In this essay today I want to look at the area of eating seafood and fish, and how this impacts on us and the planet. People often say to me “isn’t eating fish good for you? Is salmon good for you? What’s the healthiest fish to eat, and surely eating fish benefits us because they’ve got Omega-3 in them?”
Just a quick note here. I often refer to fish, but mean all fish and sea creatures. It saves me some words and seeks to keep this article a little shorter!
Fishing and the consumption of fish have long been considered a healthy and sustainable choice. However, a closer look reveals that these practices have significant negative impacts on both human health and the planet, and that’s without the pain and murder of all these fish. This article will delve into the detrimental effects of fishing and fish consumption including the presence of heavy metals in sea creatures and their impact on human health. Additionally, we will explore the issues of bycatch and it’s devastating effects on dolphins, whales and other species
Unsustainable Fishing Practices and Damage to the Ecosystem.
The consumption of fish (along with human population) has steadily increased over the years, leading to unsustainable fishing practices and the depletion of fish stocks worldwide. Practices like bottom trawling for example- where fishing nets often bigger than our largest cathedrals, dredge the seabed- destroy delicate marine habitats, including coal reefs and sea grass beds, which serve as nurseries for countless species!
Conservative estimates are that somewhere between 1 trillion and 1.8 trillion fish are killed every year. A trillion can sometimes be too big a number to comprehend. That is a million. To put this into some sort of perspective a trillion seconds is over 31 thousand years!
And just a quick thought here, do you even know what you are eating? What is actually in those fish sticks/crab sticks/seafood sticks that we buy so cheaply at the supermarket?
Overfishing disrupts the delicate balance within marine ecosystems, leading to a decline in not only fish and seafood stocks, but biodiversity too and in many cases, the collapse of fish populations.
Many of our most popular fish to eat are nearing extinction level. Some at around 5% of the level they were in our seas as recently as the 1980s. Specifically for blufin tuna that figure is 3%
That may seem a long time ago to some, but we were still actively fishing then, and continue to do so now. Additionally, we in the West have twice as many fishing boats as we did in the 1980s.
It is therefore no wonder that many of the fish stocks continue to decline. Indeed, catches are falling and there are many barren areas of seas now. When I say barren, the only plentiful stocks in these are of jellyfish and sea urchins. We have taken many of their predators and so they flourish! Even though sea Urchins in large numbers devour sea grasses and kelp beds, much-needed tough they are.
Some experts estimate that most of our seas will be like this as early as a one generation from now if we continue as we are.
This not only rob’s future generations of the chance to enjoy marine life, but also leads to economic and nutritional disparities. In coastal communities that rely on these resources for survival, ruins it.
For many of us in the West eating fish is just an option, for many poorer people on the world’s coastlines it is the difference between life and death.
Can you imagine our generations looking at a sea without turtles and dolphins, without whales, tuna and cod?
Greenhouse Gasses and Cimate Change.
I should state that climate change and the warming of the oceans is having a devastating effect on our oceans and particularly our coral reefs.
However, in this article I want to concentrate on the flip-side of this, the effect of the sea on our environment.
It should be pointed our that this dredging of the seafloor in trawler fishing disturbs and often kills, the plants that reside there. These plants not only give places for young sea creatures to live, but the sea plants act, as do our forests, in cleaning the air by removing carbondioxide and producing oxygen, thereby reducing greenhouse gasses.
It is estimated that 85% of the world’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, the smallest of the marine life.
Indeed, marine creatures and the water itself, absorbs this CO2 and locks it in. Many estimate that the sea plants, from the smallest to the largest, firstly lock in CO2 and then produce more oxygen than the total of our land plants.
The Oceans absorb 4x the amount of CO2 than the amazon rain forest.
We all know that deforestation is devastating our planet but many are unaware of the dangers we are causing by dredging the seabed in our quest for marine creatures, or removing the fish that are part of the system of locking in the CO2! I could go on at greater length here but would refer those interested to seaspiracy Directed by Ali Tabrizi, Produced by Kip Anderson Distributed by Netflix 2021. I would recommend that everyone watch this documentary!
Though others have argued about the details and quotes from seaspiracy many objective observers find the message clear and undiluted.
Though unfortunately I cannot spend much more space on it here, I would like to leave a few thoughts for your consideration from seaspiracy and echoed by experts.
