COVER STORY: Twilight for Australia's fishing industry?
by Patrick J. Byrne
News Weekly, May 13, 2006
Australia imports $1.8 billion in seafood because government-sanctioned radical environmentalism is shutting down our fishing industry, writes Pat Byrne.
Professor Walter Starck, one of the world's leading reef ecology experts, has roundly criticised the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) for its persistence in shutting down more and more of the Great Barrier Reef to commercial and recreational fishing.
He recently pointed out in News Weekly that fishing on the Great Barrier Reef is now limited to just under 9 kg/km2/year. He wrote:
"The average harvest, over a broad range of reef areas elsewhere in the Pacific, is 7,700 kg/km2/year, and even the conservation NGO, World Resource Institute, cites 4,000 kg/km2/year as being a sustainable level for coral reef fisheries. ...
"For all practical purposes, commercial fishing pressure on the Great Barrier Reef as a whole is virtually non-existent." ("How the Great Barrier Reef is mismanaged", News Weekly, April 29, 2006).
Yet the authority has been slowly closing more and more of the reef to fishing and boating. The over-management of the Great Barrier Reef is symptomatic of what is happening in nearly all Australia's fishing grounds.
Starck says that the under-utilisation of our fish stocks has led to Australia importing more and more seafood from other countries where there is little or no management of domestic fishing, and where serious over-fishing is leading to the depletion of fish stocks and the degradation of fishing grounds.
Thus, over-management in Australia is directly contributing to the environmental destruction of fishing grounds overseas.
This serious over-management of Australia's fishing grounds is happening at the same time that the decline in seafood consumption is being recognised as a cause of the biggest health issue facing Western societies.
Dr Joseph Hibbeln, of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, said recently on ABC radio that in countries where little seafood is eaten, the risks of depression are 50 times higher than in countries where a great deal of seafood is consumed. He added:
"As well, the risk of specific types of severe mental disorders - for example bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive disorder - is about 30 times higher in countries where little seafood is consumed compared to where seafood is consumed a great deal.
"For major depression, amongst the highest rates studied (we looked at in a Lancet paper) were in New Zealand, where about 6.5 per cent of people had a major depression in the course of a year as opposed to Japan, where about 0.1 per cent of people had a major depression.
"Other countries have more extreme values. For example, bipolar disorder is the lowest of all in Iceland, and Iceland is the country with the greatest per capita consumption of seafood, whereas bipolar disorder was very high in Brazil and in Germany, where rates of seafood consumption were very low."
Hibbeln said that a significant series of studies done by Tomohito Hamazaki in Japan indicated that, when people have Omega 3 fatty acids on board in sufficient amounts, it decreases their responses to stressful stimuli. They just don't get as irritated and as hostile when they are provoked by something stressful. He said:
"In Harvard, Mary Zanarini did a wonderful study on women who had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. People with this diagnosis tend to be very fragile when they're rejected emotionally; they tend to react with volatility and angrily and very emotionally to provocations. And it's a difficult disorder to treat in psychiatry, either through medications or psychotherapy. ...
"[Zanarini] advertised for these women and they came in and received either an Omega 3 fatty acid of about a gram a day, or a placebo, and in 12 weeks their violent outbursts, their verbal and physical outbursts were decreased by 75 per cent. And that's really remarkable, and they led happier, better lives."
Hibbeln added that there was also a much higher rate of homicides in countries where seafood consumption was low. Because the essential fatty acids in seafood, like Omega 3, are lower, this lowers the levels of serotonin.
"When serotonin is low in the frontal cortex," said Hibbeln, "the frontal cortex can't do what it should do in human beings, and that is to have executive function to inhibit our impulses, to regulate and decide what emotions we'll follow through on and what emotions we'll inhibit. When serotonin is low, people become very impulsive and they react excessively to provocations, and we know that people with low serotonin levels are more likely to commit homicide or more likely to commit suicide."
Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute for Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, explained the background to growing concerns over the rise in brain-related illnesses.
