PARROTFISH AND THE FEELGOODS
People love to feel they are doing good; doing their part to make the world a better place. This is a great innate thing about us. It is what has enabled several very important revolutions in human history. This human tendency is tapped into by social campaigns that rely on people’s natural tendency to do the right thing once they are provided with information to be able to make the right choice.
However, one of the challenges faced is that the world is a complex thing, and people acting as a group need simplicity. Because of this, mass action does not always address the complexity within a problem. Even more importantly, I think, it often leads to mass misconception; where the masses hold dear an imperfect understanding of reality.
What mass action does do, especially when packaged the right way, is make people feel good about themselves when they are doing the ‘right thing’. Simplicity makes it easy to do the right thing and to identify the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.
Example. A war with pots and pans
“… the collection of aluminium pots, pans, railings and other metals during the war was largely a propaganda exercise intended to give blitzed civilians a feeling of having contributed to the war effort…”
With current parrotfish campaigns, I don’t believe the intention is to make people feel good about themselves. The genuine effort is to make a positive impact on coral reefs. However, the dangers of mass misconception are real and present.
PARROTFISH LIVES MATTER vs ALL FISH LIVES MATTER
The truth is that Jamaica’s reefs are heavily over fished, so it would make sense to reduce the consumption of all fish for reefs to recover.
One of the results of current ‘parrotfish lives matter’ campaigns is that people feel like if they don’t eat parrotfish then they are not a part of the problem, even if they eat other fish, and that it’s the people eating and selling parrotfish that are the real problem.
Coral reefs are ecosystems, and in ecosystems everything plays a role and affects everything else. Every fish on a reef is important and they all matter.
BUT DO FISHERFOLKS LIVES MATTER….. ????
Fishers have received a bad rap, not totally undeservedly, but sometimes based on a misinformed judge and jury public.
Did you know parrotfish are not scarce? (relatively speaking of course). Based on reef surveys across Jamaica in 2015, parrotfish are the most abundant fish on our reefs (but they are mostly not fully grown).
In some places they make up the majority of what fishers catch. So you can understand why fishers will resist a ban on parrotfish, and feel that ‘parrotfish lives matter’ campaigns seek to undermine their livelihood. And it is easy to understand why such campaigns might not make sense to them.
Coral reefs are faced with a list of problems among which is a lack of herbivores to keep the reefs clean. So of course increasing the abundance of herbivores, especially big herbivores, is a great idea. But that alone is not enough. Some recent studies have found that when the sea is polluted, an increase in herbivores like parrotfish is not enough to combat algae that overgrow corals. One study in particular found that in polluted waters corals are weakened and the action of parotfish feeding actually resulted in coral mortality.
A ban on parrotfish may not actually save the reefs if we don’t address pollution. Unfortunately it is harder to ban pollution than to ban parrot fish. I think a ban on parrotfish would certainly help reefs, but it would hurt fishers and may not solve our problems.
THERE IS MIDDLE GROUND THOUGH
The real problem with regards to fishing is over exploitation. If managed properly we could harvest fish sustainably into the foreseeable future, including parrotfish. This would require careful management, which might be too much to hope for. But, Jamaica has one of the best managed conch fisheries in the world; certified sustainable. So why can’t we do it with our other fish?
SO IN SUMMARY
A ban on parrotfish: Easy concept to buy into, people feel good, may not solve our problems by itself, while creating problems with fishers
Managing our fisheries: Complex concept, not so easy to communicate, people don’t feel as good as easily, solves our problems if we can pull it off, happy fishers.