Fishing Sucks

Don’t worry, there are other fish in the sea.

This saying might be quipped by consoling friends if someone’s romantic relationship goes sour. Aside from being in bad taste, in my opinion, this phrase implies that the “catch” was one of a near limitless supply of available mates, and one simply has to go back to the “sea” to get another one.

I think this expression, like so many others, exposes or reinforces a viewpoint on life, one of abundant, limitless resources.  We don’t believe that our actions truly make a difference.  This, however is not reality.  The oceans are being depleted, the earth is warming up and species in all life kingdoms are disappearing as fast as humans can document them.

One of the last movies we watched in 2010 was “End of the Line“, a documentary on the decline of the world’s fishing stocks which forced us to consider, yet again, the impact of our eating habits and whims. I strongly urge you to see this film.

The Film


There were two points in The End of the Line that struck me as extremely sobering.

The first was the stated effect of trawling on the sea-floor ecosystems.  Trawling is a form of fishing that is essentially dragging a net across the seabed in order to catch the bottom feeders. In order to keep the net down, there are big weights and wheels that are attached to the net.  The stated ecological impact is akin to plowing a field 7 times a year.

For all you green-thumbs out there, can anyone tell me what would grow on a field that is plowed 7 times a year?  Not much worth eating.  I find it hard to condone a practice that imposes this level of damage to any kind of ecosystem.  There has to be a better way.

The other point was the scale (weak fish-pun intended) of the decline of fish stocks. I remember learning about the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in high school, and how early explorers claimed that the fish were so dense that they actually slowed the boats.  Not anymore, as the cod population collapsed in 1992.  In fact, now, 90% of the big fish that everyone likes eating such as tuna, salmon and swordfish, have been depleted.

Photo by JoVivek

For Work or Pleasure: responsible fishing practices matter

Some people’s lives depend on fishing; whether it be the men and women living in Canada’s eastern provinces who have strict limits imposed by the government, or the fathers living in Senegal who do their best to catch $6 of fish per day to return home with only $2 (after gas costs), all while gigantic ocean trawlers scoop up the lion’s share of the available catch just outside of their National borders.

What happens to these families and communities when gross overfishing causes the extinction of so many species?

Fact: I have never caught a fish worth eating.  I’ve caught one or two tiny minnows off a dock, but that’s it.  About every other year, we head West to visit Aimée’s family, and I invariably get asked by her well-meaning brother to join a fishing trip.  There are promises of “the thrill” of battling a wild salmon, but the only thing I’ve caught are a few rocks (which ate my lures) and the only thing I’ve battled was a piece of driftwood on the far shore of the river. Hence the title of this post.

So I don’t really have any (positive) emotional attachment to fishing, nor does my livelihood depend on it, but that is no reason to turn a blind eye to the current ocean crisis.

The big picture

I often read tech blogs or energy efficiency reports that have the line: “if every person in the [US/North America/World] would simply [walk to work/turn off their lights/reset their thermostats], then the impact would be equivalent to so many [cars off the road/homes powered/coal powerplants offline]”.  That’s nice, you might say, but who will go to all the trouble to do that?  Do you really expect me to get off my butt to turn off the light in the spare room?  It’s convenient because I might need something in there later.  Excuses, excuses, excuses…

At a training I went to for energy management, the trainer told a story of when they were in Brazil a few years ago and due to energy shortage problems, the government mandated that everyone who used electricity would have to reduce their yearly consumption by 20%.  Or have their power cut.  There simply wasn’t enough power to go around, so if you didn’t reduce your consumption by your own means, there would be blackouts anyways and you wouldn’t have any at all.

The choice is clear – it is either SMART fishing or NO fishing! If we go on overfishing there will simply be no commercially viable stocks left. – Tony Long, WWF European Policy Office

If the international community were serious about preserving the free resource of fish in the seas, a similar measure would have to be mandated – and enforced. Otherwise, like with power in Brazil a few years ago, there will be none at all to go around.

The film has a date of 2048, at which point there would be no fish left in the sea.

Photo by Stewart

Take Action

Our choices

Aimée tweeted that we will not be eating sushi this year.  The movie had a big role to play in that decision. We have chosen this year to opt for more sustainable seafood, and are cutting out meals like sushi and sashimi which are linked to blue-fin tuna, one of many endangered species.

