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Fish Fry

May 21, 2012

People sometimes ask me whether I eat fish, and when I tell them I don’t they want to know why. My stock answer is that I doubt that any fish are being fished sustainably, or farmed in a way that is net neutral when it comes to the environment and health.

Yes, there are fish guides that supposedly tell you what fish species are “safe” to eat. But then you see gross data, like that contained in this WWF Living Planet Report, which show an unrelenting, and appalling, human devastation of global fish stocks. Against that backdrop, it is simply hard for me to believe that anyone who cares about the future of fish and the oceans should do anything other than stop contributing to the insatiable demand for fish protein that is strip mining the seas. Against that backdrop, it makes sense to be overcautious, to not place our faith in subjective and imprecise assertions that some fish are doing fine. In other words, it makes sense to give fish everywhere a break.

Here’s a graphic from the WWF report, which says it all:

Yep. that’s a lot of red. And it’s not like it doesn’t follow many warnings that humanity’s estimations of “sustainable” fishing are pure fantasy. Here’s one of the best, which is in fact the analysis that prompted me to stop eating any and all fish.

Anyhow, this is the Washington Post‘s take on what has been happening:

Between 1950 and 2006, the WWF report notes, the world’s annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons. New technology — from deep-sea trawling to long-lining — has helped the fishing industry harvest areas that were once inaccessible. But the growth of intensive fishing also means that larger and larger swaths of the ocean are in danger of being depleted….

[snip]…Indeed, there’s some evidence that we’ve already hit “peak fish.” World fish production seems to have reached its zenith back in the 1980s, when the global catch was higher than it is today. And, according to one recent study in the journal Science, commercial fish stocks are on pace for total “collapse” by 2048 — meaning that they’ll produce less than 10 percent of their peak catch. On the other hand, many of those fish-depleted areas will be overrun by jellyfish, which is good news for anyone who enjoys a good blob sandwich.

This interactive graphic from the WWF report shows the overall population trends over the past few decades (hint: it doesn’t look very good). But we knew that already. The question is: what are you going to do about it? And what are you going to put on your plate?

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