Guilty Planet

In an extension of first shifting baselines post where Randy Olson and I argued over whether to continue eating seafood, I wrote a guest post last week for The Reef Tank titled What happened to your clients? Um. We ate them. It begins:

“So. What happened to our fish?” asks The Future.

“Um. Well. We ate them,” respond the people who were hired to protect the very marine life that directly or indirectly wound up on their dinner table: wild salmon, tuna, coral reefs.

The culprit of the overfishing crisis is small but insatiable: the human stomach. But most people working in marine science and marine conservation still consume the animals they work to protect. Often, this is done under the rationale that there is a way to manage fish sustainably and that if we followed that way, we would actually have more fish for human consumption. That could be true. But that is certainly not true today.

I study fish and the fisheries crisis. On account of what I learned, I gave up eating all marine life (minus marine plants). But, among my colleagues, I am almost entirely alone in this stance.

Read the entire post here.

Comments

  1. #1 kelly
    April 28, 2009

    Yeah, no. Sorry. But this is a dead-end. If you want people to stop eating seafood, you’d better try a different tactic. You may be right about the threat and the need, but the tactic of appealing to personal responsibility is – in this case – no match for the stomach. I suggest you ask yourself which is more important: reducing consumption of seafood or the longevity of your ideas about personal responsibility. Look, the Bush administration was famous for pushing policy positions based on ideals rather than reality (abstinence education, The Federal Marriage Amendment, Arab-Israeli Peace via War in Iraq, etc.). When you start from idealism you sacrifice its promise. See people as they are and your chances of success will blossom.

  2. #2 silent surf
    April 28, 2009

    Do the folks hired to protect chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans like the taste of cooked ape, or do they prefer them raw?

  3. #3 Sigmund
    April 28, 2009

    I work on childhood leukemia and, likewise, find it unethical to eat my subjects.

  4. #4 Rr
    April 28, 2009

    Woah, no, the PETA campaign is a very bad thing. PETA is a disgrace and a cancer. Sealife should be awed because of how fascinating and awesome they are, not because “zomg underwater ‘kitties’ ooooeeeoooo…” Ignorance is never ever your friend. Making people more ignorant about things will seriously backfire.

    Also, getting people to stop eating wild sea life as first step would be a good idea, as opposed to farmed. Asking people to quit cold turkey will make them get too defensive, and cling harder onto their “rights” to continue eating the stuff. People tend to just ignore problems like these if they don’t feel they can’t make a difference. Also, there’s a lot of ignorance about a lot of problems, I’m pretty sure most people have no idea there’s anything wrong with the oceans and seas, and that people far too often think that the overfishing has nothing to do with them. “But I’m just one person, it’s not as if my not eating seafood will make them fish any less at all” etcetera… Similar excuses people used for not caring about the environment in other ways, and look how much effort and promotion of recycling, energy management, and environmental awareness it took before most people in the “industrial” countries became aware and tried to apply these things to their lives. Took around thirty years or so. (Yet most people still don’t know about things such as the disturbing amounts of plastic in the oceans…) Fortunately, with the internet, we might be able to get through to people in a lot less time.
    But one of the pre-requisits for that would be cutting the crap and providing as much actual knowledge and guidance as possible, making people feel as if they’re not alone in this and help them not feel disconnected to their efforts.

  5. #5 chad
    April 28, 2009

    once upon a time i ate meat and other animal products. i knew that eating meat is bad for the environment, cruel to animals and not too healthy. still, i grew up eating meat, and was used to doing so. what in the world would ie at for dinner if not meat?

    i knew all the reasons for not eating meat, but that wasnt enough. it was only when my girlfriend at the time stopped eating meat that i realized that it isnt all that hard. i figured, if she can do it, so can i.

    what i am saying is that actually being an example is more effective than impersonal propaganda.

    oh, and last i heard, she is once again a meat eater. i am a vegan. go figure.

  6. #6 Russ Finley
    April 28, 2009

    I gave up eating seafood years ago. It is akin to eating bushmeat. There are just too many of us to continue living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

  7. #7 AJS
    April 28, 2009

    What always surprises me is the number of people who claim to be “vegetarian” but still eat fish.

    Maybe I’m just weird; but I always figured that something like a sheep or cow is rather better equipped than a fish to protest if it doesn’t like the way it’s being treated. And what with the “capitalist evil” of private property and so forth, you can be fairly sure someone’s going to replace it when it gets eaten.

  8. #8 Notagod
    April 28, 2009

    I hope none are discouraged (I don’t think you will be) by all the selfish folks that say it won’t make a difference. One thing is for sure if no one says it, it will never happen. Seafood is my favorite food but due to your advocacy I will further limit my consumption of the tasty critters.

    However, as long as unlikely advocacy is the subject, I would like to put in a plug for human population control. I have limited myself to zero of the adorable human babies. I hope I can count on others to do the same. If we don’t limit human population, all of our children’s children will be the losers. We really need mandatory human population control because it isn’t right to allow selfish people to have as many babies as they want while others sacrifice to make the selfish more comfortable. The least we could do is to drop the family discounts and tax incentives. Anyone for boycotting a company because they offer family discounts?

