Extinction 2021

Struggling, a lone cobia propels its streamlined figure through the dense seawater, all the while scanning every direction of its lifeless surroundings. Hunger is consuming the brilliant predator’s every thought and now controls its every move. The lost loaner has one goal in mind, and it is to feed as its energy reserves are rapidly depleting. It’s likely that its body aches from lack of nourishment. The cobia in question is one of the mightiest fish in all of the world’s oceans growing to over one hundred pounds, yet unexpectedly, it finds itself in a barren wasteland struggling just to survive.


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Photo: Pat Ford

During the species heyday, swarms of hungry “bronze bombers” invaded coastal waters in unprecedented numbers. Recreational anglers at one time in the past harvested these fish by the dozens without a clue as to what the future would hold.

…during 2007 commercial fishing fleets harvested nearly 44-million pounds of finfish from state and federal waters…

Today, the same arena this once magnificent predator scavenges in, once occupied by near limitless prey, is practically void of all life. It is astonishing this single fish has managed to survive this long. But the cobia is a resilient carnivore, an aquatic killer capable of adapting to its surroundings and modifying its hunting tactics. Notorious for feeding on an array of baitfish and eels, this lone lemonfish now scavenges the substrate in search of crustaceans and decaying carcasses. It does what it must to endure.

It’s the year 2021, and humankind has taken a devastating toll on our precious aquatic resources. Thanks in part to climate change and economic instability; poverty levels have soared to unimaginable levels, forcing governing bodies to turn to the sea in an attempt to feed the hungry. Technology, too, has soared beyond our wildest imaginations. Commercial fishing vessels once capable of capturing ten tons of fish following the turn of the century are now larger, faster and more sophisticated then past generations could have ever envisioned. With so many to feed, FWC rules and regulations once governing our oceans valuable resources have long been forgotten. Headlines earlier this decade read, “Bounty! If it swims, it’s fair game!”

Once the floodgates were opened, it took only a few short years for American boat builders, supplemented by rich government subsidies, to manufacture a fleet of “super trawlers.” These 400-foot multi-hulled vessels, propelled by nuclear-powered turbines, are capable of hydroplaning across any ocean surface under the severest of conditions at breakneck speeds! Equipped with advanced aqua-acoustic sonar technology, super trawlers first set their sights on massive migrations of forage species, believing they weren’t doing much harm to the fragile marine ecosystem by steering clear of large pelagic predators. With modern sonar technology capable of tracking a lone baitfish from a distance recently thought inconceivable, working in unison super trawlers chased down and corralled immense concentrations of fish and squid by the hundreds of tons. With reckless abandon, it took far less than a decade for forage species once considered inedible, to be harvested for human consumption to the point of extinction.

Due in part to authorization from governing bodies and little care for what the future may hold, greed consumed the minds and filled the wallets of irresponsible commercial fishing fleet owners who were left with little choice but to set their sights on larger prey. Initially, specially designed factory trawlers raped the ocean floor clean, flattening natural and artificial reef formations around entire coastlines. Reef species fell victim to the modern killing machines in unprecedented volumes. The massive vessels harvested and processed bottom dwelling fish, along with crustaceans and everything else that fell victim to their indiscriminate gear, in quantities recently thought impossible, only returning to port when their massive onboard freezers couldn’t hold another box of fish.

Once the bait and bottom were wiped barren, it was the near coastal species such as mackerel and dolphin that suffered their wrath. From there, not a single highly migratory shark or billfish stood a ray of hope against the menacing devastation of the modern killing machines. The careless carnage has completely demolished local fish populations.

Recreational angling with rod and reel, a sport that once thrived, has long been forgotten. I remember more than a dozen years ago when in 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for commercial fishing allocations, released a report titled Vision 2020. The report noted, “The recreational fishing experience could rival or exceed recreational fishing catch, as a prime motivator for recreational fishing.”

Here it is 13-years later and with no fish to catch and not a single recreational angler in sight, it appears the National Marine Fisheries Service miscalculated their prediction.

While you may be chuckling thinking the above scenario is simply too far fetched to ever become reality, take my word for it that if we do not unite as a community and continue to evolve as responsible stewards of the sea, anglers statewide and beyond will eventually be facing an aquatic disaster of even greater proportions.

In my opinion, commercial fishermen, both local and abroad, should continue to take a long hard look at aquaculture. Like cattle and poultry, farm raised seafood is a reasonable and profitable solution for the ever-increasing demand for fresh seafood. And while it is obvious that not every species of marketable fish can effectively be farm raised, surely enough can to supply the growing demand while at the same time, providing our oceans and its many valuable inhabitants a fair opportunity to recuperate from decades of relentless onslaught.

Cobia in particular, are a perfect candidate for aquaculture and are currently being farm raised as a marketable fish and to replenish wild fish populations. Cobia have ideal fleshy characteristics which can easily substitute commercially caught grouper, snapper, dolphin and more. Cobia have a very high growth rate, effectively spawn in captivity, can adapt to a freshwater environment and can be brought to market in less than a year. Now I don’t claim to know more about the nuances associated with aquaculture and fish farms then the next guy, because I don’t. However, what I do know for certain is that there is an alternative to continuing to indiscriminately rape our oceans both now and in the future.

Did you know that according to the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Fisheries Information System, during 2007 commercial fishing fleets harvested nearly 44-million pounds of finfish from state and federal waters? That number consisted of more than 7-million pounds of grouper, 7-million pounds of Spanish and king mackerel, more than 3-million pounds of snapper and close to 1-million pounds of swordfish. How much longer will local waters be able to sustain this sort of relentless pressure without total collapse?

If commercial fishermen turned to fish farms, educated by regulatory agencies and subsidized by government grants, it would create hundreds of additional jobs. More importantly, a wisely regulated vibrant ocean filled with game fish would boost the economic value of recreational sport fishing by hundreds of millions of dollars! Maybe I am in La-La Land, but is my vision for the future survival of our fragile fisheries really too far-fetched?