One Trillion Fish

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Brian Tomasik
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One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 01, 2012 6:13 pm

That's roughly the number of wild fish caught per year according to an excellent study on fishcount.org.uk, which promotes humane slaughter methods in commercial fishing. The exact range given is 0.97-2.74 trillion.

That figure counts "both marine and freshwater fish that are caught from the wild," but "Marine invertebrates and farmed fish are not included in this estimate." This table is perhaps the most concise summary of the data. The biggest numbers come from small fish, especially anchovies and sardines, but the share from the little guys is not overwhelming.

I was surprised that the figure is so high, because I'm accustomed to numbers on the order of 10 billion for chickens slaughtered in the US per year, or 60 billion globally. Combined with the fact that humane slaughter for fish is often medieval by comparison with that for other food animals, I suspect that promoting less painful killing of fish (both wild-caught and farmed) is one of the most cost-effective ways to help non-invertebrates in the short term.

The fishcount.org.uk study found that 77,388,322 (say 77 million) tons of fish corresponded to 973,971,000,000 - 2,735,579,000,000 (say 1 trillion) individuals. That's about 13,000 individual fish per ton of fish. An unrelated study, "Researcher gives first-ever estimate of worldwide fish biomass and impact on climate change," estimates that the total biomass of all fish in the ocean (not just caught fish) is 0.8 to 2 billion tonnes (say 1 billion). Assuming the fish-weight conversion is the same -- which may not be valid if it's harder to catch the tiny fish? -- this implies that there are ~13 trillion (or ~10^13) wild fish in the oceans at any given time. I've updated my table in "How Many Wild Animals Are There?" accordingly.

Many thanks to the authors of the fishcount.org.uk study, A Mood and P Brooke. :)

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 01, 2012 7:25 pm

Singer makes very similar comments to mine in "Fish: the forgotten victims on our plate":
There is no humane slaughter requirement for wild fish caught and killed at sea, nor, in most places, for farmed fish. [...]

The most startling revelation in the report, however, is the staggering number of fish on which humans inflict these deaths. By using the reported tonnages of the various species of fish caught, and dividing by the estimated average weight for each species, Alison Mood, the report's author, has put together what may well be the first-ever systematic estimate of the size of the annual global capture of wild fish. It is, she calculates, in the order of one trillion, although it could be as high as 2.7tn.

To put this in perspective, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 60 billion animals are killed each year for human consumption – the equivalent of about nine animals for each human being on the planet. If we take Mood's lower estimate of one trillion, the comparable figure for fish is 150.

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by DanielLC » Sun Jan 01, 2012 7:33 pm

Do they not realize fish are animals?
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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 01, 2012 8:15 pm

Put "land" animals in the quote. :)

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Re: One Trillion Fish - Numbers vs Logic

Post by rehoot » Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:48 pm

I previously mentioned in this forum that when I go off my diet I would prefer to eat fish instead of meat. Somebody mentioned the amount of suffering per pound (or serving) and suggested that beef was less of an offense if I have to break my diet. I find it difficult to handle the numbers, so the result is that I double my efforts to not break my diet.

The challenging part of the giant numbers of fish killed each year is finding a meaningful way to make sense of them. Some people would take an approach like this (which I think is based on faulty reasoning but is appealing to meat eaters): Imagine that you had a large fish tank in your house with 1000 sardines in it, and it was mounted on rollers and easy to roll down the wheelchair ramp to your house. Imagine that you come home one day to find your house on fire and you have time to save either your fish or your daughter. Your fish are near the exit and are a lower risk to you than going upstairs to save your daughter--who do you save?

There are people who would save their daughter and let a trillion sardines die, but I think the example is a misdirected attempt to conclude that sardines have no value at all. I say that it is a false dilemma when applied to food choice because we can choose to eat plants instead of fish -- but why should we?

As of my post from the other day, I have been contemplating the possibility that framing moral issues in terms of internal consistency (which follows from rationality) is an objective criteria that can help to answer (some) moral questions (I'm not sure yet). Here is my main example that I will extend to fish later: I want to live in a world in which people don't murder me, or assault me, so I work toward a system in which people don't murder or assault each other. I think it is internally inconsistent to (a) want everybody else on the planet to refrain from the impulse to murder or assault me and want them to instead make the sacrifice of "not murdering or assaulting me as a means to satisfy their immediate desires" while I (b) screw the system by murdering or assaulting people who annoy me or get in my way. I find it to be a self contradiction, and I think a commitment to truth (and thereby rationality) compels rational people to avoid living such a self-contradiction when it adversely affects the physical or psychological integrity of others (I use the criteria of physical integrity per Würbel who made the case for basing ethics on integrity of form, function, and behavior).

