Guilty Planet

Need a New Year’s resolution? Consider signing this seafood boycott.

It’s that time of year where we welcome changes and commitment to ideals. New gym memberships. Re-committing to flossing every day. Giving up seafood…

My New Year’s resolution was to finally write this blogpost compile a list of people that will boycott seafood (all farmed and wild caught marine and freshwater animals) for 2010 to:

1. demonstrate serious admonition for current fisheries practices (on the whole; we know there are a few localized examples of good management);
2. demonstrate strong support for seafood alternatives to encourage restaurants to make more vegetarian offerings (such as the Cha-Ya vegetarian Japanese restaurant in San Francisco);
3. test the viability of Stickk.com as a tool (more on that to come).

If you do not know why you would ever want to give up seafood, you can read this
or this or this. To summarize, the main reasons anyone should consider giving up seafood are:

EATING SEAFOOD IS NOT THAT HEALTHY.

EATING SEAFOOD HAS NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES.

TO EAT SEAFOOD IS TO EAT SOME OF THE PLANET’S LAST REMAINING WILDLIFE.

(Yet, despite this third fact, I was just reading this eye-opening article in Conservation Biology, which discusses the very few CITES listing of marine taxa– in part because fisheries are not considered part of the wildlife trade).

If you would like to sign the boycott, please leave your name in the comments section (feel free to leave an pseudonym if you prefer). Research suggests that if you sign this pledge and perhaps even sign up for a seafood boycott on Stickk.com (which is a web-based business based on the concept of committing oneself to specific actions), you are more likely to stick to your goal (I stick to my seafood boycott on Stickk, but fail to report it).

In the book Nudge, authors Thaler and Sunstein report on a study done on Yale seniors who were encouraged to get tetanus shots.

Most of the students were convinced by the lecture and said they planned to go get the shot, but these good intentions did not lead to much action. Only 3% actually went and got the shot. Other subjects were given the same lecture but were also given a copy of a campus map with the location of the health center circled. They were then asked to look at their weekly schedules, make a plan for when they would go and get the shot and look at the map and decide what route they would take. With these nudges, 28% of the students managed to show up and get their tetanus shot.

Can this blog-based boycott raise the profile and commitment to a seafood abstinence? I hope at the very least it can provide evidence that there is increasing awareness that fisheries are in serious trouble (which calls for serious solutions) and that more and more people see the disjointedness between conservationists and their patterns of consumption — like Giovanni Bearzi, WWF’s Helen Fox and her colleagues, and Stacey, a graduate student who wrote the following:

I am a graduate student in a conservation biology lab, and most of the grad students in our lab are studying fish.  I have been vegetarian for nearly 10 years (and I believe ‘real vegetarians don’t eat fish’), but most of the others in my lab are not.  As my supervisor is a very strong advocate for the conservation of fishes, I was surprised to learn that not only does he eat fish, but he also eats the very species of fish we are trying to protect in our work; and has served it at lab celebrations.  At a recent departmental gathering, party platters of sushi were served, including tai (red snapper).  I have voiced my concern to other students, but have often felt marginalized by what others believe are my ‘extreme’ views against fish consumption, and don’t feel I’ve been taken seriously.  It just doesn’t make sense to me: how can we expect changes, if we, who understand far more about the fisheries crises than general public, are not willing to make changes ourselves?

If you would like to choose not to eat seafood or already have, sign this pledge and abstain from eating seafood (all farmed and wild caught marine and freshwater animals) for 2010. Report back with any thoughts or progress. I will have more stories on seafood abstinence, including what it was like for a Japanese colleague to give up seafood for two weeks, to come…

Comments

  1. #1 Elinor
    January 4, 2010

    I won’t even eat imitation crab.

  2. #2 nick
    January 4, 2010

    i won’t even imitate eating real crab

  3. #3 Lab Rat
    January 4, 2010

    Fish aren’t that healthy? Although I am full of support for the message of this blog post I would love to hear the evidence for that, because I’d always heard that fish were one of the healthiest types of ‘meat’ to eat.

    I do still eat fish, but I try to get only farmed or line-fished stocks from the market. And I don’t eat imitation crab but only sinse I accidently caught a show on TV where they told you what was *in* imitation crab…

  4. #4 Sigmund
    January 4, 2010

    And lets kill the whales while were at it – those bastards eat more seafood than any human!
    On a more serious note I do wonder the wisdom of lumping all seafood together as being equally bad – or claiming that seafood is not that healthy.

  5. #5 thomas
    January 4, 2010

    i am wondering how much fish does a wild tuna actually eat until it is fully grown? i read in a book that for farmed tuna, the ratio is 20kg of fish per 1kg of tuna. wondering how high it is for non-farmed tuna

  6. #6 Catriona Munro
    January 4, 2010

    Not really a new convert, haven’t been eating seafood for…5 years. But consider me on the list.

