Globalization Is Destroying the World’s Oceans

The oceans are a primary source of food for mankind, and fishing provides 200 million people with income, as meager as it may be. But growing demand and the industrial-scale exploitation of the seas are destroying global fish populations. The European Union’s quota system is partly to blame.

Dawn creeps across the horizon as the Pinkis brothers’ cutter returns to the harbor at Kühlungsborn. The Baltic is still calm, but wind from the northeast has already picked up sharply, a sign of the storms in the evening forecast. The Pinkis brothers and their crew have been out since 2 a.m., 10 nautical miles off the coast of northeast Germany’s Mecklenburg region, in a spot where they had staked hundreds of nets into the sea floor the previous afternoon, hoping the fish would come.

The brothers’ cutter is small, less than 10 meters (33 feet) long, with a tiny bridge on top and a large fish tank in the hold below. Two stake-net fishermen stand on the deck, wearing bright orange oilcloth clothing. The boat has hardly docked at the wharf before they begin shoveling the catch from the hold, mostly flounder and codfish, even a lone turbot. The catch amounts to 200 kilograms (440 lbs), the fruits of a day’s labor — a day that can sometimes last 20 hours. Six days a week.

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