Tag Archives: global depletion

The Fish Facade: Part II

Knowing that the majority of global fishing areas are becoming devoid of fish (please read/re-read my previous blogs titled, “The Fish Façade”) there has been prolific development of the fish farm industry.

Nearly 80% of all the fish stocks found in the world are depleted or fully exploited as reported in 2010 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Because of this, businesses and governments have turned to other ways to produce fish (rather than simply the option of not eating fish at all…). Aquaculture, the growing of fish in a farmed area, is growing faster than all other animal food sectors. Farmed fish now involve 47% of all fish produced or caught for food. This growth in aquaculture is driving an explosive increase in global fishing. It is a bizarre, ecologically unhealthy circle, where the demand to eat fish has taxed our oceans so there has been a proliferation of controlled fish-farm production, which then places further stress on the oceans because of the need for fish-meal and oil in the production process. One third of all fish caught in oceans are used as meal for farmed fish or livestock. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission study recently revealed that it requires up to 60 million metric tons of “harvested wild fish” per year to feed the 3 million tons of the three major tropical tuna species that we are now harvesting annually raised in ‘farms’ (essentially concentrated floating pig farms). This is interesting logic—to catch, kill, and eat Blue Fin Tuna until they are critically endangered and then turn around and create near extinctions of other species of fish just to feed the tuna we are now raising on farms because we cannot get enough of what—sushi? For salmon the ratio is 3.3 tons of fishmeal to produce 1 ton of farmed fish, complete with pesticides, antibiotics, and sea lice (see “Comfortably Unaware”, Chapter VII).

It has once been said that, “we live because our oceans live.” Some things to consider: Our oceans produce 70% of all oxygen on earth.                                           Oceans are responsible for the proper regulation of our climate. They consist of not only just water, but also a diverse amount of living things—plants, animals, and fish—all intertwined and dependent upon each other, sometimes in complex and poorly understood ways.  For these and many more reasons we need to do what we can to keep our oceans and the many ecosystems of living things within them healthy. Currently 64% of all our oceans have no national jurisdiction, so fishing practices remain completely unregulated. The other 36% is governed by various policies that are vague and subjective at best—without appropriate laws in place or adequate methods for implementation and enforcement to ensure our oceans remain in perfect health. Massive extraction of fish species from our oceans is taking place in order to supply our ever-increasing demand to eat them. So it is essentially our collective demand to eat fish that is responsible for decimating intricate and vital oceanic ecosystems. There is no physiologic ‘need’ for us to kill and consume sea life. The omega 3 fatty acids, protein, and beef alternatives you seek can easily be found in plant foods—and, without the cholesterol, saturated fat, potential for mercury and heavy metals, and accompanying environmental loss you find in our quest for more fish. Additionally, there is no fiber to be found in fish and not one phytonutrient—so, if you wish to eat foods that have numerous types and powerful amounts of these highly beneficial substances, you will have to consume plants—thus also reducing your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and oxidation/aging all at the same time. For every one of the numerous extinctions we are causing through our abusive actions with our oceans, we are really only one step closer to our own demise. I think we need to consider replacement of the well-recognized sign that states, “Gone Fishing” with a new one—“Fishing Gone.”

Much more on what we are really doing to our oceans when we choose to eat fish can be found in “Comfortably Unaware”, Chapter VI-Part 2: Our oceans—what is happening below the surface?


The Fish Facade

So, you think eating fish is healthy. Healthy for whom? For you? For the fish? For our planet?

Part One: Fish, Oceans, and our Planet


There are serious issues when we, at any level of self-perceived sophistication, deem our act of killing members of another living species as “sustainable”. When regarding choices of food, I find this more a selfish act of fulfilling our desire to perpetuate culturally induced myths—a proclamation of sorts—that the earth and all its resources are here for us to ‘use’. It is now neatly tucked under the guise of ‘sustainability’, with some false sense that we know of all the ramifications when “harvesting” animals for us to eat—whether wild or domesticated. This simply displays our clear naivety.  Although more readily visible and measurable when witnessed on land, the effects of our miscalculations are perhaps more devastating on our oceans when we continue to consume fish taken from them. A quick snapshot of the current state of our oceans reveals this (as related to our food choices):

Of the seventeen primary fishing stocks worldwide, all are either overexploited or on the verge of collapse (FAO). Examples of commercially extinct areas are the Grand Banks near Newfoundland and the Georges Banks off New England, both once considered the most productive on earth. At less than 1 percent their original numbers in these waters, now there simply are no fish. Across all our oceans, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 70 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted, with many of them reaching more than a 90% decline. The World Conservation Union lists 1,081 types of fish worldwide as threatened or endangered.

