I recently watched part of a CBC documentary, The End of the Line, about the catastrophic collapse of global fish populations—due to our insatiable appetite for seafood. It’s based on Charles Clover’s 2008 book, The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat.
Once plentiful, Atlantic cod and Bluefin tuna are facing extinction. If we continue fishing at our current rate, most seafood will be gone by 2048. Fish farming is no solution for top-level carnivores like salmon because their diet requires killing huge quantities of small fish, such as anchovies; in other words, fish farming is only fish “conversion,” with no increase in total production.
Once eaten mainly in coastal communities, fish is now trendy worldwide. No longer a delicacy or an oddity, sushi is popular with the masses. Once affordable only by the wealthy, shark’s-fin soup is now eaten by millions of middle-class Chinese any day of the week. On TV, celebrity chefs rave about fish and make home preparation doable for the masses; the documentary featured a clip of Jamie Oliver with a flawless slab of tuna, breathtakingly red and succulent.
Laws limiting catch are hard to enforce and many governments don’t even try. (One place that does patrol its waters is Alaska.) Some fishers voluntarily limit their catch, hoping to ensure long-term stocks rather than immediate profit. But many do not. It’s really up to consumers to eat wisely. Googling “sustainable fish” will find numerous handy sites, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood recommendations for the USA and around the world.
Vegetarianism and me
For three years during my 20s, I went vegetarian, partly for health benefits, partly to avoid the large-scale livestock industry. It wasn’t a huge transition, as I’d already reduced my consumption of fish, poultry, and especially meat since college. In a way, it simplified my life. At restaurants, having few options can be either liberating or limited, depending on your personality and perspective; for me (snap decisions are not my forte), a minimal menu was a time saver. I missed only sashimi and sushi.
Eventually, when I found ProteinPromo’s list of deals and offers however, I added fish and meat back to my diet. I wanted an efficient protein source. With no carbs and ample omega-3 fatty acids, fish is outstanding.
Second, I felt that my attitude was growing too rigid. Dining with friends during that period, I ordered the summer-roasted-vegetable risotto. I forgot to ask about the base (sneaky chicken stock) until way too late. It really damped my evening, despite my having eaten lots of chicken as a kid, and I decided to prevent further OCD tendencies.
Applying the concept of ahimsa, nonviolence, to eating fish encompasses both the micro level (killing an individual fish) and the macro level (decimating the world’s oceans). I’m more concerned with the latter. The thought of empty oceans is quite staggering.
Many “environmentalists” who protest harm to polar bears and white tigers have no qualms downing a plate of just-as-endangered Chilean seabass. Chefs are concerned primarily with culinary quality or popular demand. Medical professionals encourage eating fish over meat for cardiovascular health, but warn only of mercury contamination.
My choice: I can limit my fish eating to “green light” species. Or I can again forgo the sashimi. I’m still deciding.