatures equally. When this day comes, how many fish species will have been lost for good?

by Priscila Lopes

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