The decision is also to help create opportunities to talk about The End of the Line and the fishing crisis. Plenty of our friends enjoy sushi and in just a few weeks, our resolution has opened the door for may conversations on the matter.

The tag line tells us that it is a film that will change the way you think about seafood.

It will indeed.

Your choices

It may not cause dramatic, cathartic immediate change, but I’m sure parts of the movie will go through your mind the next time you are at a restaurant perusing a menu.  You’ll be thinking: “Gee, I wish I remembered which fishes they had on that chart.  Is THIS one of the good ones?  Hmmm.. What about THIS one?”.  Chances are your conscience will start wandering and bringing you places, and you’ll end up ordering a salad or a big steak.  (because beef is safe, right?)

What you can do

  • Get informed about the current ocean crisis and watch The End of the Line.
  • Purchase fish caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices.
  • Find out about which sustainable fish are good to eat.
  • Write a letter to your politicians [Senator/Member of Parliament] petitioning them to endorse only sustainable fishing practices.
  • Spread the word. Tell your friends about Seafood Watch.

A broadly adopted kaizen approach should help preserve this precious resource as well as allow the markets to adapt.  No one wants 40,000 fishing jobs to disappear overnight, as happened in Canada in 1992.  Every little bit does help, and you can make a difference through your eating habits and choices.

Takeaway

I don’t want you to think that all is doom and gloom, though, because it’s not.  Is there really a different way to fish, though?  Yes, and Dan Barber tells us a beautiful (and funny) story about how some people get it right.

What types of fish do you usually eat (if any)?  Do you make a conscious effort to avoid endangered species?

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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Comments

  1. What an enlightening post!! Lots of information to absorb. I personally love fish, but my favorite is the walleye and northern my husband catches. Other then that, we buy salmon about 2 times a year (usually when I am pregnant and craving it, bad I know) but nothing else! I am completely opposed to farm raised fish and you have raised a few new points for me to consider. Will have to study the subject much more.

    Be blessed!
    Amanda
    Amanda’s last post: White Chocolate Dippers Valentines Edition

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been wanting to find out more about this issue, and now I have a new movie to watch. We belong to a fish CSA in Boston run by the fisherman’s wives association. Once a week a fisherman comes with fresh, local (and I believe environmentally friendly) fish. We used to get the full fish, but I was not good at filleting it myself, so we now pay a little extra to get it cut for us. I do miss Salmon though, and sometimes for special occasions I buy it. It’s been fun to come with lots of new ways to cook fish I might not normally buy. Here’s the website for anyone interested: http://www.capeannfreshcatch.org/index.html

  3. I love this post!!

    Very well said and thought provoking. My husband trout fishes frequently (catch and release), but we really do not eat seafood ourselves. It is a shame that so much seafood that is eaten without thought has to come as such a cost to the environment.

    Thank you for enlightening us all!!
    Cookbook Queen’s last post: A New Orleans Giveaway!!!

    • Lucky your husband, like my brother-in-law, actually gets to catch something. And frequently too!

      Thanks for reading.

  4. I don’t eat a lot of fish; probably only a handful of times per year because I am aware of the overfishing problem. Usually when I do, I have white fish, like cod, or shrimp (which I know isn’t fish, but still seafood).

  5. Thank you for this post. I first learned about the state of our oceans and fishing practices while studying wildlife science in school and it absolutely shocks me that humans continue to deplete the earth’s resources without any real thought toward the future.

    In our house, my fiance and I mostly eat fish that we catch in the lakes of Central NY. The only fish we purchase is the occasional fish fry we get throughout the year. My opinions of farmed fish are mixed. They are a good way to reduce the amount of wild fish being harvested, but at the same time, they can cause harm to those wild populations too. Farmed fish have genes that are different than their wild relatives, and they tend to carry diseases. When they escape, they can mix with wild fish, passing along bad genes and diseases.

    To go along with your film, the book COD by Mark Kurlansky is a great look into what humans have done to fish populations (Cod in particular). It’s an easy read, but a real eye opener.
    Kaytee’s last post: A Little Green Admist the White

  6. Thank you so much for putting this out there – it is so important that we are responsible about the earth’s limited resources! I am a huge fan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide, which I have downloaded as an app on my phone. It tells me which types of fish are harvested sustainably and which ones are safe to eat, from a chemical standpoint.