For those who accept the previous example, it is by extension and generalization that I don't want other organisms to harm me (including lions who want to eat me or viruses that might kill me). I am not capable of stopping bacteria from eating each other or stopping birds from eating insects, but I can prevent self-contradiction by not killing lions (or fish...) to the best of my ability. In the strictest sense, some Jains (the religion similar to Buddhism) avoid eating root plants because it can kill the entire plant while eating the typical fruit, vegetable, grain does not. That would be the best way to avoid the self-contradiction of wanting X while working against X. If dairy farming could be done with the least amount of negative impact on animals, it might be close enough to be only a small transgression. I don't want to be put in a cage each day while somebody sucks juice from me, but if it was necessary to help others live, I might consider it if the process were not opressive.

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Ruairi » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:31 pm

thats incredible thanks for the info!
Alan Dawrst wrote:Put "land" animals in the quote. :)
i think maybe hes more making the point at why hasnt either the FAO or peter singer already done this?

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Re: One Trillion Fish - Numbers vs Logic

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Jan 03, 2012 3:16 am

Thanks for the comments, rehoot.
rehoot wrote: Somebody mentioned the amount of suffering per pound (or serving) and suggested that beef was less of an offense if I have to break my diet.
Yeah. And as you hint later in your reply, the impact of milk/cheese/whey protein are even smaller.

Here's a quote from your Würbel link:
In particular, biologically meaningful measures of ‘integrity of form and function’ may provide powerful indicators of animal welfare. The integrity concept originates in biocentric ethics and goes beyond sentientism, as it can also be applied to non-sentient animals and even plants. However, when applied to (potentially) sentient animals, it appears to be consistent with our common sense notion of animal welfare which also respects the animals’ ‘nature’ or ‘telos’. Moreover, the integrity concept would relieve scientists from solving the ‘hard problem’ of animal consciousness first, or from establishing valid measures of demand or aversion that are notoriously difficult to establish.
I haven't read the full paper, so I can't tell: Is he suggesting that such integrity is useful for suggesting a rough prior probability of welfare in the absence of more data, or that integrity is valuable in and of itself? I agree with the first but disagree with the second. I think many animals (especially humans) prefer non-natural environments when they're comfortable, and many things that are part of the telos of an animal, like cats torturing their prey before eating it, should not be respected.
rehoot wrote: In the strictest sense, some Jains (the religion similar to Buddhism) avoid eating root plants because it can kill the entire plant while eating the typical fruit, vegetable, grain does not. That would be the best way to avoid the self-contradiction of wanting X while working against X.
But plants don't have feelings. (?)

The mutual-nonharm principle has to have some limit for where "morally relevant entities" begin and end. You could also say that "because I don't want X-rays to harm me, I should avoid harming X-rays" (e.g., by not needlessly holding up a piece of lead in front of an X-ray machine).
Ruairi wrote: i think maybe hes more making the point at why hasnt either the FAO or peter singer already done this?
Yeah, I wondered that as well.

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by spindoctor » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:12 am

Thanks Alan for highlighting this issue.

Seems clear we need to push for more humane fish slaughter methods, as Singer says in his piece. In the first instance, this could be done incrementally, without disrupting livelihoods or requiring radical technological change (eg if currently line-caught fish can be hooked and wait for 6 hours before being killed, this time could be reduced by legislation to 4 hours).

However, judging by the mind-f***ingly dumb comments on Singer's column in the Guardian, even socially progressive people care very little about the suffering of fish.

(Interesting how quite a few use the gambit of "what about the biggest fish killers of all -- other fish". Which is of course what we [though not Singer] do indeed spend a lot of time thinking about).

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Re: One Trillion Fish - Numbers vs Logic

Post by Ruairi » Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:53 am

Alan Dawrst wrote:I think many animals (especially humans) prefer non-natural environments when they're comfortable
why do you think that?

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by rehoot » Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:58 pm

Alan Dawrst wrote: I haven't read the full paper, so I can't tell: Is he suggesting that such integrity is useful for suggesting a rough prior probability of welfare in the absence of more data, or that integrity is valuable in and of itself?
He addressed that point directly, but lots of background is needed for his idea to make any sense.

