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The Last Fish

I had a long talk with my investment advisor a couple of weeks ago.  I won't describe him, because you know what he's like:  conservative grey suit, conservatively receding hair (he's just turned twenty five) and this massive crush on Caroline Chisholm because she's the only woman that he knows that's got anything to do with money.

I was looking for an environmental sort of investment, and he recommended tuna.  [Hold up tin of tuna.]  He said, "Don't worry about whether it's dolphin free, just make sure it's real tuna, and not barramundi."

He says that tuna's being fished out - just like the North Atlantic herrings.  And gemfish.  Have you seen much gemfish lately?  That's why.

He said to get Tuna in Brine.  Not because it's more natural.  It's just that the brine rusts the tin, and oil doesn't, so if you're going for scarcity ...   He reckons that in ten years, the old Home Brand '90 will leave the 1890 Chateau Lafite for for dead.

So, anyway, I thought about it a bit, and talked with a few friends who are into fishing, and I found that I'd only got one bit of the story.  Out there in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, it's on for one and all.  Fish spotting satellites, sonars, helicopter round-ups, gillnets even the krill can't get through.  In the piscatorial bastardry stakes, the stick of gelignite in the creek doesn't even rate any more.  They reckon that in a few more years, there'll be nothing left.

I got a bit hot under the collar about that.  Why should a pile of Russians, Japanese, Thais, Koreans and Taiwanese turn our seas into deserts to satisfy their own petty greed?

I decided that we ought to do something about it.

But of course, before you do anything, you've got to do some research.  What we needed to know was how serious the situation really was.  Was it all just a panic, or was it for real?  How many fish were there left? 

To find this out, we had to do a sort of fish census.  You know the sort of thing:  fish to fish interviews, where were you on the night of 17th June?  Or, since fish usually won't tell you, we had to do something that would give us the same results.

The problem there is that research, these days, has to be self-funding, but we thought we could manage that, once we got the project off the ground.  As starters, we approached some major Australian companies for support, companies like News Limited, Ford, Kodak and Kumagi Gumi.  They got quite enthusiastic, because they reckoned they'd make a big killing, so it didn't take long before we had out census-taking mechanism in place. 

I must admit, we adapted our techniques a bit from the Russians, Chinese, Thais, Koreans and Taiwanese.  Let's face it, they knew how to find fish, and that's what we needed.  So we built the biggest drift net the world has ever seen - right across the North Pacific from Alaska to the Kamchatka Peninsula, and with enough slack in it that it'd spread out as we got further south.  We reckoned that if we were quick enough, we'd get the comprehensive snapshot of the fish population that we wanted.  And if anyone noticed the effect, we could always blame it on El Nino.

First time through, there was a bit of a hitch.  We got snagged on Hawaii, and the volcano burnt a dirty great hole in the net, so half the fish escaped back into the North Pacific.  Second time, we'd got the problems ironed out.  We've patented it as the Dump Jump Net.  It rides up over land, but doesn't snag or tear.  You should have seen it as it went down the main street of Tokyo.  It was like one of those Japanese sci-fi movies with the monsters from outer space and the cardboard buildings.  There's no way our sponsors'll ever complain about the viewing audience.

Even the follow ups in all the rivers and lakes went swimmingly.  And just to give the whole project a uniquely Canberran flavour, our final sampling was right here in the lake, where we netted one mouldy old carp.

In spite of some criticism that has been levelled at us, I think that I can claim that our research has been a success on a number of grounds:

i) We've got rid of the Russian, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Taiwanese fishing boats.

ii) We have a comprehensive record of every fish in the world as at 17th June, 1990, and since the census will never have to be repeated, we have a stable base for fisheries research in the future, with no sampling problems.  Our results can be replicated at any time, simply by checking our freezers.

iii) Future fisheries research will be self-funding, through the controlled release of specimens from cryogenic storage to world fish markets.

iv) We have created a stable source of supply for fish products at ever more favourable prices.  We predict that fish will reach $10,000 a kilo by 2050, and that through the price-limiting effect on demand, the supply will in effect be inexhaustible.

v) We have facilitated significant reductions in the number of public servants through the closure of Fisheries departments world-wide.

vi) We have given a massive boost to soya-bean farming and the production of fish-substitutes.

vii) We have given Greenpeace better things to do, like cleaning up the rubbish on Mt Everest.

Mind you, I feel a bit sorry for all those guys in Bateman's Bay and Eden, out there trawling for seaweed, but it had to come sometime, and at least they know where they stand.  After all, if we hadn't done our census, someone else would have grabbed all the fish, with no benefit to science.

One last point.  If your place has been broken into lately, don't worry.  We were just making sure that you don't have any goldfish.

 

Copyright D.W. Walker, 1990


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