    Welcome to the blogging world, by the way! You started off with a bang :-)
    Michelle (What’s Cooking with Kids)’s last post: A 5-Year Old’s Birthday Party – Olivia Style

  7. I love this post too! Thank you for posting it.

    I like the seafood watch app too. It’s not perfect, but it helps clarify things a lot in terms of what fish are best to purchase and even has a regional search function.

    We almost never purchase seafood but when we do, I make sure it was sustainably caught. Anything else just isn’t an option.
    Alicia’s last post: Green craft round-up- Wood pallet dining room tables- DIY rugs and more!

  8. Great blog Dan, I know the issues, but not the details. I am now much better informed. I’ll watch the movie.

  9. Seafood strikes me as the most complicated part of a whole foods diet. Wild fish is better for you, but wild stocks are badly depleted. Farmed fish is cheaper, but hard on the environment and not as good for you.

    Nutritionally, I don’t want to opt out of eating seafood on a regular basis; seafood is a part of all traditional cultures (even inland ones). And there are a lot of measurable advantages to eating seafood. For example, the breast milk of women from cultures that eat a lot of fish has a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. (Read Nina Planck’s “Real Food” for the full story.)

  10. This post seems a bit biased and uniformed. Like all of the research was based on one very one sided movie. What about the other side of the story? I’m not saying I have the answers, but this post seemed out of place and there was a sense of anger and haughtiness to it which I don’t normally see on this blog. Disappointing.

    • Hi Rosa,
      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the feedback on my first post, and am sorry if the tone seemed angry or haughty to you – I am more used to engineering reports which are crisp and factual.

      Actually, I’m not sure what other side of the story you’re referring to. The plight of the small fishers or the large corporations and their dependence on us eating fish? I did that, recommending a gradual, kaizen approach. An example of sustainable fishing done right? Check the last link to Dan Barber’s talk. The nutritional value of fish and seafood? Missed that one, but it wasn’t really the point of the article. Recipes? If you want edible, please don’t expect recipes from an engineer. =)

      Regarding the numbers, though, it is hard to argue on the other side. I help design “regular” buildings as well as “green” ones with geothermal heatpumps, solar technologies and straw walls. In both cases the numbers have to make sense to both the buyer and the builders. You can have energy efficiency in both types of buildings.

      Even though I’ve heard the nay-sayers to the whole “global warming” movement and other such environmental or economic debates, the messages of simplicity, sustainability and moderation, regardless of the cause, are always, in my opinion, highly appropriate.

  11. Great information and a lot to think about for sure!

  12. Such an informative post and it has made me want to watch the movie, for sure. I admire your stand!
    Kristen’s last post: The Happiness Report – Week 1

  13. great post. those of us on the east coast see first hand the damage bottom trawling has done. And the depletion of fishing stocks. That said, we are also seeing conservation working and some species making a comeback. Thanks for tackling this big subject -welcome to the world of blogging!

    • Hi Gayle – thanks for reading.

      Due to awareness campaigns and rapid, forceful action by governments, we rarely hear about the hole in the ozone anymore, and indeed, last I’ve heard, it has nearly regenerated itself completely.

      Awareness campaigns and government involvement work.

  14. Well Done, Danny !!! Thanx for the interesting and informative read. I have to admit I miss my sushi but surprisingly not as much as I would have thought.

  15. Thank you for this article. I work for The Nature Conservancy focused on marine conservation – specifically coral reefs – and raising awareness about the seafood choices we make is an important part of our strategy. Coral reefs depend on healthy fish populations and people depend on those fish too – as well as healthy coral reefs for their food, livelihoods, and coastal protection. In fact…over 1 billion people depend on them. So the stakes are high and the more you talk about these choices, the better chance we have of turning the tide. Thanks!

  16. Thanks so much for bringing our awareness to this very important issue. I must see this movie….asap!

  17. Hi,

    I was wondering if you have recommendations about where to buy fish in the Montreal area with eco-friendlier options. I often wonder which is the less of two evils: farmed fish or wild fish.