I liked the Würbel article because it provided what seemed to be an appropriate way to extend a consequentialist ethic to the nonhuman world while relying on (mostly) objective bases of measurement. An ethic based exclusively on happiness has no direct relevance to plants, mountains, or organisms that are thought to be too simple to experience pain, so the single ethical basis of utilitarianism quickly degenerates into ethical pluralism with a collection of unrelated ethical principles jury-rigged to explain ethical intuitions. That seems to undermine the rationale of utiltiarianism, which claims validity in part by denying ethical pluralism!!!! There are ways to bundle many independent "first principles" to explain why people value plants, biosystems, or even some landscapes, but it seems more consice to me to observe Würbels basis of integrity described as integrity of form, function, and behavior. An example of another (ethically pluralistic) way to describe biocentric ethics is from Singer who argued that some plants (or forests) have value because of their rarity and the difficulty of replacing them. He also said that it is OK to destroy plants as long as they are replaced. There is some appeal to those ideas, but is there a non-anthropocentric way to explain why it would be wrong to chop down all the redwoods and replace them with trees planted in planters in a warehouse in Chicago (with some assumptions like the warehouse already existed and excluding the anthropocentric aesthetic ethic)? Yes, Würbel's system.

Würbel observed that most animal ethics are based on a "sentientist" approach, meaning that the ethic is based on the assumption (or assertion) that sentience should be the basis for an ethic. He said that there is no justification for an ethical line between humans and nonhuman animals (he cited Ryder; but Dawkins also made this case by saying that humans are apes and there is no natural category between apes). Utilitarianism seems to avoid the problem by pointing to utility, and deontology makes absolute ethical claims, but typically relies on a sentientist approach. There still remains an unjustified ethical distinction between organisms:

"From a biocentric perspective, harvesting a lettuce for a salad and (humanely) killing a pig for a stew represent similar degrees of ethical offence. Given both the pig and the lettuce are survival machines employed by genes to compete in natural selection (Dawkins, 1976), there is no a priori reason why we should deny the lettuce, but not the pig, our ethical concern." (Würbel, 2009, p. 120)

I am aware of the good arguments to afford preference to organisms that feel pain, but accepting the value of avoiding pain does not require one to reject a broader "super-principle" that is biocentric instead of "sentientist." When Singer argued that (some) plants have value from their rarity and irreplacability (if they become extinct), I find no a priori reason to draw the line at plants as opposed to all life. Würbel observed: "In this respect, ‘sentientism’ is analogous to ‘speciesism’" (p. 120). There might be some basis for extending the principle of integrity to inanimate objects of nature, but let's put that aside for now.

To avoid arbitrary ethical distinctions of who or what should receive ethical consideration, Würbel reviewed the content of what *well-being* means and the problem of including desires as part of a measure of well-being (desires lead us to overeat, take dangerous drugs, and animals might suffer problems from fulfillment of some desires or impulses--and measuring animal desires is difficult or impossible). He uses the word *integrity* to mean "integrity of form and function" (p. 124) and then says "integrity may to some extent relieve animal welfare scientists from the burden ‘to make measureable what is not so’ (i.e. subjective experiences)" (p. 124). Part of his argument was to cite a couple studies about the imprecise relationship between suffering and functioning. I relate this to the idea of making a human "suffer" by not allowing the human to have access to cocain and surgary softdrinks. That type of "suffering" results in longer life and integrity of form, function. He proposed that we use integrity not as a proxy for subjective well-being, but as the target metric itself (p. 125). Adding integrity of behavior is a bit complicated, but the general idea is that internally-motivated behaviors and behaviors that stem from the generic type of stimuli from the environment are preferable (excluding being eaten by a lion but allowing animals a place to hide if they become scared).

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by rehoot » Wed Jan 04, 2012 8:20 pm

Alan Dawrst wrote:But plants don't have feelings. (?)
Correct. The Würbel ethic is (what I call) a superset of utilitarianism (and closer to a consequentialism based on a modified concept of well-being). Cutting a branch from a tree is not as morally significant as cutting somebodies' arm off, but I suggest that cutting a branch from a tree has a non-zero moral valence. If humans develop a new super-food that is delicious, nutritious, and made from pure sunlight, and humans invent a way to decorate the entire planet to be aesthetically pleasing to the highest extent possible, I would still believe it wrong to destroy all plant life on the planet. How about you? If you agree, why? Does the "superset" ethic of integrity seem to make sense for the treatment of the non-human world? Do you prefer a large bundle of unrelated ethics about rarity, irreplaceability, diversity (etc.) thereby resorting to moral pluralism and perhaps deontology?

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:02 am

spindoctor wrote: this could be done incrementally, without disrupting livelihoods or requiring radical technological change
Yep, exactly. That said, I think there could be a ripening crop of technological low-hanging fruit. In the case of farmed fish at least, here's an inspiring story from the 2010-2011 Annual Report of the Humane Slaughter Association (p. 4):
In September 1996 the Farm Animal Welfare Council published a report on the welfare of farmed fish. This included the recommendation:

‘Para 255. A satisfactory method of slaughtering trout en masse which renders them instantaneously insensible
until death supervenes is urgently required. There should be research to develop acceptable methods of humanely killing trout, for example electrical methods....’

Various organisations came together to take up this challenge. Jeff Lines led the necessary research into the
electrical currents needed to stun and kill trout humanely and the ways in which this current could be applied for long enough to ensure that there was no recovery. This research was very successful and it wasn’t long before a prototype system was being tested.

John Ace-Hopkins worked with Jeff to develop, manufacture and make available systems based on these new scientific findings to the farmed fish community. The result was that within about 10 years from FAWC drawing attention to the need for humane slaughter systems, a system had been developed and was in use. Until 10 years ago there was no way to humanely kill farmed fish en masse – they died slowly through suffocation when harvested from the water, now they are instantaneously stunned whilst still in water.

This is a welfare benefit for millions of fish.
I'm not sure how prevalent electric stunning of this type is, but I think it's making progress in the UK.
Ruairi wrote:
Alan Dawrst wrote:I think many animals (especially humans) prefer non-natural environments when they're comfortable
why do you think that?
Well, one reason is the article on guinea pigs that you pointed out in June. :)

My family used to have a cat, and it preferred to come inside during the evenings. Certainly it didn't like being outside all the time. (I myself prefer not to have cats because they cost a lot of money to feed, and it's hard to feed them vegetarian chow.)

I would hate to live outside all the time, being exposed to mosquitoes, rain, and frigid cold. Even with their warm coats, rabbits -- I would guess -- don't enjoy some of the coldest days of winter....
rehoot wrote: If humans develop a new super-food that is delicious, nutritious, and made from pure sunlight, and humans invent a way to decorate the entire planet to be aesthetically pleasing to the highest extent possible, I would still believe it wrong to destroy all plant life on the planet. How about you?
Nope, I don't share the intuition that it would be wrong. I actually don't care at all about the state of non-sentient beings on the planet, apart from instrumental considerations.
rehoot wrote: Does the "superset" ethic of integrity seem to make sense for the treatment of the non-human world? Do you prefer a large bundle of unrelated ethics about rarity, irreplaceability, diversity (etc.) thereby resorting to moral pluralism and perhaps deontology?
A "superset" ethic certainly could make sense if you care about rarity, irreplaceability, diversity, etc. However, I'm perhaps ethically autistic when it comes to such matters, and I don't care about these values except as they relate instrumentally to happiness and suffering. Remember, I'm someone who can think of nothing better than for a utilitronium shockwave to engulf our future light cone. :)

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by DanielLC » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:19 am

rehoot wrote:If humans develop a new super-food that is delicious, nutritious, and made from pure sunlight, and humans invent a way to decorate the entire planet to be aesthetically pleasing to the highest extent possible, I would still believe it wrong to destroy all plant life on the planet. How about you?
I find it extremely counter-intuitive that something that can't be experienced can matter. The only difference you'd experience is a more aesthetically pleasing planet, which would be better.
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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by rehoot » Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:35 am

Alan Dawrst wrote:Nope, I don't share the intuition that it would be wrong. I actually don't care at all about the state of non-sentient beings on the planet, apart from instrumental considerations.
DanielLC wrote: find it extremely counter-intuitive that something that can't be experienced can matter.
There is a real medical condition that renders people without the ability to feel pain. They rarely live more than about 20 years and often die from accumulated minor injuries or infections that lead to complications. I might have read about it in one of the Antonio Damosio books. I don't recall how these people feel pleasure, but if the somatic marker hypothesis is correct, then emotion comes from bodily sensation of the internal state of the body, so those who can't feel pain probably experience limited pleasures.

Let's say that people with this condition feel neither pleasure or pain and have no friends (so killing them will not cause others to feel a sense of loss). Would you think anything would be wrong if I decided to slice pieces from this person, one at a time, cortorizing the wound by scorching it with a flaming hot frying pan, and using the cuttings to make sandwhiches? I would first cut off the hands, then arms, left leg, right leg, parts of the butt, and so forth until the person dies outright. So you see no problem with this?

