Not to beat a dead horse (although that horse could possibly help alleviate the demand for tuna) but I wanted to clarify some of the arguments against eating seafood or, rather, in favor of marine life. Here I address some specific (and broader) questions in response to my recent posts.
Isn’t there sustainably harvested seafood out there we can eat?
In theory, we should be able to harvest seafood sustainably. I am not ruling out this possibility, although most scientists are very hard pressed to name several truly sustainably managed fisheries (note on the rule of sustainability: things should stay the same). Given the current state of fisheries management, though, it is hard to ensure what you are eating is ecologically sound. Many ‘sustainable fisheries’ have negative consequences on the species that rely on them for food or the species that are caught as bycatch. Also note: in theory, we could also harvest whales, manatees, and dolphins sustainably. That doesn’t mean we should.
Why focus on a personal boycott?
My work does not focus on a personal boycott (to date in the scientific literature I have argued for better seafood labeling, eliminating subsidies, and banning the use of fishmeal in livestock feed) but someone out there should be voicing a boycott as an option. This is not because the consumption by one individual will make a difference but mainly because, from a theoretical standpoint, fish need a wider spectrum of voices. At present, the conservation community (and consumers, too, of course) fundamentally relates to most marine life as commodities rather than wildlife. Plus, many consumers suffer cognitive dissonance when we say: the oceans are totally screwed but just eat this rather than that and things will improve. A radical problem calls for (at least the presence of) a radical solution.
Name one species of shellfish that is extinct.
In part due to the viscosity of aquatic habitats, ubiquitous extinctions in the marine environment are rare. But ecological extinctions (the reduction of a species to such low abundance that, although it is still present in the community, it no longer interacts significantly with other species) are common, even among shellfish. West coast abalone populations are nothing what they used to be. Chesapeake Bay oysters are less than 4 percent what they were 150 years ago. Giant clams near Eritrea disappeared upon human arrival.
How about the premise of eating local when it comes to seafood?
It’s a nice idea but unrealistic for the majority of Americans. The U.S. imports 80% of its seafood from 13,000 different suppliers from 160 different countries.
Are farmed fish the solution?
Not to be the wettest of blankets (although that might fit a marine scientist), but I don’t like this idea, either. There are plenty of people advocating for fish farming and this industry (one of the fastest growing globally) is working to improve its practices. But even if we were able to get the ecological side of fish farming (and the potential for mad cow disease in farmed fish) under control, we have to contend with the issue of domestication. We have seen a rapid domestication of marine species in the last several decades. I do not like the idea of domesticating the planet’s last remaining wildlife and so no reason why we are required to do it.
What about all the people who depend on fish and fishing for suvival?
I have said this repeatedly, but I do not think that food insecure populations should consider giving up anything, unless it’s on account of health reasons. Tackling issues of abstinence/personal consumption, while worthy and intriguing, is really a luxury pastime.
What about my health?
Seafood is not as healthy as people think (more on this to come). Aside from having to deal with the dangers of accumulation of mercury and PCBs prevalent in marine carnivores, several medical studies came out this year affirming that, at best, fish oils are just one factor of many that may reduce health ailments, such as heart disease. The medical researchers found that people who do not eat fish, such as vegetarians, are not at any greater risk of illness.
In conclusion, we should consider giving up seafood for the following reasons:
EATING SEAFOOD IS NOT THAT HEALTHY.
EATING SEAFOOD HAS NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES.
MOST IMPORTANT: TO EAT SEAFOOD IS TO EAT THE PLANET’S LAST REMAINING WILDLIFE.