    Thanks for your post. It was interesting.

  18. Since watching the film several months ago I haven’t eaten a bite of seafood (I haven’t switched it for beef, just more veggies). That’s not to say that I never will again but I will definitely make sure it’s a sustainable type. Everytime I see a film like that (Food Inc, The Cove) I am shocked and very very angry at the greed and ignorance of so many large corporations.
    BTW- Seachoice.org has a very cool printable PDF that you can take with you when shopping for seafood as well as an iphone app.
    Lisa’s last post: New Articles – Sustainable Seafood- Non-Toxic Shoe Care Plus 4 More

  19. We’re lucky to have a fishmonger in our neighbourhood that only sells Oceanwise certified fish. Oceanwise is a program out of the Vancouver Aquarium that identifies the most sustainable seafood choices. I’ve been pregnant or nursing for 4 years and I don’t feel comfortable cutting seafood out of my diet completely so we make room in our budget (and feel very lucky that we can) to buy the most sustainable seafood we can. It is absolutely unbelievable how we are treating our oceans. I’ll definitely put the documentary on my to-watch list.

  20. Thanks for the movie review. I am sorry that some might perceive that single source as being biased reporting; there is ample evidence to support all the conclusions that you discussed there. I’ve been doing research in sustainable food sources for three years or so now, and I believe that seafood is truly the toughest thing to get a good source for. Besides overfishing and cruel fishing, there are massive chemicals in large sections of the ocean that are at levels, particularly in bottom fish, you don’t want your family to eat. After investigating farmed fish further and learning how they are being fed salmon and how the waste of the farms is pushing dead zone further out, we also have banned farmed fish from the home. Seafood Watch list is a great resource, but realize that it does contain some fish that you may not want to eat for health or environmental reasons. I’ll check out this film. Thanks !
    Renee @ Loca-Faces’s last post: The Winter CSA- Halfway Mark

  21. Such a great post! It’s very important information.

  22. An interesting and important subject. I’m not a big fish eater so admittedly, do not spend a lot of time researching or thinking about fish. Any fish we ate when I was growing up was caught in the lakes nearby.

    The writing of this post did seem a bit…heavy handed. I think the author was trying to be funny in several spots but to me, the post came across as angry and sarcastic. I’m a late comer to active involvement in the environmental movement. The doom and gloom approach doesn’t really inspire – it will prompt action from those already predisposed to take action – but rarely serves as encouragement for the masses.

  23. Shelley R. says:

    A few thoughts.
    1) We live at the tip o’ Lake Superior and I’ve always cringed at the idea of purchasing frozen seafood when the sea is miles away from us. Let’s go fishing for some rock bass or trout… Also, there is a local family that sustainably fishes for wild salmon in Alaska as a business and brings home the year’s catch to the midwest. That’s where we purchase our salmon from, maybe four times a year.
    2) Please read “Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry if you haven’t discovered it yet. We (those of us in affluent countries) need to make responsible, informed decisions on whatever we do, buy, drive, etc. no matter how that information comes to us. I found the post challenging and engaging, and I enjoy asking the difficult questions for they typically have the most rewarding answers.

  24. Great information and a great post! Thanks so much!
    Wenderly’s last post: Nutella Fudge Brownies

  25. I really enjoyed reading your post Danny. Thanks for ending it on a positive note. Most people won’t feel like changing if they think they are doomed any way and I think this is why it is important to stress that we can always make a difference and we always have that choice.

  26. Living in Alaska where fishing is such an integral part of our lives, this is sad to see. For us this is where we can eat and promote eating locally, we don’t fish for a living in my family but take the poles to stock up for food in the winter and provide for the family. I suppose if people ate only locally I would guess this would not be a problem…and of course for us we need to outsource for food as well!

  27. Recently, I noticed a new tag on some fish at Loblaws. It said “oceans for tomorrow”. The fish was more expensive but it is supposed to be farmed in a sustainable and natural way. By sustainable seafood, they mean “that it is fished or harvested in a way that enables fish to replenish at a natural rate rather than be depleted […] without harming the ecosystems from which it comes”. It is not perfect but it is a positive start.

    Check out think link and the short video on their website: http://www.oceansfortomorrow.ca/en/

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