Beginning in the 1997, fishing vessels led by New Zealand went into the icy Ross Sea in search of the toothfish. The nation now catches 55 percent of the fish and Americans consume 40 percent of whatever they catch. Illegal fishing is thriving as well. The net result is that the catch per unit area, which measures the abundance of a species, has been declining since 2001.
As Pogo would say, we've met the enemy and it is us. The fish occupies an important ecological role in the Antarctic, and its loss will affect food webs that include killer whales and Weddell seals.
The toothfish dilemma is reminiscent of other debates about our role in the planet. There are very few truly wild places left in our world. Environmentalism in its original form would seek to protect these places from humans by setting them apart. That's what Young wants for the Ross Sea.
But a newer type of environmentalism has taken hold in Washington, DC and other power centers of the world where sustainability has become the goal, as activist Paul Kingsnorth wrote last year in the Orion Magazine. He described sustainability as the need to maintain our lifestyle, in all its comfort, without entirely destroying the natural world. It is a delicate balance that means getting to eat Chilean sea bass while knowing that the fish will not entirely die out.