Letters & E-mails
What About the Gators?
I grew up in Canada and thought the article about the annual Canadian seal hunt (“Kill Them with Kindness,” Around the World, Spring) took a very complicated issue and reduced it to a one-note shriek.
If the hunt were to stop, what would the people who depend on the hunt do for a living? If left alone, the seals would have two fates: to be eaten alive by their predators or to starve to death. My understanding is that the seal population is now so large that this thinning of the herd is necessary.
Because the seals are cute, there is more outrage. When was the last time you read an article about the killing of American alligators? At one time an endangered species, they are hunted and killed mercilessly. This gets less press because they have big ugly teeth and make great shoes.
New York, NY
Elaine Miller Bond’s article “Net Benefits” (Spring) illustrates what is wrong with efforts to correct many environmental problems – in this case, overfishing. Capitalism encourages behavior motivated by greed. It should be no surprise when overfishing or pollution occurs. Providing fishermen with individual quotas is a good first step, but it does no more than put capitalism on hold.
A better system would be to model our economy on ecology. For example, what if the world’s fishing fleet were a corporation? This “Oceans Corporation” would be established by national governments. The fishermen would be the shareholders, and a board would appoint administrators to oversee all of the ocean harvests. Profits would be divided among the shareholders, whose initial shares would be distributed according to their percentage of the catch. Overfishing would result in a decline in profits, creating an incentive for the corporation to use the fishing fleet in the most efficient way possible.
Sustainability has to be made profitable to the point where non-sustainable behavior adversely impacts the corporate shareholders’ economic interests.
ITQs an Investment Mess?
Your article on individual take quotas (“Net Benefits”) swallows the arguments in their favor hook, line, and sinker, when some probing would reveal that ITQs are more than a little fishy. Take the analogy to cap-and-trade systems: Emission reduction schemes are successful because the cap is set on the environmental bad, which polluters then compete to underachieve. The equivalent bad in fishing is bycatch of non-target and threatened species, which account for a shockingly high percentage of global catches.
An incentive system designed around a tradable bycatch cap would generate significant environmental and economic benefits. Instead, most ITQ systems allocate a share of the good, i.e. marketable fish, often in perpetuity. Supposedly that generates the incentive for quota owners to advocate for lower and more scientifically rigorous harvest levels. What will more likely happen is that the quota shares become valuable despite their attachment to a natural resource, as assets in their own rights. This is what occurred in Iceland, where ITQs became part of mixed investment portfolios containing mortgage-based derivatives and are now part of that country’s toxic assets mess.
Thank you for the article “For Peak’s Sake” (Spring) about the effort to rename the 14,000-foot North Palisade in the Sierra Nevada after Dave Brower.
I first climbed the peak at age 17, in 1939, with Dave himself. It was also in 1939 that Dave made the film The Skyland Trails of the Kings. Attaching his name to that peak would be an appropriate honor.
I noticed a scientific error in Jeffrey Marlow’s cover story on jellyfish blooms: “The algae suck oxygen out of the water and block sunlight from reaching other plankton lower in the water column.” Actually, algae produce oxygen and are one of the primary sources of oxygen on the planet.
Dead zones are created when the algae die off all at once and their little corpses decompose. The bacteria involved in the decomposition, not the algae, “suck” all of the oxygen out of the water. Poor maligned algae!
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