Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eat More (Healthy, Sustainable) Fish!

It's refreshing to witness the public's growing interest in eating less meat due to health, ecological, and global hunger issues. I hope it's old news to you that turning cows into beef on Factory Farms involves (1) mixing hormones and antibiotics directly into the feed (which are passed on to the consumer along with loads of fat and cholesterol); (2) using massive amounts of water for indoor systems and land for pasture; and (3) driving deforestation in the Amazon to grow corn and soy beans to feed the cows instead of feeding people directly. Stay tuned for one to ten thousand more posts on this issue later...

Fortunately, people seem to be turning to fish (and the occasional vegetarian meal) to fill the gap left behind by a less bovine-heavy diet. Generally speaking, fish is a good source of protein but lower in fat than meat. And don't let the term "fatty fish" fool you: omega-3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease and stroke. Eating fish as opposed to beef means you're ingesting a healthier type and amount of cholesterol. The distressing downside to eating significant amounts of certain types of fish is the mercury that comes along for the ride - and we can blame ourselves for that.

The bigger issue with the Western world eating more fish is that we're driving lots of varieties to extinction. Take bluefin tuna, for example. Not its kid brother, albacore (the type we eat from cans), but rather the 200 kg giants that sell for over $100,000 in Tokyo fish markets. It's so valuable that it has become critically endangered from overfishing - but not internationally protected because Japan is addicted to bluefin sashimi (understandably; it's so darn tasty!). The fishing industry continues to plunder the seas with no regard for sustaining the existing stocks, expecting to move on to Fish Types E and F once they have successfully driven Fish Types A, B, C, and D to extinction. To make matters worse, there is growing concern that the BP oil spill is decimating what remains of the stocks. That's two strikes against humanity.

Unfortunately, fish farms aren't the answer. They share a lot of the same criticisms I outlined above. Untreated fecal waste pollutes the surrounding aquatic ecosystem; diseases and parasites spread like epidemics within the overcrowded cages (often resulting in the complete slaughter of the stock) and can spread to wild fish populations; antibiotics in the feed promote the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria; and lastly, brace yourself for the irony here, other wild fish stocks are being depleted in order to feed farmed fish. This is especially true for large, (obviously) carnivorous types of farmed fish, most notably salmon.

Now that I've painted this glorious picture of current fishing practices, you might be wondering what your options are. Luckily there are still many ways to enjoy fish in your diet without having to worry about excessive mercury, antibiotics, or guilt over driving wild stocks to extinction. Check out the following links:
So next time you find yourself visiting your local fishmonger, ask for smoked rainbow trout instead of smoked salmon, and for your next sushi dinner, why not try sea urchin? Bon appetit!


  1. Hi Andrea!

    I went to a presentation last year called
    The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. Mr. Pavan Sukhdev (Special Advisor, Green Economy Initiative, United Nations Environment Programme) spoke about his initiative with the U.N. where they were "pricing" the value of ecosystems and biodiversity and showing the damage that can happen if this is not done. He spoke to the government about "strategies for creating informed policy options to address biodiversity and related topics".

    One of the things he mentioned were the marine protected areas and how they help in renewing fishing stock - allowing fish to have a space to spawn, grow and flourish which in turn supports the fishing industry as stocks right outside these areas increase more exponentially than in other areas.

    While this is a policy for governments to consider and not an action an individual can take (such as boycotting the purchase of certain fish at risk, like you mention) it just seems like such a win-win option that I hope we see more of these in the future! I always love hearing about these success stories and just wanted to share it with you!

  2. Great comment! The value of ecosystem services is often overlooked (and apparently the total value of the world's ecosystem services is somewhere around 30 trillion US dollars), and the public doesn't really think about protecting marine areas because most of us identify more with inland parks and reserves - but they're equally important. Thanks for sharing this info!