First It Was the Froggies, Now It's the Fishies

April 22, 1994|By 'ASTA BOWEN

HOOD RIVER, OREGAN — Hood River, Oregon -- First it was the froggies; now it's the fishies. Somewhere about knee-high on the evolutionary ladder, earth's creatures are disappearing at a frightening rate, and there's no telling how high the floodwaters might eventually rise.

The frog alarm was first sounded a few years back, when scientists noticed a pattern of decline among amphibian species around the world.

At the time, acid rain was considered a chief suspect. Last month, however, researchers from Oregon State University published a study that ''strongly suggests'' the real culprit may be ozone depletion.

It seems that too much ultraviolet radiation is getting through the atmosphere, and frog eggs do better ''over easy'' than overcooked.

The fish alert was prompted by new U.S. regulations, intended to restore depleted stocks of commercial fish.

In response, some New England fishermen staged a protest, claiming that the new requirements will put them out of business.

But while boats were honking their horns in Boston Harbor, cod and haddock continued to make themselves scarce in the historic fishing grounds nearby.

The problem is not limited to Massachusetts. On the Pacific coast this year, commercial halibut fishing will drop by 20 per cent, and Oregon biologists plan a complete ban on coho salmon fishing for sport or profit. American fisheries are on a downside everywhere except Alaska, and worldwide, 13 of the 17 principal fishing zones are depleted or in steep decline.

The latest news from Europe confirms a widespread scarcity. An economic fistfight has broken out between Norway and Spain over fishing quotas. The squabble could spread to the New World if Norway does not raise its quotas and Portuguese fishermen, siding with Spain, make good on their threat to invade Canadian waters.

As with frogs a few years back, no one quite knows what's up with the fishies. Blame ranges from greedy and wasteful harvest practices to environmental degradation, including damming and despoiling of spawning streams and plain water pollution.

Whatever the cause of the fishes' demise, the fingers of suspicion point squarely at humankind. But so far, the fish problem has received about as much human attention as the frog problem -- that is, not nearly enough. Taken together, the froggies and fishies have gotten less coverage than the cut of a figure skater's tutu, or the cut of a first lady's financial character.

We can't see what goes on below the surface of world's water, and it's hard to imagine a gradual emptying of the swamps and deeps. Our attention, when it can be delivered from daily trivia to the mysteries of the animal kingdom, favors mammals and warm-bloods like ourselves, not the ickier regions of ichthyology.

For years, we've conscientiously boycotted furs and certain cosmetics out of compassion for animals. We argue interminably over the spotted owl which, unlike fish, does not supply half the animal protein consumed by humans worldwide. We wonder about the fate of the New Jersey ''death row dog'' which has a name and a history.

It's easier to relate to a critter (however vicious) that started life as a cute and cuddly puppy than something scaly and slimy that sprang from caviar.

Mammal-minded or not, can we shrug off the warning signs of a cataclysm that threatens two significant pieces of the ecological pie? The frog crisis may be old news, but it gets bigger by the year.

Maybe there is nothing we can do to restore the ozone layer. Maybe nature will fill the missing niche.

As for the fishies, well, a problem that big we'll have to leave to the scientists -- or maybe industry.

It is tempting to ignore misfortune among our Darwinian inferiors, but the fact remains that a slow flood of environmental consequence seems to be making its way, step by step, up the evolutionary ladder.

And whether the cause is ozone or acid rain for the frogs, overfishing or pollution for the fish, the effect appears to be system-wide, and of our own making. First it was the froggies; now it's the fishies. Maybe both problems will solve themselves without our help. The floodwaters may be climbing the Darwinian fish ladder, but hey: There are lots of four-leggers between them and us. If nothing else, surely we'll do something in time to save the doggies.

3' 'Asta Bowen is a free-lance writer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.