The World Without Fish

January 24, 2009

Photo by: Stewart

I'm an omnivore, but I do have certain rules around what I consume. For example, I'll never eat anything I've ever had as a pet (although twice I inadvertently ate horse in France and Japan), I won't eat primates or any endangered species, and I prefer not to eat threatened species (but will if necessary to avoid an awkward moment at a dinner party). Or bugs, I won't eat those either. I always thought I was doing pretty good following this code, but admittedly never really taking the time to research the fish I consume.

Until I saw The End of the Line.

The End of the Line, the first major documentary about the catastrophic effect of overfishing our oceans, premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. Filmed over two years, the film follows investigative reported Charles Clover, who penned a book with the same title, as he comes face-to-face with celebrity restaurateurs and politicians who dismiss the havoc they are doing to our oceans.

Yeah! to Jamie Oliver who has removed all reference to bluefin tuna from his books after being told of the devastating effect.

Boo! to Nobu, who refuses to remove Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna from his menus even after repeated requests to do so.

According to an international group of ecologists and economists, "If we continue fishing as we are now, we will see the end of most seafood by 2048." Hi-tech fishing vessels leave it impossible for fish to escape, and the demand for cod in the early 1990's led not only to the decimation of that species off the coast of Newfoundland, but the fishing industry as well.

"Overfishing is the great environmental disaster that people haven't heard about," said film producer George Duffield. "Just last week, a global conference about bluefin tuna stocks saw almost no media coverage in the U.S. We hope this film really sounds the alarm. We can fix this problem starting right now."

Who is responsible? Consumers who continue to buy endangered fish, politicians who blatantly ignore the repeated requests of scientists, fisherman who continuously fish well beyond the set quotas, and the global fishing industry that is dragging its feet in response to an approaching catastrophe.

But this doesn't mean that we need to stop eating fish and frequenting our favorite sushi restaurants. It means that we need to be well-informed and ask questions: where does this fish come from and how was it caught? Make sure the fish is from sustainable fisheries. We also need to reach out to our politicians and let them know how we feel. Let them know we need to reduce and control the number of fishing vessels across the world, protect large areas of the ocean and stop using destructive nets that destroy the ocean floor and its inhabitants.

After viewing the film (tears literally streaming down my face in parts) I vowed to only eat sustainable seafood. We can no longer hunt our fish into extinction.

Ask before you buy: only eat sustainable seafood.
Tell politicians: respect the science, cut the fishing fleet.
Join the campaign: for marine protected areas and responsible fishing.

Lay claim to your piece of the ocean (2 hectares each!)

Fish Facts:

1 billion people rely on fish as an important source of protein. (www.panda.org)

According to the UNFAO, about 70% of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity.

As many as 90% of all the oceans' large fish have been fished out. (www.panda.org)

Government subsidies of over $15 billionn a year play a major role in creating the world's fishing fleets. (www.panda.org)

A Greenpeace report states that 40% of the world's oceans should be placed in natural reserves. (www.msnbc.com)

Japan has caught $6 billion worth of illegal Southern Bluefin tuna over the past 20 years. (www.abc.net.au/)

In 200 tuna long liners set set 1.2 billion hooks catching untold numbers of turtles, seabirds and sharks. (www.ejfoundation.org/page270.html)

15 species of sharks have seen their numbers drop by 50% in the last 20 years. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/)

Illegal fishing is worth up to $9 billion a year. (www.illegal-fishing.info)

52% of fish stocks are fully exploited. (www.msc.org)

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Comments

Carla Saunders's picture

Hi Sheri
While swimming to the buoy in La Jolla Cove sometimes, a few times a year, I would swim with a school of sea bass. They were so beautiful. I promised those guys I would never eat them. Thanks for reminding me of my promise.

Thumbbook's picture

I can't imagine a world without fish...I didnt imagine it was this bad, but I feel hopeful that we could still turn this around.

echo's picture

"I won’t eat primates or any endangered species, and I prefer not to eat threatened species (but will if necessary to avoid an awkward moment at a dinner party)."

That's just sad.
I'm so glad you'd be willing to bow down to public opinion if your ego was at stake.

Sally Rowles's picture

Hi Sheri, Nina told me about your site & I have been a big fan ever since. I have been meaning to post a comment to let you know what a great job I think you are doing. I love reading your blogs & think you have a wonderful writing style. But I am also especially proud of you when you take on these very important issues.

Sheri Wetherell's picture

Echo - I was trying to inject a little humor into a serious and complex issue. I'm sorry you failed to grasp that. The very definition of "threatened" when it comes to seafood can be hard to define. For example, Seafoodwatch.org lists the threatened Chilean Sea Bass as both one to avoid AND available from sustainable fisheries. I choose to avoid.

Sharon O'Malley's picture

Hi Sheri,
Thanks for the post. I am a fan of the blog.

CleanFish, the company I work for, is a sustainable seafood company trying to save the oceans by selling eco-friendly seafood. We search the world for fishermen & fish farmers committed to best practices and bring their fish to market.

I feel very passionately that we are indeed in a crisis, but we can all be a part of the solution by eating sustainably caught and farmed fish.

Thanks again for the post. Looking forward to checking out The End of the Line!

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[...] Now that I live in Seattle, Salmon is plentiful, but lox are scarce. Lox were originally just cured in salt and possibly sugar, though today we think of Lox as being synonymous with “Smoked Salmon.” The cold smoking was added later according to the New York Times article: So Pink, So New York. Here in Seattle, by contrast, most of the smoked salmon is hot smoked…which though good, is drier and less delicate in flavor. The other issue I have with much of the available lox is that it comes from farmed Atlantic salmon, which has a host of associated environmental problems. [...]

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[...] and cholesterol free) and environmentally sustainable, as it doesn’t contribute to the depletion of fish stocks and only a small percent of the seaweed growth is harvested each year. [...]

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R's picture

I don't understand why people can't just give up eating fish. If you care, stop eating them. No brainer.


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