Is eating seafood right?

Enjoy your fish, a very healthy source of protein and a horde of nutrients, as you may not have them for long. Though renewable, marine fisheries are in danger of depletion faster than you can imagine! 

There is a very good reason why humans must control their population. Beyond a certain number, the planet can no longer support the population without causing any harmful impact on the environment. With the sharp increase in the size of human population worldwide, one can’t help but wonder how long this planet’s resources can last, that includes marine fisheries.

The Picture

seafoodYou can get a good picture in the article “How the world’s oceans could be running out of fish,” a BBC-Future article written by Gaia Vince and featured in its Science and Environment Section. The sweeping opening statement can give you jitters, if you comprehend its full impact and implications.

“Global fish stocks are exploited or depleted to such an extent that without urgent measures we may be the last generation to catch food from the oceans.

The succeeding paragraphs paint the current picture and sad state of affairs this resource is faced with.

“Around 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted, fully e”xploited or in recovery from exploitation. Only this week, a report suggested there may be fewer than 100 cod over the age of 13 years in the North Sea between the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. The figure is still under dispute, but it’s a worrying sign that we could be losing fish old enough to create offspring that replenish populations.

Large areas of seabed in the Mediterranean and North Sea now resemble a desert – the seas have been expunged of fish using increasingly efficient methods such as bottom trawling…  All West African fisheries are now over-exploited, coastal fisheries have declined 50% in the past 30 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Catches in the tropics are expected to decline a further 40% by 2050, and yet some 400 million people in Africa and Southeast Asia rely on fish caught (mainly through artisanal fishing) to provide their protein and minerals. With climate change expected to impact agricultural production, people are going to rely more than ever on fish for their nutritional needs.”

A Glimpse of Solutions and the Future

Vince pointed out ways to go against the rapid depletion of valuable marine resources. Primarily, there is a need to “restore fisheries to a sustainable level.” The “tragedy of the commons” can be avoided if the fishing industry would only grab what the stock levels in their surrounding waters can sustainable allow.  Another strategy is to create more protected reserves where all forms of fishing is banned. Placing greater effort on farming is another option worth pursuing.

Fish farming, a current strategy in use, is not advocated as it is also causing enormous impact to the environment in terms of pollution and overfishing of small fish harvested to be used as feeds to economically valuable species.

He did not fail to identify the role of humans as the most “dangerous predator” in the food chain. Other than the species that land on human dinners, other species are just as endangered – marine turtles, marine mammals and other exotic marine creatures. Extinction of these animals can significantly modify the food chain and dramatically increase the population of some other species. These are tragic events that can trigger more extinctions and imbalance in the ecosystem.

A Glance on Other Sustainable Actions

Paul Greenberg offers another perspective worth reading – Sustainable Seafood: The Good News published in Food and Wine – Articles Section.  His advice goes:

For anyone concerned about the ethics of eating seafood from our overfished oceans, writer Paul Greenberg offers this piece of advice: Buy American.”

Greenberg takes stock of the plight of fishery, from an American point of view, in this opening:

“Every time I rig up a fishing pole or stare into the fish counter at the supermarket, the same question weighs on my mind: Is eating seafood the right thing to do? On the one hand, I feel that fish and fishing are too much a part of my identity to give up entirely. I grew up a monomaniacal fisherman, catching and eating seafood at every opportunity, back when American fish were readily available and often abundant. On the other hand, the oceans are in trouble. Humanity now catches around 90 million tons of seafood annually—a quarter more than what we caught back when I first wet a line in the early 1970s, and more than four times as much as what we caught when my father first went fishing in the 1930s.”

He adds:

“Also troubling is that Americans now import in excess of three quarters of our seafood from abroad, much of it caught or farmed in dubious ways. Which is why I buy American. Over the past two decades, America’s fishing policies have improved tremendously, mostly because of the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act… Today, 32 previously threatened fish and shellfish populations are at much-improved levels…”

Along this line, Greenberg offered information about possible substitutes – Pacific Spot prawn, Gulf of Mexico bycatch, Northern porgy, and Atlantic Sea scallop.

  • The Pacific prawn is an abundant crustacean that’s also delicious, and importantly, more sustainable than other commercial fish species landing on the human plate. These are sustainably caught by pot-like traps and not by trawlers that kill an enormous number of bycatch or unwanted species.
  • The bycatch from the Gulf of Mexico can fill human tummies just as any valuable fish. The strategy is to transform these into palatable, even gourmet dishes, just like what sushi chef Bun Lai is doing in his restaurant “Miya” at New Haven, Connecticut. In his magic-weaving hands, the trash catch becomes “balanced, elegant and delicious plates of seafood.”
  • Northern porgy is back, but through farming. It is a delicious fare if caught by bait, which is recommended.
  • Atlantic Sea scallop also once came to near depletion until stricter measures were instituted. The strategy prevented over-dredging of small scallops returning their vibrant number. These days, scallopers work for less time but harvest larger scallops so that they increased their income, while maintaining a healthy scallop population size.

Greenberg offers a “Sustainable-Fish Buying Guide” for seafood consumers that consist of these four species.

The Bottomline:

Creating conservation and mitigating policies is a task that governments around the world must seriously pursue and implement. Heeding these policies and programs is a responsibility that the fishing industry must embrace for a sustainable catch.

Every fish-eating human can help ensure that their plate will never be deprived of seafood by patronizing sustainably caught species. You have your options; do this and you’ll always have fish and so are the next generations after yours.

These are ways to go so you need not feel guilty when you dig into that platter of sizzling or steaming seafood. Then, there is no reason to ask: Is eating seafood right?

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  9. I don’t think that the world will run out of marine animals to eat. There might be a decrease due to the vast amounts used, but not run out. That’s like saying that the world will run out of oil since we aren’t finding anymore. When looking for seafood, there are many places you can go to buy them. It’s up to you to find the right one that has what you need.

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