Christmas greetings from an angry editorial director

22 December, 2022

I don’t usually go around picking fights with market traders. But the other day, a stall holder managed to ruin the Christmas mood. He was selling endangered animals wrapped in plastic, with Jingle Bells playing in the background.

This week, the media was full of a “historic agreement” reached in Montreal in which 190 nations signed a document to protect endangered species.  Thirty percent of the planet’s land and oceans will be protected by 2030. It sounded amazing. 

We are facing an emergency. In the past 50 years, mammal, fish, bird, amphibian and reptile populations have declined by nearly 70 percent. The UN’s expert body says that of a total eight million species on earth, one million are at risk of extinction. But now the world has agreed to attempt to stop this disaster in its tracks, averting an oncoming catastrophe that will ultimately impact on the lives of humans too.

The previous agreement on biodiversity was entered into in 2010. Its commitments covered a period of ten years and in that decade not one of its objectives was met. In fact, the extinction rate increased. So what hope can I have that countries will keep their promises this time?

I come from Blekinge in the far south of Sweden, where eel is a traditional dish on the Swedish Christmas buffet. I have fished for, smoked and eaten eel in my time. At least I used to before I realised that this strange fish, around which so many myths have been spun, is dying out. Today, eel populations in Swedish waters are down to between one and five percent of the numbers we used to see in the 1950s.  Eel fishing was banned in 2007 but an exception was made for professional, licensed fishing. Eels are also dying in hydroelectric power stations and due to environmental pollution – even more reason to ban fishing altogether. 

It is time that traditions that revolve around eating endangered animals died out. And here I would like to hope that the general public has more sense than some of our politicians. The new Minister for Rural Affairs, Peter Kullgren (Christian Democrat) represents Sweden in EU fisheries negotiations. Just over a week ago, he opposed an extended ban on eel fishing but had to give in to the majority. Minister for Climate and the Environment Romina Pourmokhtari (Liberal) defends Sweden’s stance:

“There are always trade-offs. Here, the Government has taken the view that there is an industry that must be protected. Basically, the Government has judged that we need to protect the eel fishing currently being carried out and the businesses involved.”

An industry that must be protected? That makes as little sense as the arguments made in defence of overfishing. Can’t they see that when the fish run out, the industry will die anyway? It ought to be obvious to anyone with even the slightest capacity for logical thought.

Researchers are unanimous – stop all eel fishing now! If we stop fishing for a longer period of time, the stocks can build back up and the industry will become profitable. That goes for all fish populations. But when it comes to eels – and Baltic cod – it might be too late.

When I see the way our elected politicians are dealing with actual threats of extinction, I despair for this week’s “historic agreement”.

Deep Sea Reporter’s Christmas present to you all will be continuing to put every effort into highlighting threats to life underwater, and scrutinising the powers that be that are destroying our oceans. Our oceans! We, the people, own the oceans and should be able to decide how their resources should be used, protected, and left in peace. Deep Sea Reporter/Deep Sea Productions promise that 2023 will be filled with reportage and documentaries showing the ongoing assault on life under water. But we will also be reporting on the good examples there are out there. That’s the Christmas message I’d like to give you: 

Don’t give up hope – change is possible!

And today I’m going to go and have a little chat with the eel seller at the market.

Text: Peter Löfgren

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