There Are Plenty of Fish in the Sea… NOT!

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September 23, 2010 by type1vegan

Yeah, that’s right, I just hit you all with a “NOT!”  Oh, snap!

For a long time, I’ve been crazy fish girl.  I’m always going on about the evils of eating fish.  It all started a few years ago when I worked at Borders and this book came out.  I didn’t read it, but I flipped through it, which is almost as good.  And then I started listening to NPR all the time.  Every so often, there’d be an oceanographer on a program, and he or she would inevitably talk about the emptying ocean.  The overfishing.  Do you know that “overfishing” is a word — it doesn’t get underlined in red.  That’s because it is a real and common problem.  And, I’d argue, among the world’s biggest problems.

My friend Ken drew this fish “tattoo” on me because I am crazy fish girl.

I also read the excellent book What to Eat by Marion Nestle, where I learned all about the high levels of mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in fish.  PCBs are basically all the accumulated chemicals we’ve ever used, all of which ended up in the water.  It’s recommended that people not eat fish more than once a month.  That’s messed up.  They’re toxic.  But if you want to eat chemicals, more power to you.  I’m not going to judge you for it.  It’s your health.  But I WILL judge you, and judge you harshly, for eating endangered fish!

So, for years, I’ve been telling anyone and everyone, including a total stranger at the Philly Folk Fest that I overheard saying she was a vegetarian “except for fish,” that fish is the WORST thing to eat!  Eat beef, eat a chicken, whatever, that’s far more responsible than eating fish.  I find the term “pescatarian” to be highly offensive.  What a terrible, terrible thing to be.  Also, not to be an echo chamber, as I’m sure most people have heard this said before, but fish ain’t a vegetable.  Don’t kid yourself about vegetarianism and eat fish.  Although, I admit, I feel guilty writing that because it is my opinion that people should be as vegetarian/vegan as they can manage and not give it up just because they eat something that isn’t vegetarian/vegan sometimes.  Frankly, people’s self-labels don’t particularly interest me.  What interests me is sustainable food production.  So cut way back on meat, cut way back on cheese and eggs, that’s cool with me.  You don’t have to be 100%.  But the same does not go for any endangered fish!  It is NOT COOL to eat endangered fish.  Hear this: you are officially an asshole if you eat endangered fish.

Some endangered fish I see people eating all the time include all sorts of tuna (everyone knows about the fact that bluefin will be extinct within 10 years, but even albacore is being overfished, and really, no one knows where their tuna is coming from), Chilean Seabass, any kind of sea turtles, octopus (calimari), cod, sturgeon eggs (caviar), and sturgeon themselves.  A friend of mine told me that she even saw Trader Joe’s selling Orange Roughy!  For shame!  They are seriously endangered.  Not cool, Trader Joe’s, not cool.

Orange Roughy, which is also called by the charming name Slimehead.  Haha.  Slimehead.

Conservative estimates say worldwide fish populations have decreased 75% since the beginning of commercial fishing around 1950.  That’s the CONSERVATIVE estimate.  The more realistic one is 90%.

So what’s up?  Why have worldwide catches gone down so dramatically?  Well, basically, because commercial fishing is far, far too efficient.  Huge ships put out nets that trawl the ocean floor, scraping the sea floor and destroying plant life and habitats, not allowing ANYTHING to escape.  They then throw back, dead or dying, the “bycatch.”  Poor countries make deals with fishing corporations to let them trawl their waters, starving their local populations that relied on fishing to feed their people.  Now we have an empty ocean and West African food refugees.  It’s not cool.

Trawling.  This drawing doesn’t do justice to the harm trawling causes.

So, do people have to give up all fish?  No, there are some sustainable fish — farmed ones that are fed a vegetarian diet (non-vegetarian farmed fish use 5 oz of wild-caught small fish per 1 oz of fish farmed).  If you must eat sea life, choose mussels, clams, and oysters.  They’re farm-raised vegetarian and not pumped full of antibiotics because they’re not disease-prone.  Also catfish.  US-caught crabs and lobster are plentiful right now because we’ve killed off all their predators, but they could very well end up overfished eventually, at current rates.  But for now, they’re pretty safe. 

OK, it’s link time.  Firstly, god bless the Monterey Bay Aquarium web site, where you can read at length about every kind of commercially-available fish, their sustainability (or lack thereof), and their health hazards.  I get so much information to preach at people from them.  Also, after years of ranting and raving about fish, I found out there is a documentary about it called The End of the Line!  Documentaries and railing against overfishing — two of my major interests!  And guess what — it’s on Netflix Watch Instantly.  So you probably have no excuse not to watch it.

So what to do.  Firstly, don’t freaking eat endangered fish.  If you must consume sea life, please limit it to sustainably raised/caught sea life.  Also, advocate for ocean preserves.  If we had a heck of a lot more sections of the ocean where it was not legal to fish, populations could increase.  Third, spread the word.  Call people out when they eat endangered sea life.  Complain at restaurants.  Complain at grocery stores.  Tell other people to advocate for ocean preserves.  Just keep on pushing for it, make it a part of your identity, like I do — “Hi, I’m Melissa, I’m a liberal atheist cooking addict who believes we need more ocean preserves.  Do you know about ocean preserves?  No?  Well, let me tell you ALL about them…”


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