Fished Out

Scientists who study the sea are telling us to stop eating fish. Why? We are fished out. As detailed in Paul Greenberg’s book Four Fish, wild tuna, cod, sea bass and salmon are vanishing because we’re eating all of them. We have chased these fish the world over with harvesting methods both high and low tech and they may soon be gone. For example, the high demand for bluefin tuna—which can sell for more than $100,000 each in Japan— has taken its toll. The Atlantic population has declined by nearly 90% since the 1970s.

Will your kids ever experience those species in the wild? Will they only know them, if at all, as farmed fish, and would that be a bad thing? Greenberg argues that it’s not so smart to eat wild fish any more, at least not if all of us eat it. A lot of fishermen would disagree.

But as Greenberg writes, the passion to save these endangered species is as strong as the one to kill them. “These passions are often contained in the body of a single fisherman,” he says.

Greenberg insists that we have to leave a lot of those wild fish alone and do more fish farming in order to feed the world. But that’s a controversial position.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium “seafood watch:”

Currently, farming salmon does more harm than good. Fish escape, diseases are spread, waters are polluted and wild fish are used for feed.
Fishermen catch orange roughy when the fish gather to breed and feed, wiping out entire generations at a time. In just one decade, the Chilean seabass fishery has been pushed to the verge of collapse due to intense legal and illegal fishing activity. Atlantic cod has been fished so heavily for the past 50 years that some populations are now listed as threatened or endangered.

Grouper and red snapper are overfished, too. Dredging scallops harms the ocean floor and catching wild shrimp also nets a lot of other sea animals by accident and those animals usually die in the process.

Okay, we like eating fish. What are we supposed to do? The Monterey Bay Aquarium has its seafood watch printed on a downloadable PDF, or you can view them online or get a mobile “app” version.
Working with the aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute, Whole Foods is going to start labeling its seafood, rating the most sustainable choices.

Are we going to see the bluefin tuna join Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, branzino, yellowtail and tilapia as a “farmed fish?” That’s what Paul Greenberg is wondering. He says that seafood today is right about where “landfood” was 10,000 years ago. Just as those cave folks replaced wild animals with tame, domesticated animals, we might be starting to domesticate the ocean, fish by fish. Not everybody loves that idea, but Greenberg and others think it has to happen, so that we’ll leave some of those remaining wild fish alone. What do you think?

Follow us on Twitter.

Check out our Facebook page for news of our latest voyages.

Fish Farm photograph: Ivan Walsh via Creative Commons.