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Ruairi » Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:32 am

Alan Dawrst wrote:
Ruairi wrote:
Alan Dawrst wrote:I think many animals (especially humans) prefer non-natural environments when they're comfortable
why do you think that?
Well, one reason is the article on guinea pigs that you pointed out in June. :)

My family used to have a cat, and it preferred to come inside during the evenings. Certainly it didn't like being outside all the time. (I myself prefer not to have cats because they cost a lot of money to feed, and it's hard to feed them vegetarian chow.)

I would hate to live outside all the time, being exposed to mosquitoes, rain, and frigid cold. Even with their warm coats, rabbits -- I would guess -- don't enjoy some of the coldest days of winter....
hmm but you're a human so would natural for you not be more like africa?
it seems logical to me that organisms which want/like to do to evolutionarily advantageous things will be better at them because they're motivated to do them, and so they're genes will be passed on and on and you will end up with organisms which really want/like to do things which are evolutionarily advantageous. so you'll end up with organisms which enjoy their lives more....

sorry im not sure if im making sense....

i remember the idea of evolutionary winners and losers being talked about here i think, as long as animals lives are being changed in a way that makes them "win" more id imagine they're probably getting happier

there must be a charlie sheen joke to make here :D!

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by DanielLC » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:06 am

Any environment not designed to make you as happy as possible almost definitely will not. As such, the natural environment isn't ideal, and it can be improved upon.
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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Ruairi » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:17 am

obviously not ideal but presumably the organisms that are happier in the environment they are in generally do better and pass on more of their genes and you end up with organisms which become more and more "suited" to the environment they're in.
sorry to get back to the original point the reason i wanted to mention this is that as far as i know suicide rates are basically zero in primitive tribes, now i dont have data to back this up just from reading books and stuff and also their numbers are generally very low compared to everywhere else. what i mean is that altough a natural environment definitely isnt optimal organisms become suited to it and i think its rash to say that humans prefer non-natural environments without some kind of data

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Pat » Fri Jan 13, 2012 4:15 am

The resolute anti-speciesist George W. Bush once said, "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." It is up to us to bring this grand vision to fruition.

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 29, 2012 3:52 am

Pat wrote:The resolute anti-speciesist George W. Bush once said, "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
Well, friend-of-animals Matthew Scully was one of Bush's speechwriters, so maybe that's where he got the line . ;)

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Re: One Trillion Fish

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 29, 2012 4:12 am

rehoot wrote:Let's say that people with this condition feel neither pleasure or pain and have no friends (so killing them will not cause others to feel a sense of loss). Would you think anything would be wrong if I decided to slice pieces from this person, one at a time, cortorizing the wound by scorching it with a flaming hot frying pan, and using the cuttings to make sandwhiches?
I'm no expert, but I would speculate that they must experience some sorts of emotions, if not pain or pleasure. For example, to survive 20 years, they must have motivation to eat?

Supposing they really have no emotions, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with making them into sandwiches. However, there are still all kinds of standard externalities that come up in these cases: Striking fear into the hearts of others, leaning toward a slippery slope in which violence toward living organisms is tolerated even when the organism is actually sentient, etc. And then there are all sorts of bad-PR reasons to avoid condoning it, because most people find it intuitively repulsive.
ruairi wrote: hmm but you're a human so would natural for you not be more like africa?
Well, Africa has its share of malarial mosquitoes, lions, parasites, droughts, yellow fever, diarrhea, and so on.
ruairi wrote: it seems logical to me that organisms which want/like to do to evolutionarily advantageous things will be better at them because they're motivated to do them, and so they're genes will be passed on and on and you will end up with organisms which really want/like to do things which are evolutionarily advantageous. so you'll end up with organisms which enjoy their lives more....
It sounds possible in theory, but we don't seem to find that in practice for many species. Nature conserves on emotion by returning us to hedonic neutrality much of the time. And one could also argue the opposite: That organisms which are most afraid of pain/discomfort are the most paranoid and most motivated to secure food and safety, leading them to survive more and pass on those genes that produce negative emotion.
ruairi wrote: i think its rash to say that humans prefer non-natural environments without some kind of data
We don't see a lot of people leaving civilization to return to the jungle (though there are a few). Do you think people aren't properly assessing their hedonic prospects for doing so?

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