Don't mess with oceans to produce more fishOne need not be...

SATURDAY MAIL BOX

April 12, 1997

Don't mess with oceans to produce more fish

One need not be an environmental Cassandra to quiver with fear after reading Dennis T. Avery's recent suggestion that the time is ripe to manipulate the oceans to produce more fish. His commentary (April 4, ''Should we fertilize the oceans for fishing?") relates to recent experiments in which the introduction of a half-ton of iron into the ocean resulted in a forty-fold increase in production over a 200-square-mile area.

He proposes the application of iron to ''renew the oceans' abundance.'' Had he done a bit of homework on the topic, Mr. Avery would probably have been surprised to find that the ''oceans' abundance'' doesn't need renewal, since the production that had formally gone into fish stocks that have been overfished, such as cod and haddock, now flows generously into stocks that are not desired or pursued by man, such as skates and rays.

So, it is not a matter of a loss of production, but simply a change in what is being produced. But, placing aside the fact that he may not know anything about that of which he speaks, his analogy between fertilizing the ocean with iron and a farmer fertilizing a corn field with nutrients boggles an ecologist's mind.

Some of the world's most esteemed ecologists have established their reputations through development of computerized representations of complex ecosystems, such as those found in the ocean.

However, behind closed doors, most will concede that, in attempting to develop characterizations of these complex webs of living things, we deal with black boxes within black boxes.

Elegant mathematical predictions of trends and changes are regularly upset due to unknown factors or feedback, truly an example of the law of unintended consequences. High-level production of monocultured crops such as corn and soybeans through application of fertilizer is possible because we have stripped the growing area of all other species, both competing plants as well as consuming animals.

A more appropriate analogy than Mr. Avery's for iron enrichment of the ocean would be the fertilization of a vast forest because the deer population has declined.

Such action is as likely to result in the conversion of forest to meadow or huge populations of wood mice than to increase the abundance of deer.

Ignorance may be bliss, but not when we play with the world's oceans. Intensive production of fish and shellfish through single species aquaculture (e.g., net pen salmon) is economically viable and can be done in a controlled manner with defined environmental consequences.

We shouldn't mess with mother nature.

William A. Richkus

Catonsville

Non-profits small part of housing answer

Your April 8 housing article, ''How city can rise above wreckage,'' suggests that the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center can renovate a ''gut'' rehab for $35,000, and gives two addresses, which you took from the Housing Permits Office, which tells one nothing about the original condition of the house or any related costs, such as acquisition and holding expenses.

Your suggestion would not be so upsetting if I had not taken great pains to try to educate your reporters to the reality of renovating vacant houses.

Included were several current examples with meticulous cost-breakdowns, two ''gut'' rehabs at $75,000 and $79,426, respectively, and one ''mod'' rehab at $55,000.

It is unrealistic to think that non-profits such as St. Ambrose can play a major role in Baltimore's rejuvenation unless we are given access to large amounts of capital. Until then, we will continue to play a relatively small role in the city but a significant role in the lives of the hundreds of families our programs serve each year.

Vincent P. Quayle

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.

Germany's treatment of East Germans

I am a West German resident currently staying in the U.S.A.

I read the Opinion Commentary article by Robert Gerald Livingston, "Seven years later, Germany is still divided," April 2, with growing interest and growing anger.

Even if a commentary is meant to express the opinion of the author rather than to document a certain situation, this comment is misleading because certain facts are not mentioned.

The author states that important institutions are still dominated by Westerners. The old Communist administration was purged and East German factories were closed, leading to a substantial rise in unemployment rates in East Germany.

A look back in West German history, however, shows that Germany has dealt with the remnants of another totalitarian system not so long ago. After World War II, the Allied nations helped us to purge our administration from Nazi followers.

Although this led to unemployment for those people, too, no one would doubt that this was an urgently necessary step toward democracy.

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