Like banks, habitats don’t decline gradually. They tumble. Perhaps the most drastic example of a sudden collapse of an eco-system of late has been that in Canada’s Grand Banks in the early 1990s.

As the New Scientst reported in 1995:

“THIRTY years ago, children in Newfoundland could catch fish by dipping a basket into the ocean. Now Canadian research vessels sweep the seas in vain, finding not a single school of cod in what was once the world’s richest fishery. The destruction of the Grand Banks cod is one of the biggest fisheries disasters of all time.”

If we hoped that we would learn that industrial fishing risks disaster, we didn’t. Having wiped out their own oceans, Western trawlers spread over the earth – plundering whichever oceans didn’t have fisherwomen and fishermen able to protect them. West Africa has been heavily targetted.

As the Abu Dahbi paper The National reported from Sierra Leone in 2008:

“Lakka Village, Sierra Leone – Mathew Palmer hauled his small dugout canoe onto the soft, white sand after a morning spent fishing along a picturesque coastline. For almost half a century his daily routine has varied little, but now he says there is one major difference ‘ the fish are not there.

Mr Palmer, 67, said he sometimes goes days without hooking a fish on his line. On this day he was lucky to catch about three-dozen small snapper, but it was a meagre haul compared with that of previous years.”

The mass destruction of fishing stocks around the world has been one of the many great disasters of industial capitalism. Vast trawlers can pick up everything from miles and miles of ocean floor, keeping what we like to eat, dumping the rest. Imagine if European sent vast trucks with miles of net to sweep all from the great Savannahs of Kenya? We would consider it astonishing destruction, breath taking colonialism. Yet that is exactly what we are doing to oceans around the world – sometimes with the permission of governments bought off by Western or South East Asia corporations. Sometimes without.

Matthew Palmer is one of millions to suffer.

And so the news in this week’s New Scientist must be seen as positive: the Grand Banks have bounced back. After a couple of decades of banning fishing, the fish have managed to breed, to return. Which shows something very simple. As the New Scientist itself points out, it shows the success of the heavy management of fisheries – and so that we must enforce more ambitious treaties in Europe. But it also shows that it is not too late for West African, or for East African or for Indian fish. These too can return, if they are allowed to. And if it is not too late, then it is even more important that we take action – that we stop our trawlers from destroying eco-systems and destroying the livelihoods of so many.

Adam Ramsay

About Adam Ramsay

Adam is Co-Editor of Open Democracy UK and a green activist based in Edinburgh. He co-founded Bright Green in 2010.