It was inevitable that someone would develop an organization and labeling system from which, we could all feel comfortable continuing to consume living things taken from the ocean. A perfect example of this is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), created in 1997 to certify which fish populations and fishing methods are ‘sustainable’. Certain fisheries are able to display the MSC’s “Fish Forever” label, signifying to the public that their product was caught using socially responsible and environmentally sound management practices. So this becomes an interesting prospect. There still will be two types of consumers of sea life: 1. Those that really do not understand or care about where their food is derived, under the belief that it is simply a meal and on to the next daily project. 2. Those that are becoming aware that we must start giving thought to the origins of our food choices but need and want to rely on another trusted entity to provide assistance and, essentially, justification in purchasing and consuming that choice. Customers relying on MSC or any mode of certification to justify their demand to eat fish are being misled and more importantly, it ultimately furthers the decline in numbers of various fish species and the effect on other ecosystems. Although it may seem like a step in the right direction, certification organizations such as MSC are improperly designed and have, at best, conflicting intentions. By intentions, I mean MSC was not established to be a steward of our oceans. Instead, their principal focus is how to continue fishing and appear responsible during a time when consumerism regarding concern for our environment is on the increase. The more conscientious consumer has a desire to feel justified and therefore good about eating fish and the process of catching and killing them. MSC and other certification labels provide them with this, so the habit can and will continue. A quick walk down the fish section of the meat aisle at one of the many Whole Foods locations (considered to be the premier natural, sustainable food grocery chain in the U.S.), displays the following caught and killed sea life species for consumers to purchase:

“wild caught” cod, swordfish, grouper (Mexico), monkfish, whole butterfly, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi, MSC Chilean sea bass (New Zealand), coho salmon, flounder, sea scallops (Mexico), baby octopus (Japan), stone crab, conch, hogfish (Mexico), red snapper, oysters, black mussels, farm raised trout (Panama), salmon (Norway), tilapia (commercially grown tilapia have usually been treated with testosterone and have led to the near extinction of genetically pure fish of this type), shrimp (Thailand), and bonzini (Greece) which is a rare European sea bass.

While, at this point, I could easily relate to you the issue with killing and eating each one of these types of wonderful sea creatures, I will say a word or two only about the octopus, although each one has its own sad story. So here you have an incredible and complex living thing that we are just beginning to understand—with over two-thirds of its nervous system located in its arms, the octopus is sensitive, very intelligent, capable of quickly learning and reasoning, has short and long-term memory and can project outcomes. The female sacrifices herself by fiercely defending her nest of offspring without leaving to eat or nourish herself, dying immediately following the process. Octopi have been shown to be able to use tools and have a keen sense of touch. Sadly, they are commonly caught and used as food in many cultures including Japan where they are sometimes consumed alive as novelty food, with their legs sliced and eaten while still squirming. So, why would it matter whether the octopus at Whole Foods happens to be from Japan or not? Why is it on the shelf at all?

Aside from rudimentary and simply relative assessments as to the sustainable status of a species, we do not have the ability to know precisely how many of that species remain, what effect all ecosystems and variables (known and unknown) have on that particular species, and exactly where on the graph of sustained life or recovery they may be…i.e. “Is this Blue Fin Tuna, Atlantic Sturgeon, Baiji River Dolphin, Atlantic Right Whale, etc.  (as we continue killing them) sustainable, partially sustainable, or sustainable up to what level (I think I see a few left in these waters)”. And, then later…”oops, I guess not so sustainable because we fishermen haven’t really seen any in these waters for the past five years.” So, now that particular species is on the brink of extinction, or actually gone forever. Assessments all made by those who, by any stretch of the imagination, really do not fully comprehend the short or long-term effects of continued ‘harvesting’ sea life from our oceans. Therefore, it becomes inherently more obvious that we humans should not demand or accept eating anything that we do not have absolute full understanding as to how we have affected that specific animal, its family, or other ecosystems it is connected to or by. Is there a reason to eat octopus?

It is essentially a façade whereby the parameters of true sustainability of fish species and the ecosystems they comprise are not at all fully understood by our very experts let alone by an industry that is motivated by economics. Although MSC offers eco-certification to various fishing businesses world-wide, it must be impressed that they have never refused certification to any fishery that has completed the certification process. As we take a look at the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, it reveals just one of several examples where the MSC has stamped their label of “sustainable” on a fish species without full comprehension of the true state of this fish or the effect its life has on other various ecosystems. Fraser River Sockeye Salmon are considered “endangered” by those biologists who are intimately studying them such as the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, whose scientists consider overfishing a key threat to the stocks’ health. And, yet, there is the MSC label.