According to Professor Crawford, "it all started way back in 1972 when we discovered that the brain required essential fats: arachidonic acid and of course hexanoic acid. We realised that because the blood vessels were under attack for bad fats, the brain would be next, and we published this prediction, which was then published at the time. ...
"This prediction has now come true. ... What happened last year is that the audit of all ill health costs throughout the European Union was published in The European Journal of Neurology (June 2005). Essentially, what it did was to say that brain disorders have now overtaken all other burdens of ill health in the European Union - 25 per cent of the total bill - with heart disease in second place (it used to be in first place) at 17 per cent ...
"Joe Hibbeln at the National Institutes of Health has been looking at this issue independently and he's come up with escalation of brain disorders - attention (deficit), behavioural disorders, all this kind of thing - in children, escalating from 1970, getting worse in the 1980s, getting worse in the 1990s. So it is an escalating problem and, if it keeps on going, if the trajectory of brain disorders follows the previous trajectory of heart disease, we're in for big trouble," said Professor Crawford.
Asked to what extent these problems resulted from changes in the diet of Westerners, Crawford said that, since the 1970s, there had been a big increase in the consumption of saturated fats, and a big decline in seafood consumption.
Further, there has been a big increase in the consumption of cereals and grain feed animals, beef and chicken. These increase Omega 6 fatty acids, while the necessary counter-balance from Omega 3 has declined as seafood consumption has declined. So, according to Professor Crawford, "you're now getting a lot of Omega 6 fatty acids coming in, a decline in the Omega 3, so you're completely distorting the balance".
Asked about the importance of fish to mental health, he said:
"If you plot the incidence of major depression against fish consumption, you get a straight line that's inverse, so that the countries with the best fish consumption (like Japan, for argument's sake, and parts of China) have much less depression. And, indeed, it's true of a whole range of brain disorders, and the same is true, for that matter, for the cancers and heart disease."
He emphasised that eating a range of seafood was important, and also tasty. "Look at the wealth of diversity you've got, starting with the cockles and winkles and mussels 'alive, alive o' ... you know, you work your way through the crustaceans, the crabs and the lobsters, then into the squid, then you've got all the flat fish and then you've got the trout and the cod and tuna fish.
"You can have a different meal every night of the week. In fact, practically every month you could have a different seafood meal without repeating it. So it's not as boring as meat and two veg."
This range of seafood is needed because there are related problems to the lack of seafood, the most prominent one being of course iodine deficiency disease. There are over a billion people currently suffering iodene deficiency.
Professor Crawford said, "We've tried to supplement salt and things like that with iodine, but there's still a huge problem as far as iodine deficiency is concerned. ...
"Throughout the millennia, rain has washed the iodine from the mountains and into the rivers and down to the sea, so the marine food chain picks it up with the filter feeders first, so the marine food chain is one of the richest sources of iodine, whereas the inland regions are not.
"But the same is true of many other trace elements, and indeed there's been published data ... showing that there's been a decline in trace element content of vegetables and animal products coming from the land over the last 50 years.
"So the seafood is not just the fats, although they are a very important issue, but ... things like copper, zinc, manganese and selenium, and what is very interesting is that copper, zinc, manganese and selenium and iron are all factors that are essential to the antioxidant enzyme systems, which is the body's own defence against peroxidative damage.
"Because oxygen use is so central to animal biology that Nature doesn't leave defences against peroxidative damage to the fact that they might eat something with antioxidants in them; she makes her own antioxidants to defend particularly the brain. So all of these trace elements are important for that, and then you've got a variety of B vitamins, which are essential to the assembly of these membrane lipids.
"If I could just put it rather bluntly, that last century was the century of protein in terms of the dieticians and nutritionists (who) all talked about protein ...
"You can get protein from the simplest food resource. You can get it from grass. The rhinoceros reaches a one-ton body weight after four years of eating grass. You know, it gets all the protein it needs. What it doesn't do is get the lipids for the brain, and this has to be the century of the lipids for the brain."
Ironically, while the 21st century is predicted to be the century for lipids from sea-foods, Australia is slowly strangulating its wild-catch fishing industry and putting so many regulatory impediments in the way that building fish farms is almost impossible.