The sea-food point of view (from ‘The Economist’)

In ‘The Economist’ of 29th October I found a very short article (‘When lobster was fertiliser’, p. 84) about research done by Glenn Jones of Texas A&M University. He and his team studied some 40 000 sea-food reastaurant menus dating from 150 years ago to today, in order to assess depletion of some sea species that we can (or could) find on our plates. The prices revealed that the exploited species cost gradually more, and often dissappeared from the menus after some time. For example, for a mollusc called abalone, in San Francisco in the 1930’s you would have to pay $6-7(in today’s dollars), while in 1980’s it was already about $30-40. In 1997 the commercial explotaition of abalone was banned off California’s coast. Sometimes the prices fall again, as the products are imported from further away, which indicates the total depletion of local resources.
The author reflects not only on the supply side of the market, but also on the demand. He gives an interesting example of lobsters, which are considered a delicacy today. In the 19th century servants would negotiate with their masters NOT to be fed lobsters more than thrice a week! This just shows how abundant they must have been back than. And also that at a certain point their harvesting broke the sustainable level, leading to a gradual diminishing of the living stock, thus ridding us of a valuable natural capital asset – the lobster. Thank God I don’t like seafood!

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2 comments on “The sea-food point of view (from ‘The Economist’)
  1. jeremy says:

    I not a great fan of seafood either Maciej largely because I worry about the polluted habitats of some of these creatures (I once had a very unpleasant experience with a crab sandwich in a coastal town in the north of England located near a chemical plant!) Coming back to your example, the ‘Cornicopians’ would likely cite this as evidence that the market will ensure that species extinction can be avoided. What they overlook is that if there is a dramatic change in the stock of one element of natural capital, this can upset the balance of the eco-system creating problems elsewhere.

  2. Sebastian says:

    The issue posted by Maciej is a good example of how unscrupulous humankind exploits nature until the bitter end. The timeframe of 150 years in the history of lobsters on the menus of human beings is an excellent example and serves as a metaphor of what happens with the other natural resources, too. Humankind tends to ignore the fact that even though our planet is big, natural resources will get used up some day. It’s like having a few apple trees in the backyard. If you take away every single apple, the trees will get old and die out in your backyard someday. The consumption of lobster species Maciej was talking about is exactly the same thing. The only difference is that it takes a little longer until a natural resource is completely used up on the planet. But in addition to that, it is irreversable and impossible to get this resource back if it won’t recover. Furthermore, the degeneration of one natural resource affects the balance of our highly sensitive ecosystem and this can result in disasters nobody could ever predict. But when the people get slapped in the face with such a natural disaster it is too late to make up for their mistakes.

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