Charles Clover is the author of ‘The End of the Line’, the compelling exposé of the overfishing crisis facing our oceans. His book has been made into a highly acclaimed documentary that will be showing from May 10 for a limited season across Australia.
Greenpeace spoke with Charles about his book, his film, and the urgent message ‘The End of the Line’ has for all of us. Here is what he had to say.
What is ‘The End of the Line’ about?
In a way, the subtitle sums it up for me: ‘how overfishing is changing the world and what we eat.’ It’s an exploration of how fishing is currently the most destructive human activity on 70 per cent of the planet’s surface. Fishing with modern technology is wiping out whole ecosystems we have barely started to understand, driving species such as the bluefin tuna towards extinction, undermining the food security of billions of people and damaging the oceans’ ability to act as a ‘sink’ for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All to provide us with delicious things to eat.
Overfishing is a much more important environmental problem than we realised.
What inspired you to write about overfishing?
A series of discoveries. First, I am a salmon and sea trout fisherman and in the 1980s I was fortunate to catch a very large salmon; one of the last of its kind. It was part of a ‘spring run’ of very large fish that used to run the Welsh Dee. People didn’t think then that angling pressure could possibly wipe out a salmon population but a scientist called David Solomons proved that, on the river Wye, it could. So I began to feel guilty that I hadn’t put my big salmon back to spawn.
As I became a full-time environment journalist, I began to ask myself what chance had sea fish of surviving the vastly more destructive fishing methods that were thrown at them than my simple salmon fly? Even though the sea was huge, wouldn’t there come a time when they were all caught? Then, at a press conference in The Hague in 1990, I saw the effect of beam-trawling on the bed of the sea and the fish and other creatures that lived on them. The scientist who had done the research, Han Lindeboom, said the effect of trawling was the same as ploughing a field seven times in a year. As a farmer’s son I knew that meant not much would grow there at all.
What’s your vision for the oceans?
I think if enough people want it, we can restore the productivity that used to exist there. If we were to leave our oceans alone more often, they might actually be more productive. We need enormous marine reserves, where no one is allowed to fish. Fishing also needs to be much more selective and the public should be a lot less tolerant of illegal fishing. We consumers of fish can help bring this about by making sure we buy fish only from people who can prove they caught them in a sustainable manner.