TALCAHUANO, Chile - Eric Pineda peered deep into the Achernar's hold at a measly 10 tons of jack mackerel after four days in waters once so rich they filled the 57-foot boat in a few hours.
The dock agent, like everyone in this old port south of Santiago, grew up with the bony, bronze-hued fish they call jurel, which roams in schools in the southern Pacific.
"It's going fast," Pineda said. "We've got to fish harder before it's all gone." Asked what he would leave to his son, he shrugged: "He'll have to find something else."
But what else is there to find?
Jack mackerel, rich in oily protein, is manna to a hungry planet, a staple in Africa. Elsewhere, people eat it unaware; much of it is reduced to feed for aquaculture and pigs. It can take more than 5 kilos of jack mackerel to raise a kilo of farmed salmon.
Yet stocks have dropped from an estimated 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in two decades. The world's largest trawlers, after depleting other oceans, now head south toward the edge of Antarctica to compete for what is left.
An eight-country investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of the fishing industry in the southern Pacific shows why the plight of the humble jack mackerel foretells progressive collapse of fish stocks in all oceans.
Their fate reflects a bigger picture: decades of unchecked global fishing pushed by geopolitical rivalry, greed, corruption, mismanagement and public indifference.
Daniel Pauly, the eminent University of British Columbia oceanographer, sees jack mackerel in the southern Pacific as an alarming indicator.
"This is the last of the buffaloes," he told ICIJ. "When they're gone, everything will be gone ... This is the closing of the frontier."
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