If you once heard of a species of bird that became extinct before the turn of the 20th century but never paid attention before, read Joel Greenberg’s new book, A Feathered River Across The Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight To Extinction. It will get you thinking about the fish you eat!
Greenberg reports that in the 1800’s passenger pigeons were reported in Ohio, Michigan, and eastern US and Canada numbering in the billions. They appeared to be an inexhaustible source of protein for the rapidly increasing population. Reports talked about flocks darkening the sky for hours as they migrated to roosting areas. It was hard to imagine that their numbers would ever be exhausted. Commercial hunters and individuals raided the roosts and easily gathered a thousand birds. The coming of the railroads provided a means of shipping them to population centers such as New York City. There was a good market for passenger pigeons.
By 1870 it because clear that the passenger pigeon was becoming extinct. People failed to believe it. Thousands were still killed or taken alive for commercial interests including for the new sport of trap shooting. There just seemed to be too many birds to worry about complete depletion. By 1890 the last large flocks were still hunted. The vast flocks of 1860 were gone by 1900. Only a few remained in zoos!
Passenger Pigeons were victims of the belief that nature’s richness was inexhaustible and solely for human exploitation. There was no need to conserve for the future. The need for environmental laws was realized by only a few.
That gets us back to the fish we eat! There is nothing vaster than the earth’s oceans but yet they are finite. And to add to the problem, being international, they are difficult to regulate. Some estimate that 85% of ocean fish stocks are over-exploited and will be gone in 40 years. So, it is important to know the source and species of the fish we eat. It is a complicated problem because some people rely completely on ocean fish for their protein, but at least now we know that human activity can lead to loss of species and we understand the need to address the issue.