Apparently Ocean Science is Inconvenient and Needs to Go: a Cold Reality

It’s sad on so many levels when you realize that those who purport to lead you feel compelled to use deception–or maybe obfuscation is a better term–as a tool.

Last spring I had  the opportunity to meet with, and interview, Phillip and Dorothy Riteman. Philip is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp system from the second world war and spent time in seven of the most infamous locations including Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Auschwitz. The story he told me of what happened when they disembarked the train after his arrival at the first camp after his arrest was particularly chilling. He said (and I am paraphrasing):

“They asked us one by one what did we do. Well I was only a boy and I didn’t do anything so I didn’t know what to say. Someone told me to say I was a locksmith so that’s what I did and they told me to join one group and I went over to be with them. Others said they were lawyers, judges, teachers, clergy and doctors so they told them to join a second group. When everyone had been sorted they told the second group to line up against a wall. Once they did that they machine gunned them all, just like that. They didn’t want the educated people in the camps. They were no good to them; they would only cause trouble.”

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Phillip’s eyes burned as he told that story and it left me cold, just thinking about how that age-old tactic of getting your way by eliminating the knowledge and wisdom that feeds dissent still plays out today. Nowhere as obvious and brutal, to be sure, but every bit as effective.

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A walk by the Ocean Science Centre at Logy Bay reminded me of how relevant Phillip’s experience is even today. While this centre still carries on, still funded through Memorial University (itself under siege right now, as government seeks to trim its budgets), it’s partner institutions are not nearly as lucky as, one by one, scientific positions and institutions fall, no longer funded by the federal government that could benefit so much from the unbiased information that they were created to provide. Information hat should be available to inform good decisions; ones that promote stewardship, manageable growth and, above all, sustainability.

Instead, now, our decisions are guided only by short-term glimpses at balance sheets, and by the incessant whine of highly paid lobbyists. The federal government so arrogantly proclaims that it is focused on what matters most to Canadians: jobs. That’s as much as they know.

You’d never say it here in Newfoundand Labrador. There’s essentially no federal presence here at all, noting much to see, just noise–a muted sucking sound as Ottawa drains what’s left of our natural resources while slashing the jobs that would benefit our economy and society the most.

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When this place was built we still had a viable fishery. Fishers knew it was in jeopardy due mainly to the wanton destruction of the fish stocks due to the unchecked over-fishing being carried out by huge fleets of foreign vessels. “Get those damned foreign trawlers out of there and enforce sustainable limits,” was said time and again by fishers and scientists.

The complaints fell on uncaring ears. The Liberals did nothing when they had the chance. The Conservatives did even less–abetting the actions by continually dealing away the fish to gain things deemed more valuable by a federal government located so far from the ocean as to lose the ability to care for it. (Funny: Ottawa is in Ontario, which considers itself eastern Canada. Go have a look at a map. It’s more or less central, thus indicating that everything east of it–Quebec, New Brunswich, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland Labrador–is nothing. Its policies are more or less indicative of that too.)

Instead of doing something to make matters better for those of us who would like to live in harmony with our oceans Ottawa is, apparently, choosing to respond by doing what it feels will best quiet the voices of dissent–namely to cut off the supply of what which best feeds it: knowledge. The practice of ocean science, as well as the treasured storehouses of information, thus obtained over the decades, all no longer a priority; the funding pulled and the documents quietly removed from sight.

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Today these seals know much more about our fishery that does the fed. At least the seals know a cod from a herring, as well as where the few that remain may be found. Suppose I were to ask you how many fishing vessels are currently on the Grand Banks. Would you know? Try a web search. Ask an expert. You won’t find out because the Harper Government does not care enough to ever find out. There’s no monitoring, no meaningful regulation enforcement and, essentially no clue whatsoever just how many fish-catching machines are out there, particularly on the nose and tail of the banks busily scooping up every living thing from the water.

And the fish migrate; those who plunder what remains don’t really have to come inside the international boundary very much but they don’t have to. They just take what they want. My guess is that there are over 1000 vessels at it on a yearly basis and they’re landing about nine times what they have been allocated. And the allocations are right to the limit of what’s sustainable, so you can imagine what this is doing to what little remains.

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But how are you to know for sure? The patrols are virtually nonexistent, as is the on-board catch monitoring. And as for the science, how can it happen without resources–something the federal government has been systematically taking away.

