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: