Fish — Friends or Food? Discussing Fisheries and Conservation with Legendary Fisheries Expert Daniel Pauly

November 30, 2020

By Izzy Almasi

When you’re eating spicy tuna rolls or fish and chips, do you ever wonder where the fish came from? Do you know if it’s Canadian, Chinese, or Spanish? Daniel Pauly, one of the world’s foremost fisheries experts, wants us to take a minute to consider how well-travelled the fish on our plates may be and how ethically it was sourced.

“Fish consumption has increased globally. It is now 20 kilos per person, per year of fish. It was half of that just a few decades ago. And it is mainly in the developed world,” Pauly said in a recent interview on the Skaana podcast with Mark Leiren-Young. “We don’t produce the fish. We just collect the fish that nature produces. We cannot make fish that we need. We have to take it from somebody else’s stock.”

Pauly is responsible for coining the hugely influential term “shifting baselines,” that is used to describe the slow and subtle degradation of an ecosystem people may not immediately notice, but that can result in catastrophic long-term effects. The UBC Killam professor for the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries has done extensive research on the impacts overfishing and poor regulation has on fish populations around the world. He is author and co-author numerous influential books, including his latest, Vanishing Fish, and over 1000 academic articles.

As an expert who has been profiled by The New York Times, Science Magazine and media around the worldPauly warns that as we become a more globalized community, these problems need to be considered beyond country borders.

“The main reason why we need to study fisheries globally is because studying them at a local level doesn’t capture the dynamics,” says Pauly. “[Fish] know borders of temperatures, borders of depth. They don’t wander just anywhere. But fishing fleets don’t know borders. They go everywhere legally or illegally.”

The issues surrounding fisheries around the world are complex, and Pauly shares his insight into some of the flaws and challenges Canada’s fisheries face, including the treatment of fellow expert and activist Alexandra Morton who was gaslit by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) after expressing concerns about parasites in farmed fish. “I invested myself in the defense of Alexandra… There were several meetings where I criticized the DFO for the lies that they were spreading,” says Pauly. “Having seen the regular [parasite] infestation of young fish, and then listening to the head of research saying that Alexandra spiked the fish, it makes your blood boil.”

Even though the situation surrounding fisheries looks grim, Pauly believes that by educating ourselves and voicing our concerns to the government, we can create the change we need to see. “The next step is getting organized with people and to be politically active,” says Pauly. “Because at the end of the day, if the stuff that we do is not directed at government and picked up by governments, they will never become effective for the population as a whole. So one has to direct one’s activities at government.”

Learn more about Pauly’s work and the world of ichthyology by visiting to explore the vast catalogue of fish species that have been collected by Pauly and many others throughout the years.

To listen to the full interview, please visit Spotifywww.skaana.orgApple Podcasts, or Stitcher . Be sure to tune in to Skaana for upcoming episodes with guests like author and environmentalist Isabelle Groc and renowned anthropologist Wade Davis. To read more about Daniel Pauly’s work, check out his profile on the UBC website and his TED Talk.

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