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March 22, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Pure New Zealand?

Pure New Zealand?

Oh, New Zealand, land of both the long white cloud and mined national parks. Can I get a side serving of potential pro-whaling and pathetic floundering in international climate talks? Holla.

You’d think Aotearoa, having truckloads of endangered creatures, would be leading the game in protecting species at risk. Not true. Your mistake would be akin to saying Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a fine piece of film. On the contrary: currently New Zealand is trying to catch more of a critically endangered species, despite stocks of this particular fish being at an all-time low.

The species in question is the magnificent southern bluefin tuna. All streamlined curves and weighing up to 450kg, this gorgeous fish is the sexy Salma Hayek of the piscean world. We’re not talking about canned tuna here; this is not the kind that you stir into your cheesy pasta bake on Tuesday nights. This is top-end, fancy pants tuna. If normal tuna is Double Brown beer, Bluefin would be the equivalent of Emersons. Seafood markets and classy sushi restaurants revere these animals, and a single fish can fetch a price higher than three medical students’ loans put together.

The cousin of the southern bluefin, the Atlantic bluefin, is also super rare. There’s a big endangered species convention going on right now (until the 25th March) where 175 nations will decide whether, among the usual crusades for saving elephants and polar bears, to put a worldwide ban on Atlantic bluefin into place. Apparently it’s going to be a close fight to save this fish, as Australia and Japan remain strongly opposed, despite the EU and the US backing the proposal. Japanese fish-brokers have been quoted saying things like “This is like telling the US to stop eating beef.” Man, do I ever wish I could tell the US to stop eating beef. There’s a challenge for a rainy day.

While the US and EU are standing up for sustainability, our ‘100% Pure’ country has devious plans to increase our total allowable catch on Southern Bluefin Tuna. Overall, the southern bluefin fisheries have an inadequate aim of cutting fishing by 20 per cent annually, but New Zealand doesn’t care. We want more tuna, despite the species’ levels having dropped to 5 per cent of what they were. Let’s keep fishing even if the stock has completely collapsed. We want profit at whatever cost.

Really, we should be stopping southern bluefin tuna completely in its tracks. We need an international ban so that Southern Bluefin Tuna can recover from years of over-fishing.

Allow me to tangent briefly.  You know who really annoy me? Pescatarians—‘vegetarians’ who still eat fish. Some do it for health reasons, some only disdain eating food with faces, but it makes no sense. Overfishing is one of the biggest impact humans have had on the planet. Yes, please eat your self-caught trout, but don’t support industrial scale fishing operations or farmed fish.

Bluefin tuna is just one issue in a long line. Patagonian toothfish has just been put onto New Zealand Quota Management System, even though it’s now not being stocked by eight of Canada’s main supermarket chains. Internationally, New Zealand is increasingly being seen in a new light, a red light, perhaps infused with fish blood? We’re not keeping our jandal-clad feet up to speed with the rest of the world.

What’s happening to tuna is simply symbolic of an extensive decline in international fish stocks. We are devastating the oceans. Everything is definitely not better down where it’s wetter, under the sea.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Dan says:

    Why does it matter if a species is going extinct? Seriously..
    Unless it’s going to cause irreparable damage to this planet why do we care besides that fact that we don’t have such a wide variety to look at..

    Conservation is not a moral endeavor as much as environmentalists like to pretend it is. If we’re killing them for food why does a rare animal have more moral worth than an animal which is not so rare? If they can both suffer to the same degree why does being rare make you more worthy of moral consideration?

    The reason I raise this issue is twofold
    1) To expose the irrationality of placing moral worth in something purely on the basis of its rarity
    2) To present the problems we’d face IF we placed moral worth based on rarity.

    For example you no doubt believe whaling is wrong. Well the fact is the Common Minke Whale is of least concern but don’t believe me go check it yourself.

    Therefore, there should be no problem killing Minke Whales since they’re not so rare yet anti-whalers would say of course there is a problem; they suffer.

    I agree the ways they get killed should be more humane but the fact is we’re still killing and eating intelligent animals like pigs and there is no definitive way to prove that it is immoral.

    You can try and expose a meat eater’s hypocrisy by giving more moral consideration for retarded people than intelligent animals but the fact is we’re not telling you that its immoral to do something, you are. So the onus is on you to prove that eating meat is immoral.

    Good luck.

  2. smackdown says:

    for those of you who can’t be fucked reading dan’s comment, here’s the tl;dr summation:

    “fuck u got mine”

    you’re welcome

  3. Ta-daa says:

    “Unless it’s going to cause irreparable damage to this planet why do we care besides that fact that we don’t have such a wide variety to look at..”

