22 September 2008

fin, finito, bye bye fishies



The oceans are being depleted of their onetime abundance. Overfishing is something we can all help stop if we want to save fish from extinction. There is a sobering article in GOOD magazine about the imminent global collapse of fishing. It is a must-read for anyone who eats fish. Some eye-opening highlights:

The end of fishing = global food (and economic) crisis

The demise of commercial fishing is beyond the limits of even our darkest environmental imaginations. And yet the evidence of the ocean’s diminishment is everywhere. Leaving aside the legitimate concerns of conservationists, the possibility of a broad fish collapse is harrowing for other reasons. At a time when we are mired in a global food crisis, nearly 1.5 billion people depend upon the sea as a source of food or income. The destabilizing effect of such a collapse would be tremendous, bringing communities and countries into conflict over a resource we once considered boundless. It is fair to say that the endgame has begun.

Government support for an unsustainable industry
Many experts think that governments have been too kind to the fishing industry. The European Union, China, Japan, and the United States spend as much as $20 billion a year to subsidize a $90 billion industry. The number of industrial-sized fishing boats in the world, which the U.N. estimates at 1.3 million, will have to be reduced by more than a third to reach sustainable levels of fishing (and some conservation organizations put the number at closer to half).

Overfishing isn't the only problem, but it's the easiest to fix
We have imperiled what is perhaps the last wilderness on earth, for the simplest reason: We believed it was so vast it couldn’t be harmed. The signs of our folly are now too numerous to ignore. Massive, swirling gyres of plastic have formed in the North Pacific, as have toxic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and dozens more places. Coastal pollution and construction is destroying critical wetland habitats worldwide. And the ocean itself is warming, a development that will have consequences we can hardly imagine. Amid these challenges, overfishing represents the most immediate threat and possibly the easiest problem to remedy.

We are all responsible
Because of our role as consumers, we’re no less culpable than fishermen for the state of the oceans. Global seafood consumption has doubled since 1973 and, just as its health benefits are becoming known, it seems clear that we will have to eat less fish, and that the fish we do eat will have to be smaller and lower on the food chain, where the effects of fishing are less pernicious. A cod caught by a bottom trawler carries with it a different set of environmental implications than a cod caught by a hook and line—and we ought to recognize and pay for the difference. And we would do well to contemplate, too, why it is that we become indignant at the thought of a world without wolves or elephants, yet stand idly by as bluefin tuna, for instance, are hunted into obsolescence. This animal, as grand as any we know, can live for 30 years, weigh as much as 1,200 pounds, and cross thousands of miles of ocean in a single year.

Please read the whole article.

You can do something!
  1. Follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide. They have a free downloadable (or mail order) pocket guide you can take with you to restaurants.

    --Some common fish to avoid: Atlantic halibut, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, flounder, sole, monkfish, Chilean sea bass, trawl-caught haddock, skate*

  2. Tell your favorite restaurant or fishmonger to offer sustainable seafood

  3. Help the Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service make the right decision about shaping new commercial fishing regulations
*I realize this may be hard for many people to do, but if we don't change our actions now, these species will be fished into extinction. There are many viable (and delicious) alternatives, including: Arctic char, Pacific halibut, longline-caught Pacific cod, striped bass, tilapia, mackerel, U.S. Atlantic pole-caught Mahi Mahi, trap-caught lobster, plus farmed oysters, clams, mussels and more!

2 comments:

Tobias said...

Thank you for an informative approach to this issue. As an additional point, consumers can encourage their favorite grocery stores to implement FishWise, a nonprofit seafood program that applies the science and recommendations of the Monterey Bay Aquarium directly to the seafood case. By color coding every seafood product with its sustainability ranking, in addition to providing mercury information, FishWise makes it easy for consumers to choose seafood that is healthy for themselves and the oceans.

Thanks,
Tobias Aguirre
Executive Director
www.fishwise.org

Liz said...

Thanks, Tobias for the great info. I've seen some fish markets displaying fish stats (like location of origin), but FishWise seems more comprehensive.

Keep up the important work!