be looking for: Part Two

World Hunger And Our Choice Of Foods

How does eating a sirloin steak, pork chop, or hamburger affect starving children in Ethiopia? You probably wouldn’t think there could be a connection whatsoever, would you? But there is. Many times, a distinct connection. It begins with a better understanding of just how and where that type of food is produced. There are either direct implications or indirect. Let’s begin with direct. All meat, including the types mentioned above that you may be eating today, begins as part of a live animal—cow, pig, turkey, chicken, lamb, etc. And that animal had to live somewhere for 12 to 24 months, consuming land, air, water, and in most cases grain and other plant foods. Many of the animals raised in the world are pastured or fed plant foods that were grown in developing countries where a large number of their own people are starving. To me, it is a tragic reality that over 1.1 billion people in the world are suffering from lack of food and 82% of these people live in countries where food is exported to feed animals in other countries. Currently over 25% of all the agricultural land in undeveloped countries is being used to grow crops such as linseed, cottonseed, and rapeseed that are being fed directly to livestock. This number has tripled since the 1950’s. So while people are hungry and suffering in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Angola, or elsewhere in the world, a good portion of their own crops are being exported to the U.K. and European countries to feed livestock that is then slaughtered and eaten by more well off individuals–many times ending up on plates in the U.S. All fueled by your and the rest of the world’s demand to eat meat. If you did not ask for it, meat and the systems to produce it would not exist.

Additionally, the land that is utilized to raise animals in any country, but especially in these underdeveloped locations, is in most cases used quite inefficiently. Instead of pasturing cattle and growing crops to feed these animals, this land could be put to better use by growing a variety of plants to directly feed humans, producing minimally 10 to 20 times the amount of food. That would certainly go a long way to feed starving children—and plant based foods would be undeniably healthier for them to eat.

Indirectly, the meat that you choose to eat, more than likely, had come from an animal that consumed grains and vegetables–plants that could have otherwise been used to directly feed those starving people in other countries (knowing that the crops fed to livestock could have been, instead, quite easily grown as plants that are edible for humans). In 2007, there was considered a “record harvest” of grain in the world with over 2.1 billion tons being produced. Great news, but the difficulty was that over half of this, or 1.2 billion tons, was fed to livestock! The inefficient chain of using land, food, and other resources on earth to raise animals to then slaughter and eat needs to be stopped. If the agricultural land in the world were used more efficiently to grow crops for us to directly eat, clearly more people could be fed, less land and other resources would be needed and therefore world hunger would be significantly lessened. Following conversion to full plant-based agriculture and more sustainable farming techniques; those impoverished countries would more likely be able to solve their hunger situation. If they still had difficulty meeting the needs of their people then it would be no great difficulty for the U.S. or other countries who have also made the conversion away from animal agriculture, to export some of our plant food surpluses to them, instead of for example sending it to Mexico to provide for the growing number of cattle or pig operations across our border. It needs to be remembered that 6 million children will die this year from lack of food. Either way, directly or indirectly, the meat you choose to eat will likely have a large impact on global food supply—which ultimately affects world hunger.

Certainly lack of knowledge of sustainable farming techniques, prolonged periods of drought, and not enough women found in the agricultural work force all have affected the plight of various countries where high percentages of hunger can be found. This is especially true in Africa. But most of these issues can be overcome with teaching and implementing proper organic techniques and placing all land used for agriculture into growing plant-based foods.

There are basically two types of farming in the world: commercial and subsistence. While less than 2% of the U.S. population make their living from agriculture, nearly 45% of the rest of the world do. Of this 45%, approximately 250 million subsistence farmers use a slash and burn method of agriculture called swidden. This technique is prevalent in the majority of developing countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In the areas of Africa most stricken with hunger, swidden methods are employed where land is cleared and burned, crops are grown for only one to three years, livestock are raised, and then this land is rendered useless so the process repeats itself on a new patch of land. This results in not only poor crop yields and less than optimal food from animals products, but also the more insidious loss of land fertility due to overgrazing, compaction, erosion, depletion of soil nutrients, and eventual desertification. With an emphasis on education for these subsistence farmers, more sustainable farming techniques could be employed—replacing swidden methods and livestock with plants to be used directly for human consumption which would improve long-term soil health and eventual yields. In Kenya and other areas of East Africa where water availability is limited, farmers using drought resistant leguminous cover crops (those crops planted to increase soil fertility) without raising livestock, have already seen yields tripled.

And then we have the U.S., where animals raised for slaughter consume over 70% of all grain produced in our country (over 90% of all the corn produced). In fact, it is estimated that more than twice as much grain is grown and fed to livestock than would feed all of the people in our country. This is, of course, without regard for how many people elsewhere in the world that are starving. Because, after all, how could eating a steak, hot dog, or meat loaf, in America have anything to do with what is happening in Ethiopia?

More about the global effect of our food choices can be found in “Comfortably Unaware.”