Commercial fishing must come to an end if we continue as we are going. As there will be too few fish stocks in the sea to make the purchase of fuel for the fishing vessels economically viable. We can argue about when this will happen, some predict by 2042, but in any case the seas by then will no longer have enough fish. This will have a devastating effect on the whole planet.
Dolphin friendly Tuna does not mean no dolphins are killed.
Despite the claims of the Marine Stewardship Council, there is no such thing as sustainable seafood at current rates.
An Iceland Fishery in one month killed approximately 269 harbor porpoises, 900 seals of four different species and 5000 seabirds. The Iceland Fishery was awarded the blue tick by the MSC.
Incidentally many of the marine protected areas are still commercially fished!
Bycatch and It’s influences on marine species
The term Bycatch refers to the unintentional capture of non-targeted marine species during fishing operations. Most often the quota system means these species were not targeted and must be thrown back into the sea, even though the vast majority are already dead or mortally injured. The same goes for smaller fish. The first smaller fish caught in a trawler net might pass through the net, but when this starts to be filled with fish the smaller ones are scooped up and often crushed in the nets too. Of course being too small they cannot be landed at a port, so are thrown back into the sea dead.
Bycatch includes dolphins, whales turtles seabirds and countless other creatures that become entangled in fishing nets and are crushed or drowned as a result.
Studies estimate that up to 40% of all marine life caught is thrown back overboard as bycatch but mostly after the animal in question has died.
Again I would stress that this is bycatch, so trawlers fishing for other more “edible” species are catching these accidentally, killing them and throwing them back into the sea, just to put fish on our plates.
Over 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed each year as a result of bycatch.
When looking specifically at turtles the figures show that 500,000 sea turtles are killed every year as a product of bycatch, with approximately 100,000 being killed by plastic.
If there is a better reason not to eat sea caught fish of any kind, I am yet to hear it.
Pollution including plastic and heavy metals.
We are all aware of the huge amount of plastic and micro plastic in our seas, and that a lot of plastic is eventually broken down into micro plastic to be consumed by small sea creatures and as fish eat fish this, amongst other elements, move at a greater concentration into other bigger fish.
Indeed, the amount of plastic in our seas continues to increase to the amount of one garbage truck of plastic being dumped into the oceans every minute!
Whilst it is commendable that we are cutting down on the use of plastic straws, it should be noted that only 0.003% of the plastic in our seas are from straws, but nearly 50% is from discarded/lost fishing tackle!
Sea creatures including fish serve as natural reservoirs for sea pollution including, but not limited to, the plastic mentioned above, pesticides and herbicides and farmed animal waste that runs into rivers and streams and eventually our oceans. Most noticeably also heavy metals due to this pollution in our waters. Of course our history of dumping all sorts of rubbish into the seas does not help here. These heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and others, contaminate the flesh of fish and sea creatures and present serious health risks to humans who consume them.
Mercury, one of the most common and harmful heavy metals found in fish is particularly concerning. The toxin bio accumulates in fish over time, resulting in higher levels as you move up the food chain. When consumed by humans, mercury can have detrimental effects on the nervous system, linked to developmental issues in children, impaired cognitive function in adults and even cardiovascular problems.
Moreover, studies have shown a link between the consumption of fish contaminated with heavy metals and an increased risk of cancer, particularly in the liver and kidneys. Pregnant women and those planning to conceive are advised to avoid fish and seafood high in mercury that can harm a developing fetus, (and of course harm the rest of us too, but to a smaller effect.)
So is there a safe fish to eat? The answer is no. Whilst as outlined above, the larger fish accumulate more of these toxins, however, if we eat smaller fish or other sea creatures we tend to consume more of them.
So when we ask what are the healthiest fish to eat? The answer has to be the plant-based alternative! Some of which are now very good and getting better all the time!
When we ask “is fish good for you?” The answer is no. Admittedly, it is better than some meat alternatives, (which are no good for us either,) but there is no good fish to eat given personal health, animal treatment and the impact on the planet.
Not forgetting the bycatch issues too.
What about farm-reared fish and Seafood?
not want to spend too long on this issue, but again, I could fill the whole post with it.
More and more fish such as salmon are often now raised in fish farms. These consist of the animals being cramped together in far more dense populations than natural, causing the fish themselves a large amount of stress.