What’s left is an unregulated mess in which foreign interests simply ply the waters here and take whatever they want, with no fear whatsoever of any retaliatory action on behalf of an uncaring Canadian federal government. Just think about how it would be if the situation was reversed. What if some Canadian vessels decided to fish the EU waters instead? It would not be long before the vessels would be seized, towed to port and the operators arrested. Not here though. We “agree” that infractions committed by foreign vessels will be dealt with in the home country. Right on–we cite a Spanish vessel and send it on ts way for prosecution back home. What happens? It just stays on the banks and fishes until its hold is full. When it returns home it sells its catch. Prosecution? What a joke.

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Logy Bay, a fitting name, one that aptly describes Ottawa’s whole attitude toward the fishery and, for that matter, to Atlantic Canada in general. Just close your eyes and sleep it off. Everything will be just fine.

For us in the rest of the country.

Not you left hanging on to the Eastern Edge where nothing matters.

And, besides, there’s so few of you left.

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And who’ll be left when it’s all over? Who will speak for the oceans? I recently took the opportunity to take quick stock of what’s up with the many students I’ve taught through the years, residents of rural NL, all of them. Where are they now? Not there. Not anymore. About one in ten have stayed in rural NL. Only about half still even reside in the province at all. The rest–mostly gone west in pursuit of greener pastures.

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A dark green perhaps, much the same as the boreal forest that thrives here in the midst of hardship. It will survive, despite the best efforts of its harsh surroundings.

The PM is from the west of Canada, as far from here as it gets, so he’ll make doubly sure that it prospers no matter what. No matter what the cost to the environment, to Atlantic Canada, to truth or, for that matter to anything but the economy in the here and now.

In the meantime, as far as Ottawa is concerned, oceans be damned, along with our north, our wetlands and, for that matter, any part of our environment that gets in the way of the arse over kettle rush in search of what the PM and his closest circle deem what’s best for everyone else.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
This entry was posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Apparently Ocean Science is Inconvenient and Needs to Go: a Cold Reality

  1. You knew you would get my interest in this one. How strange we are so far away and yet have the same problems. Do I need to say more?

    Lack of thinking, short term gain, it’s all around us and continues to get worse. Nice piccies though.

    • Ha ha 🙂 you are correct. You were, in fact, on my mind as I wrote this. We have exchanged ideas frequently on this topic over the past months and, yes, are similarly-minded on the matter.
      It’s too bad, though, that those best positioned to do anything about it will never bother reading anything that’s been written, especially the stuff that’s backed up with hard research.

  2. Mary says:

    Out west here – there is the threat of Enbridge .. also fracking. Fear of the environment being handed over to corporations without much research or care for long term consequences – so we also worry about short term gains thinking.
    Chilling story from Phillip Riteman.

    • I hear you! Regarding fracking one thing that never gets said in public is that the majority of it is done in a reasonably sensible way and that it has no negative long or short term effects on the environment. After all, the stressing and fracturing of the earth’s crust is just a normal process that is happening all of the time owing to tectonic forces. It’s only a problem if you are stupid (or unlucky–but that’s still stupid) and greedy (hmmm–still stupid) enough to do it in those places where it can cause trouble. Properly done geophysical surveys will do a good job of delineating just where you can and cannot do it. The thing is to enforce sound rules and guidelines and make sure that the necessary work is done up-front. That’s a role for government and maybe one they are not doing anywhere near as well as they could be doing.

  3. Mary (above) mentions fracking … and as a resident of Pennsylvania I can tell you, from very personal experience, that we’ve got something of a Gold Rush going on at the moment. The state government either looks the other way or doesn’t care about environmental risk and damage while the feds simply applaud the pursuit of energy independence. Like your Atlantic Fishery our Gas Rush is mostly without regulation … it’s every-person-for-themselves (one of the most frequently represent companies on the roads is (you guessed it) Halliburton … does that ring a bell?). What are individuals to do other than point out the short-sightedness of those in government, at all levels? Joanna and I were the only property owners in our immediate area NOT to allow seismic testing here … we are viewed by our neighbors as being ‘out of touch.’ And, what can be done when so many are so short sighted and myopically focused on dollars? Also, your Riteman story simply begs the larger issue of the value of primary research. Don’t get me started on popular opinion in this regard. People simply do not make the connection between the nature of primary work and application to ‘real world’ solutions to real problems. Your post is ‘dark’ but will, I hope, open the eyes of some among us to problems with a system that, in cases like this, doesn’t work. D

    • Sadly, legislation and public policy often falls on the heels of disasters. It’s my opinion that fracking is not necessarily bad but only if it follows sensible environmental guidelines. In particular you must ensure that the well your are tapping into remains contained; that is the fracturing does not open a fissure to a nearby aquifer. It’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds and only requires that a proper job be done of delineating the field. Sadly, though, this step is sometimes bypassed in the rush to find producing wells and that rush can have very negative consequences.
      My biggest beef with the whole fracking thing is the fact that it currently leads to mutually-exclusive, polar-opposed groups: those “for” and “against” it. Overall it seems to me that middle ground is the better place with the decision really being “should we do it HERE, given the conditions and restraints.”