  9. #9 Mark Powell
    April 28, 2009

    Jennifer, you’re the new Captain NIMO (Not In My Ocean). You want to exclude human impacts from the ocean, your preferred cause. But those impacts will show up elsewhere.

    You want people to put all of our eating impacts on land, in order to save the ocean. What would be the impact if we stopped eating fish and transferred all of that calorie and protein consumption to land-produced sources?

    Would “save the forest” and “save the grasslands” advocates get mad at you because former fish eaters demanded more land-produced food?

    Don’t we need fishing and fish-farming done right, and a balanced use of food from land and sea?

  10. #10 humorix
    April 28, 2009

    Les bigger eaters of fish one fish. Future is in the firm navies which nourish fish with animal meats and grain.

    Les plus gros mangeurs de poissons sont… les poissons. L’avenir est aux fermes marines qui nourrissent les poissons avec des viandes animales et céréales.

  11. #11 Mark Powell
    April 28, 2009

    Jennifer, I read your full post at Reef Tank, and I note your goal that we stop talking about fish as a commodity. Great idea, but not so easy to accomplish. Do you know that this has been tried? Here’s a quiz:

    Who said the following as part of a national ocean conservation campaign, and when? “Use ocean wilderness to lead a new way of thinking about and seeing our oceans through a positive conservation lens, rather than an extractive one.”

    same for this quote:

    “We must shift our focus from the oceans as fish warehouses and dumpsites and focus on them as natural ocean communities to be cherished and protected.”

    Look here for your answer:
    http://www.wilderness.net/library/documents/rufe1.pdf

    Now, the big question: what happened to this campaign, and why? The answer is that people weren’t ready for it. We have a lot of work to do before we can persuade people to think of fish as wildlife. If you want to help with that work, great!! Let’s hear your ideas on how to make that change happen (I hope you have something more powerful than simply renaming the sustainable seafood movement. The easy stuff like that has been tried already and it didn’t work.)

  12. #12 Nils Ross
    April 29, 2009

    Sorry to harp on the point, but there’s no way for individual consumers, even if they were so inclined, to obtain information dynamically about the state of fisheries and to respond with their demand in a responsible fashion. The solution, yet again, is to cut out this element of choice and regulate fisheries ruthlessly. This should be a basic consumer right: to know that what they choose to consume doesn’t impact unreasonably upon the world in which they live.

  13. #13 Jim
    April 29, 2009

    The problem with voluntarily not having children is that the ones who don’t have kids, or have one child are the ones that maybe should have kids. As these are the ones that are socially and environmentally aware and also would raise kids that are hopefully socially and environmentally aware. They may also be able to provide good environments in other ways, such as interaction and attention.

    I don’t know if anything can be said of people that tend to have a lot of kids.

  14. #14 Rr
    April 29, 2009

    @ #13, Jim:
    That comments reminds me of Idiocracy, even though I haven’t seen the movie.

    @ #8, notagod:

    I would like to put in a plug for human population control. I have limited myself to zero of the adorable human babies. I hope I can count on others to do the same.

    Good sir/madame! I do protest, surely the answer to our problem is not to cease making babies, but to put most of them to better use? A modest proposal and all that…
    (pardon the dark joke..)

  15. #15 AJS
    May 1, 2009

    It has to be said, that some human beings have a net value to society which is best measured in MJ per kg.

  16. #16 Chris Clarke
    June 8, 2009

    Linked.

    A great argument, Jennifer, and much-needed as the task of being an ethical consumer gets more and more complex.

  17. #17 Steve L
    June 13, 2009

    #13 and 14 — Lifeboat Ethics, by Garrett Hardin

  18. #18 R. King
    June 17, 2009

    I think that these statements are far too simple!
    Many people make a living from fishing to support their families, especially poor native communties. What shall we tell them to do?
    What shall we eat? With world populations increasing, shall we clear every last square foot of rainforests and drain all underground water in arid regions to grow cattle or fruit and vegetables?
    Everyones yelling ‘don’t eat this or that or eat vegetables’, but don’t think of how it will affect the chains of other things and people.
    The real problem is our population growth! We must stopping thinking we all have the right to have as many children as we want! Totally destroyed ecosystems, mass human starvation and wars will come if we don’t stop and turn population numbers back.

  19. #19 Kevin Parcell
    June 19, 2009

    I support your position, Jennifer. Every successful movement begins with someone like you — someone inside. I also assert that it’s good for people to practice compassion in their food choices: we become better people when we practice being better people. As for arguments that fishing supports families and that some must eat fish because of limited choices, the fact is that if we who can choose to not eat fish make that choice, then those who depend on fishing for an income will be less threatened by loss of the resource, and those who depend on fish for food will be better provided. Clearly, not eating fish is the correct choice now for those who have that choice.

    I wish you a long life and great success.

    Regards,
    Kevin Parcell
    http://sunmoney.org