We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. ~Mother Teresa
My family hails from an island of fisherman, so I grew up eating seafood. I didn't really think about it, it was just a staple. I ate anything as a kid (except for cilantro and onions, yuck), but at some point, stymied by animal farming practices, I stopped eating meat and relied on seafood and plant sources for protein. At that time, the oceans were teeming, and it was the sustainable choice.
Now that it's become fairly easy to find small production, humanely grown animals, I started eating meat again and cut way back on my seafood consumption. Things have flipped, and its now seafood that has become a thorny, complicated issue.
Demand for seafood has soared as more people choose it for health benefits and the global population increases. But all this seafood love is unsustainable - our oceans are being killed through overfishing and environmental damage. Mark Bittman wrote a great article on the issues confronting seafood.
Why is seafood so controversial? Catching and eating seafood causes several issues:
- Catching seafood damages the environment. Most seafood is trawled for or dragged. This means huge nets are weighted down (often to the sea floor), and dragged. This is bad for two reasons:
- It hurts the seabed and crushes a living habitat that takes years to regenerate
- Lots of animals are captured and killed as bycatch - according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 25% of the sea animals accidentally caught are discarded. This includes sea turtles, dolphins, seals and whales.
- We are overfishing several popular species of fish, causing fisheries to collapse. This means that we are catching fish faster than they can reproduce. Not good. Populations are getting smaller, and we start catching the fish even younger, which doesn't give them a chance to recover. Once the populations are gone, it's forever. Cod, bluefin tuna, Chilean seabass are examples of overfished populations. Check out our resources page for lists of sustainable seafood.
- Farmed seafood can be unhealthy and unenvironmental. Just as industrial animal farming produces chemically produced meat, aquaculture often produces weaker, chemical-ridden seafood. Many fish (like salmon) eat other fish, and when they're farmed, thousands are penned into small spaces so they don't get the chance to grow strong as they would in the wild. Antibiotics are used to keep disease down (large numbers breed disease), and tons of fecal matter harms the environment. Sometimes these substandard fish escape and breed with wild fish, lowering the quality of wildlife. When you buy these fish, their meat is usually paler in color so they are injected with dye to make them look more appetizing. Yuck. Shrimp farming is also an ecological disaster. Mangrove forests are cut down to make way for shrimp, and when the area stops being productive, the farm moves to cut down another forest. HOWEVER, some seafood that can be environmentally farmed like mussels, clams, oysters and vegetarian fish like tilapia.
Our oceans are under direct threat, but you can have a positive impact on our oceans by being mindful about seafood.
What to do: Choose Seafood Mindfully
- Cut down on your seafood consumption. There are lots of artisan farmers now, so if you have a hankering for flesh, you can choose humanely and happily grown meat.
- Be mindful and choose sustainable seafood. Our resources page has lists of sustainable seafood. When you find a seafood that is sustainable, ask how it was caught. Trawling or dragging are bad, longlining, hook and line fishing, and trap fishing are better. Buy the fish that is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (Whole Foods now has some MSC-certified fish).
- Ask questions at your seafood restaurant. Check that the seafood is sustainable and ask about it. Is it wild or farmed? How was it caught?
- Replace seafood with easily farmed fish like tilapia or mussels.
- Are you looking for Omega-3's? Eat walnuts, flaxseeds, eggs, etc.
- Enjoy the ocean and learn more about it. Go to the beach and catch some waves. Learn to sail or scuba dive. Snorkel. There's a whole world in there, and your kids will love it!
Want to learn more? Check out these articles:
- Mark Bittman, Loving Fish, this Time with the Fish in Mind
- The Slow Cook on seafood
- Monterey Bay Aquarium on Ocean Issues
Exercise: ran 6 miles