    Hey Dan, what do you consider “this planet” to be? Just rocks and us humans? Well I’ve got some news for you buddy, it consists of a wide range of networks of life forms that are all interconnected, so changing one thing can have an effect on another. Heard of a food chain? Forcing one part to extinction places pressure on others and alters the balance of things. So the effects of forcing a species to extinction is more than just telling little Timmy he can’t have tuna for tea no more. How about we just get rid of all the bees, oh shit where did all the flowers, the fruit and the honey go?

    And maybe we care because we don’t see everything on this planet as something that can benifit us directly in the form of food or something nice to look at.

  4. Electrum Stardust says:

    I see you have questions. It’s good to have questions.

    – “Unless it’s going to cause irreparable damage to this planet […]”
    — Is this the only moral consideration? Not everyone agrees with such consequentialist approaches.

    – “why do we care besides that fact that we don’t have […]”
    — Some people will consider this kind of human-centric speciesism morally deficient.

    – “such a wide variety to look at”
    — Even from a strictly utilitarian (yucks!) perspective, loss of such biodiversity may have real repercussions on the integrity of whole ecosystems, which may temporarily affect some humans (though not necessarily “this planet”) adversely. (Eg. Loss of potential but yet-unknown medicinal resources.)

    – “we’re not telling you that its immoral to do something, you are”
    — Not necessarily so. The Australian government, for example, is challenging Japanese whaling on legal, not moral, grounds.

    – “meat eater’s hypocrisy”
    — There are vegetarian anti-whalers around, I’m sure. In any case, a meat-eater who is responsible for the deaths of two piglets and three chicks is less morally culpable than one who is responsible for the deaths of two piglets and three chicks plus one whale.

    – And speaking of (moral) “hypocrisy”…
    — “Scientific research”, anyone?

    However, there is cause for some optimism…
    – “I agree the ways they get killed should be more humane”
    — This is itself a (non-consequentialist/utilitarian/speciesist) kind of moral statement. Congratulations!

  5. Dan says:

    @ ta daa
    “Forcing one part to extinction places pressure on others and alters the balance of things”

    Yea that’s a conservationist approach which is valid but not morally relevant.
    Besides the validity of the conservationist approach depends upon whether the relevant species are actually being forced to extinction. As I stated Japan is killing just over 500 whales a year. This is easily sustainable based on population numbers so therefore it can’t be wrong from a conservationist perspective.

    If you have scientific evidence that it isn’t sustainable please provide it.

    @ Electrum Stardust
    “Is this the only moral consideration? Not everyone agrees with such consequentialist approaches”

    That is a nothing statement. If you have another moral consideration for me to consider then just say it.

    “Some people will consider this kind of human-centric speciesism morally deficient.”

    I’m open to the proposition that certain animals may be worthy of moral consideration if you have solid reasons to back up the claim but to say some people consider “speciesism” morally deficient without providing reasons is once again in aid of nothing.

    “even from a strictly utilitarian (yucks!) perspective, loss of such biodiversity may have real repercussions on the integrity of whole ecosystems, which may temporarily affect some humans (though not necessarily “this planet”) adversely. (Eg. Loss of potential but yet-unknown medicinal resources.)”

    Well from a conservationist approach I think that is a relevant consideration.

    From a moral point of view loss of biodiversity is just not a moral consideration of itself.
    Loss of potential yet unknown medical resources may be a moral consideration but like you said its unknown and therefore is not sufficient from a utilitarian perspective to override the moral consideration we give to people who make a living off fishing.

    “Not necessarily so. The Australian government, for example, is challenging Japanese whaling on legal, not moral, grounds.”

    Well I think the point there is that the law on whaling was created largely on western moral beliefs and is a form of cultural imperialism.
    I don’t see anyone stopping Australia’s pig farming.

    “There are vegetarian anti-whalers around, I’m sure. In any case, a meat-eater who is responsible for the deaths of two piglets and three chicks is less morally culpable than one who is responsible for the deaths of two piglets and three chicks plus one whale.”

    I didn’t know moral culpability was strictly a numbers game though perhaps you didn’t mean that.
    I think that killing 1,000 oysters for example is not anywhere near the same as killing a single human being or even a dolphin because oysters simply don’t suffer.

    You still haven’t exactly explained why the act of killing and eating whales is actually immoral though. You just say it is.
    I’ve accepted that certain ways of killing them could be wrong because of the level of suffering. But why is the act of killing a whale and eating it morally wrong?

  6. Electrum Stardust says:

    Sigh – I refer you to, for example:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciesism#Criticism. There must be loads of other sources out there, each with arguments for and against, whatever the specific moral perspective we’re talking about.

    The point is this – “morality” is not an all-or-nothing game. It’s complicated. I do not set out to “prove” that I’m 100% right and you’re 100% wrong. In fact, from an existentialist (which you need not accept) point of view, “morality” is not like a mathematical problem for which a “proof” can (or need to) be furnished – it’s more about what we, as humans, decide for ourselves is the best way to go about doing things.

