The Pacific’s Salmon Are Back — Thank Human Ingenuity
Geoengineering could turn our long-barren oceans into a bounty.


Robert Zubrin

Responding to these and similar antihuman ravings, the Canadian government went so far as to send gun-toting flak-vest-armored Environment Canada agents to raid the headquarters of the offices of the HSRC. George has been forced to resign the presidency of the corporation, as the desperate proponents of carbon rationing and fishing restriction scream for his head.

But the salmon are back.

Contrary to those who have denounced the experiment as reckless, its probable success was predicted in advance by leading fisheries scientists. “While I agree that the procedure was scientifically hasty and controversial, the purpose of enhancing salmon returns by increasing plankton production has considerable justification,” Timothy Parsons, professor emeritus of fisheries science at the University of British Columbia, told the Vancouver Sun in 2012. According to Parsons, the waters of the Gulf of Alaska are so nutrient-poor they are a “virtual desert dominated by jellyfish.” But iron-rich volcanic dust stimulates growth of diatoms, a form of algae that he describes as “the clover of the sea.” As a result, volcanic eruptions over the Gulf of Alaska in 1958 and 2008 “both resulted in enormous sockeye salmon returns.”

Unfortunately, while the potential of open-sea mariculture has been known for decades, experiments by established agencies that would validate the concept and lead to its commercialization have been blocked at every turn by regulators, who deemed such efforts at oceanic fertilization to be possible violations of U.N. protocols banning marine dumping. It took the daring George-Haida team to jump past the regulatory quagmire and break the impasse.

The George-Haida experiment is of world-historical significance. Starting as a few bands of hunter-gatherers, humanity expanded the food resources afforded by the land a thousandfold through the development of agriculture. In recent decades, the bounty from the sea has also been increased through rapid expansion of aquaculture, which now supplies about half our fish. Without these advances, our modern global civilization of 7 billion people would not be possible.

But aquaculture makes use only of enclosed waters, and commercial fisheries remain limited to the coasts, upwelling areas, and other small portions of the ocean that have sufficient nutrients to be naturally productive. The vast majority of the ocean, and thus the earth, remains a desert. The development of open-sea mariculture could change this radically, creating vast new food resources for both humanity and wildlife. Furthermore, just as increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have accelerated the rate of plant growth on land (by 14 percent since 1958, according to NASA satellite data), so increased levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean could lead to a massive expansion of flourishing sea life, provided that humans make the missing critical trace elements needed for life available across the vast expanse of the oceans.

The point deserves emphasis. The advent of higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has been a great boon for the terrestrial biosphere, accelerating the rate of growth of both wild and domestic plants and thereby expanding the food base supporting humans and land animals of every type. Ignoring this, the carbophobes point to the ocean instead, saying that increased levels of carbon dioxide not exploited by biology could lead to acidification. By making the currently barren oceans fertile, however, mariculture would transform this putative problem into an extraordinary opportunity.

Which is precisely why those demanding restraints on carbon emissions and restrictions on fisheries hate mariculture. They hate it for the same reason those demanding constraints in the name of allegedly limited energy resources hate nuclear power. They hate it because it solves a problem they need unsolved.

The ultimate question comes down to this: Are humans creators or destroyers? If it is accepted that we are simply agents of destruction, consuming or ruining resources that existed before we came, then it follows that human activities, numbers, and liberties must be severely constrained and that someone must be empowered to do the constraining. On the other hand, if it is understood that humanity is fundamentally a creative force, that we invent resources and improve the world — unleashing abundance, lighting the night, ridding continents of pestilence, and bringing barren oceans to life — then it becomes clear that the essential mission of government is not to limit liberty, but to defend it at all costs.

By advancing the case for humanity, the Haida have rendered us all a signal service.

Happy Earth Day!

— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. The paperback edition of his newest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism was recently published by Encounter Books.