Sunday, July 1, 2007
Fish is not a vegetable.
Top Photo: A red snapper in a reserve off the coast of New Zealand. I saw so many red snappers while snorkeling on our honeymoon in St. John and before I stopped eating them had no idea how fascinating and beautiful they are.
Bottom Photo: People buying fish carcasses in Tanzania as a source of protein.
Photos: National Geographic April 2007.
Last time I checked fish was not a vegetable. I admit I was confused myself for a long time. What's not to love about fish? They live in the sea... they don't take any natural resources to harvest... they are full of brain-building fatty omega acids. And mercury. And antibiotics. And actually they are harvested which is a huge source of pollution and environmental nastiness.
Diana (Amos' sister) put me on to the concept of bio-magnification. The little fish eat the mercury. The bigger fish eat hundreds and hundreds of little fish. The biggest fish (the ones we eat) eat hundreds and hundreds of bigger fish leaving us with meat that is so full of mercury if you eat it while pregnant your baby can have severe birth defects.
Furthermore there are people in the world that do depend on fish for protein. But since we can have and buy whatever we want in a developed nation we can pay more for those fish and leave the locals with the trash. The photo above is from National Geographic in April 2007 and the caption reads:
"Emblematic of First World exploitation of Africa's resources, only the carcasses of Nile perch are affordable sources of protein for some Tanzanians living around Lake Victoria. Perch fillets are stripped in 35 lakeside processing plants and shipped north, mainly to Europe and also to Israel. With years of overfishing, perch stocks have fallen drastically, imperiling the livelihoods of more than 100,000 fishermen and depriving local people of food."
Another quote from the same article for you sushi eaters out there:
"To supply the world's sushi markets, the magnificent giant bluefin tuna is fished in the Mediterranean at four times the sustainable rate."
"Over the past decade, a high-tech armada, often guided by spotter planes, has pursued giant bluefin from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, annually netting tens of thousands of the fish, many of them illegally. The bluefin are fattened offshore in sea cages before being shot and butchered for the sushi and steak markets in Japan, America, and Europe. So many giant bluefin have been hauled out of the Mediterranean that the population is in danger of collapse."
The fish are shot?! Shot. Your tuna roll was illegally caught and then shot.
Obviously these quotes only scratch the surface of the problems and I am obviously not a fish catching and ocean knowledge specialist. The article I read is available online in a multi-media format here on the National Geographic website.
The arguments I have heard for fishing is fish provide protein and fatty omega acids. Fishing provides livelihoods for local peoples and is a cultural way of life that would disappear if we didn't eat fish. What I say is protein and omega acids can both be found in plants. I also don't need to eat fish that have been imported from half way around the world using way more natural resources than is sustainable in the process; my need for their fish will not be responsible for the devastation of their local eco-systems that they depend on. I am not an indigenous person whose family have been fishermen since the dawn of time. My family will not become destitute if people decide not to eat fish. Instead other families become destitute because my family living in Illinois, fish capital of the world, wants fish.
And finally the meat-eaters most basic and infuriating argument which is the animal is stupid/ugly/useless and I am not sure what it feels so I can eat it. That and fish eat other fish so I can eat fish too. Last time I checked I was not a fish. Last time I checked fish do have a central nervous system which means they probably don't feel too hot being crushed to death or asphyxiated when yanked out of the water and thrown on the deck of a ship. Amos said the other night that he can only imagine fish feel a particular variety of pain beyond the grasp of human imagination just as their senses of smell and direction are beyond our grasp. I wonder how long until we have "humanely" raised fish?
So is it globalization that is destroying fish stocks around the world or personal choices made by millions in developed countries to eat fish? Is globalization much more than millions of personal choices or one in the same? How much of an impact can our personal choices have against something as large as the choices of millions others?