  4. Tiny says:

    You write about a problem that is everywhere and not getting better. There is so much short-sightedness in decisions and non-decision because attending to the environment costs money and fills nobody’s pockets in the short-term. It’s really sad that it always needs to get to the point of some immediate threat before the elected act, if they do at all…

    • Agreed–it seems like threats, one way or the other, are what work. I suppose that’s often the case for relatively new technologies where the full set of risks and associated mitigations have not been worked in to the overall landscape of policy and procedures. What’s particularly frustrating is that the trigger always seems t be some huge disaster.

  5. I’m trying not to be depressed. It all makes me very, very sad. It helps to know that there are a few thinking souls left in the world (you, the people who read your blog because they generally agree with you).

    When I begin to feel really angry and frustrated, I go to Psalm 131. Because I really don’t know what else to do.

    • Mine is 23–in fact that’s part of the title of the blog. Sadly not too many read this blog at all. Maybe I should just post pictures of cute kitties–that’s what most people want to see and as far as the big questions, they’d rather not be bothered. All the while, one by one, the fish are being plucked from our oceans and hardly anyone in Newfoundland Labrador, along with just-about-nobody in the rest of Canada or the world, for that matter, seems to care.
      A funny coincidence. I was reading your latest post when this notification came up. Expect a comment on yours shortly 🙂

  6. jennypellett says:

    The sad bi product of all of this is the eroding of community. By not investing properly in areas with natural resources is a typically blinkered approach that seems to infect governments world wide. It happened in the UK – first with the coal miners and then the ship building industry. Families were torn apart, communities dissolved.
    Young people are unable to secure employment in the areas in which they grew up because there is nothing left; no tradition. Do they ever return? Unlikely – the only people who can now afford to live in these places are the rich ‘second homers’ who are interested in investment but not community. Bi product of all this? Rioting and looting. Canada, beware.

    • I imagine it will come but not until all the alternatives have been tapped out. Right now everyone can afford to ignore the fact that our oceans are being systematically destroyed because (1) the actual monetary value of the Grand Banks fish stock is not that great, compared, say with those in the Barents sea and such and (2) those who would otherwise be fishing are, instead, employed in much better-paying jobs in the Oil & Gas industry.

      Simply put that means nobody HAS to care right now as they are all too busy doing their own work and pursuing their own leisure. Why bother about the Earth? Make it a SEP (someone else’s problem) and just ignore it.

      That Oil and Gas resource is very limited, though. Forty or fifty years from now when it tapers out and fishing starts to appear as a viable alternative it will likely be too late as the stocks as well as the fragile ecosystem that supports them will likely be destroyed by over-fishing, possible pollution and side-effects from seismic exploration activity.

  7. Mjollnir says:

    Substitute Ottawa with London and I can see where you’re coming from. 😦

  8. TamrahJo says:

    I became enamored of the HBO series, “The Newsroom” – at least the first season – waiting to purchase the second one! But in one episode, they talked about how intelligence was under attack – and recently, I’ve been informed that when I approach committee members about ideas/brainstorms for projects, I need to be careful not to go into too much technical detail about ideas in order to not intimidate/offend those who ‘don’t know as much’ – – When did being smart become a social handicap?

    Or perhaps it always has been and we are still at our evolutionary phase of being cursed while living and seen as a genius 500 years later – – not that I’m a genius, but I thought the whole purpose of hanging around smart people was to learn and broaden your horizons, not to get mad and defensive about what all you don’t know – – – 🙂

    • You are absolutely correct! The problem is when senior politicians hang around far ater their best before date. They start to believe their own rhetoric and slowly build walls to prevent them from the truth. As the gap between their beliefs and the truth widens they do whatever they can to prevent others from discovering their faults and then…this happens. The only real solution occurs with a general election.

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