This also means that despite the best efforts of farmers treating them with a raft of medication, including antibiotics, they are very often subject to constant illness, disease and parasites such as sea lice. On some horrific videos one can see the huge amount of lice eating the fish alive!
Of course these fish need feeding and the feed includes not only leftover fish from food processing plants, but caught processed seafood too, of every kind.
So eating farmed fish does not mean that you are not taking from the sea.
As these fish are kept so cramped we find that the excrement is far more dense than we would find in nature too. This is not processed by the farm but drifts to the sea bottom in huge quantities. This produces huge “dead zones” below these fish cages, and of course adds to the ill-health of the very fish themselves.
The intentional killing of whales
I would love to report that this barbaric act is no longer happening in the 21st Century, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
The Faroe islands have an annual pilot whale cull. This consists of a flotilla of small craft driving the whales onto the shore where they are killed with whaling spears or monustingari. On average 800 of these whales are killed each year, including young babies turning the sea blood-red. They are then eaten for food.
The locals justify this as a long-standing tradition and state that the pilot whales are not endangered! I let you draw your own conclusion on this.
The killing of whales by ships still continues despite the moratorium. Three countries still do this, Iceland (though things might be changing there now,) Norway and Japan still hunt whales for meat and other products. Whilst the killing of these beautiful creatures is more efficient now than in older times with explosive harpoons, the death on average still takes over 11 minutes of agony and has been known to take 25 minutes of suffering!
I have not had the time or space to cover the impact of climate change on our warming seas in this article, but as stated have concentrated on the impact of the seas on the climate. For details of the former, including, but far from only, the use of fossil fuels I would refer readers to Greenpeace. A link is below.
Greenpeace and sea shepherd deserve a great deal of credit for shining a light on the killing of whales in particular, but fish and seafood in general.
A link to the great work of, and more details of, sea shepherd can be found by clicking here.
A link to green peace and information on their work can be found by clicking here.
Do fish and other sea creatures suffer and feel pain and why do we still eat them?
There is a great deal of evidence that shows that fish do indeed suffer and feel pain as do other sea creatures. I can provide a full list of the studies of these if you would care to message me. However, I would refer readers to the following article by PETA made with the assistance of Joaquin Phoenix please click here to visit this site.
A better question is why do we still eat fish and seafood given all the issues around personal health, the treatment of animals and conservation of the planet for future generations?
Though I have been vegan for some time now I know that fish and other sea creatures taste good. Indeed, I do still eat vegan alternatives to fish like “fish less cakes.” But there must be more to it than this? I suspect the answer is partly habit and partly advertising.
For example, we hear “fish is good for you and contains Omega-3.” It is true that fish contain Omega-3 and protein.
However, fish cannot make Omega-3 in the same way that they, or farm animals, cannot make protein. Omega-3 comes from the plants and algae that fish eat and the protein again from the plants and smaller sea creatures, the prey that eat these plants then it passes up the food chain.
Fish also contain cholesterol, though admittedly smaller amounts than most land animals so is in one way more healthy than beef, for example. This may then be advertised as a more healthy alternative!
Of course, it is much more healthy to go to the true source of proteins, plants and either eat seaweed or a vegan supplement pill made from algae and/or seaweed.
In conclusion commercial fishing, and the consumption of fish have historically being seen as healthy and sustainable choices.
However, a closer current examination reveals significant negative impacts on human health, the murder of these species, often near to extinction, and conservation of the planet, the presence of plastic and more so heavy metals such as mercury and so the consumption of sea creatures pose serious risk to humans.
Additionally, bycatch resulting from inefficient operations leads to the needless death of dolphins, whales, turtles and other non targeted species including small fish. Unsustainable practices and the depletion of fish stock further disrupt marine ecosystems and threaten the livelihood of coastal communities. It is essential that we reevaluate our dependence on fish and explore more sustainable and compassionate alternatives for the sake of our health, the treatment of animals, and the well-being of the planet for generations to come.
Not only that, but we must do it soon. Probably the biggest difference you as an individual can make is to firstly, stop eating fish and seafood. Secondly, to support organizations like green peace and sea shepherd.
If we do nothing they will soon be gone
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you have any questions, observations or suggestions please drop me a message. Indeed, please drop me a message anyway, any feedback will be gratefully received.