    What I did was to point out that you need to look beyond the “Unless it’s going to cause irreparable damage to this planet why do we care besides […]” kind of narrow-mindedness. The objects of morality can, and sometimes should, include non-humans, you know.

    For example, by saying that “I’ve accepted that certain ways of killing them could be wrong [emphasis mine] because of the level of suffering”, that is itself a moral statement, or at least capable of being interpreted morally. (I don’t suppose you mean it’s “wrong” in any other sense here.).

    And utilitarianism (which, again, is just one moral school that you don’t have to subscribe to- though I suspect you do) is in many cases precisely a “numbers game” – “greatest benefit to the greatest number”, ceteris paribus.

    And I don’t think there are many cultural traditions (east or west) that equate law totally with morals. Laws are often at odds with prevailing moral norms, and that’s why they require constant updating.

  7. Electrum Stardust says:

    P.S. And in my earlier example, I am not comparing “oysters” with human beings (whatever the “numbers”), or apples with oranges, so to speak- you need to look more carefully.

  8. Alpha says:

    Dan, earth systems are incredibly complex. I would be very surprised if it ever became possible to predict the repercussions of removing a single species from a given environment. All that could be said is that they are -potentially- innumerable.

    Species are going extinct all the time. Several every day, in fact. There’s a ‘natural’ background rate of extinction, and then there’a a rate from extreme circumstances. It’s arguable whether or not humans constitute ‘extreme circumstances’, but given our ability to modify the environment over and above any other living being, I would suggest we do.

    So what does it mater if -another- species goes down the tube. In all honesty, no-one knows. But we can make assumptions. One is that such species could have future potential or usefulness that we are currently unaware of. Another is that it is not an isolated species. It is certainly part of a food chain, but may also serve a role in providing an ecosystem service. These are very important.

    Conservation is a worthy practice in and of itself, in my view.

  9. Dan says:

    “The objects of morality can, and sometimes should, include non-humans, you know”

    I accept that animals can be moral patients so to speak but like you say its all quite relative depending on the moral perspective you take.

    In the absence of providing a universally accepted reason why killing whales are wrong I just think that the international community has no place dictating laws to a society whose accepted norms are clearly quite different from ours.

    I believe you’re absolutely entitled to make your views on whaling known and I appreciate that perhaps you are not attempting to classify the Japanese as “immoral”. I would personally like to suggest to the Japanese that the suffering the whales undergo is often unnecessary.and they be killed more humanely since ultimately the killing for food is their intention rather than the suffering.

    In terms of utilitarianism I do not generally subscribe to it anyway so I’ll have another crack at the potential medical benefits argument against extinction..
    The argument is essentially one of uncertainty; we do not know for sure that certain species may provide benefits in the future so we should make an effort not to kill them all.
    Fair enough; we can continue doing what scientists have started and freezing their cells so that if we do force a species to extinction we can recreate it. Problem solved.

    Now back on killing whales you’re right I should not compare apples with oranges.

    But my argument is simply that a chicken and a human being are not apples and apples and we can and do give more moral consideration to human beings as a result.
    Chickens lack self-awareness completely for example whilst human beings have the capacity for it even if some do not express it due to severe abnormalities or extremes of age.

    Therefore maybe dolphins should not be killed IF the test is capacity for self-awareness but whales (besides the Killer Whale which is type of dolphin) are simply not developed enough to be worthy of a moral duty not to kill them.
    A moral duty not to let them unnecessarily suffer I can accept, but there doesn’t seem to be any reasoned explanation why we shouldn’t kill them at all.

  10. Dan says:

    Btw in terms of law I generally find morality unnecessary to dictate its content anyway.

    For example murder should be illegal because in a society we rely on certain standards of accepted behaviour when conducting our affairs.
    If we lived in constant fear of being arbitrarily killed by everyone society simply could not function efficiently. Likewise we rely on people staying on the left here in NZ and that the law will enforce our legal contracts.

    Killing animals on the other hand just doesn’t really affect society’s ability to function efficiently so without a really compelling practical reason to outlaw whaling we should just accept that it happens and try to encourage people to be a bit more humane.

    These compelling reasons could include the interests of procedural justice and all members of society being treated equally before the law to promote its integrity and the public’s trust in the rule of law. Basically practical considerations which don’t apply to whales which are not members of our human society.

    If that’s speciesism then bad luck for them.

  11. Dan says:

    @ Alpha “One is that such species could have future potential or usefulness that we are currently unaware of.
    Conservation is a worthy practice in and of itself, in my view”

    You’re entitled to that view but if your concern is that the species may have future potential usefulness and that by forcing to extinction we lose the opportunity to discover this potential usefulness then like I said above we should simply freeze their cells as scientists have already begun doing then recreate them if we need to.

    Practical solution and we can keep killing them for food and other benefits too.

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