  7. #7 Goatrider
    January 4, 2010

    It’s not much of a sacrifice for me because I hate fish. So count me in!

  8. #8 Phyllis
    January 4, 2010

    If we are in advocacy, why not go all the way and ask people to give up meat altogether, or at least as much of it as one can bare? After all, we are trying to save the earth in all its dimensions: including, but not limited to, the ocean, no?

  9. #9 phyllis
    January 4, 2010

    CORRECTION OF COMMENT NO.8 : “bear”, not “bare”. I am a vegetarian, though not a perverse one!

  10. #10 David Bunnell
    January 4, 2010

    You must be kidding. This would be like cutting off your finger to fix a hangnail. What about the fishing industry? What about the millions of people who depend upon fish for protein.

    I don’t eat farm raised fish and I follow the rules about “sustainable” fish, plus I support environmental action and much stricter rules on “corporate fishing” and I don’t eat a lot of fish.

    I believe my approach makes more sense.

    thanks!

  11. #11 Tom Foss
    January 4, 2010

    Is there a good resource for choosing farm-raised or otherwise non-wild fish options?

  12. #12 Harman Smith
    January 4, 2010

    It’s not just seafood, is it? The way we eat… it’s not very efficient. I don’t know much about it (yet), but cows are a good example. Cows are too inefficient as sources of meat. I read in E.O. Wilson’s book—The Diversity of Life—that if we raised a certain reptile instead of cows (can’t remember which reptile), we would be able to get 400 times the amount of meat cows would produce for the same amount of land. That’s not 3 times, 5 times or 10 times. Four hundred times is staggering. I re-read what it said in the book because I could hardly believe it.

    I think it is very telling that even the people who work to protect marine wildlife, eat fish… It’s a kind of complacency that is very disturbing.

    I’m willing to quit eating seafood, but I’m living with my dad until I don’t know when, and he does regularly buy fish (once a week, I would say). How will I convince him fish isn’t really that healthy? There are no links in the OP that give me anything to work with.

    When he does buy fish, I have noticed that, on the packaging, it will have this little blurb on it that says “We support sustainable fisheries” (roughly translated). When I read this the first time, I could feel my mind immediately jumping on the following notion: “Oh, buying this fish is sustainable”. But even more quickly I realized that that is not the case at all. If the supermarket says something like that… it doesn’t mean anything at all. It could very well be that they support sustainable [whatever], but what does that have to do with the product? It’s quite clearly purposefully misleading. They know very well that if they put that blurb on there, at least ninety-nine percent of people’s brains will jump on the notion of it being sustainable, when it very likely is not. And unlike myself, they will stick with that notion.

  13. #13 Victor Resinstein
    January 4, 2010

    EATING SEAFOOD IS NOT THAT HEALTHY; compared to what?
    Declarative statements without clear, supporting evidence seems
    rather fishy to me. Let’s see the data.

  14. #14 Alexa Billow
    January 4, 2010

    I’ve been boycotting seafood for years, and I’m very glad to see this being talked about. Please count me in.

  15. #15 Patrik
    January 4, 2010

    jep, count me in, starting next week. because, i have to admit, I will – as ultimate seafood meal – soon eat that very last pack of fish sticks from 2009, still in my deep freezer. ok?

  16. #16 silent surf
    January 4, 2010

    Seaweed is seafood

  17. #17 Roland
    January 4, 2010

    Just eat lower on the food chain: sardines & herring. Eat herbivores, not predators.

  18. #18 Sev
    January 5, 2010

    I’d like to see some credible sources for the claim that eating seafood is not healthy. Frankly, it looks like an irresponsible claim made without any documentation and it casts doubt on the rest of your statements here.

  19. #19 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    January 5, 2010

    Seafood is not as healthy as people think. My apologies if this claim seemed haphazard — following some of the links in the post leads to elucidations, but allow me to expand here, too.

    We now must deal with the dangers of accumulation of mercury and PCBs prevalent in marine carnivores:

    http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=17694

    In addition, several medical studies came out this past 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. A few studies published just last year show that health benefits have been overdramatized and jeopardize wild stocks:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090317142843.htm

    Also see Brunner et al. B. (2009) Fish, human health and marine ecosystem health: policies in collision. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38, 93–100.

    And, as Michael Pollan points out, Omega-3 today is like oat bran in the 80s — a food fashion trend. If you do want to ensure your diet is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, try nuts:

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nuts/HB00085

    p.s. Tuna raised in ranches do indeed require roughly 20 kg of fishfeed per kg of tuna. In the wild I suspect the ratio is even higher but the difference is we do not go out and catch those fish for them (they do it themselves; often preferring different species to the ones used in fishfeed).

  20. #20 Douglas Watts
    January 5, 2010

    I grew up on Cape Cod and live in the Gulf of Maine. Nearly all of the native fish stocks of the Cape and the Gulf are at near-extinction levels today because of over-fishing, dam building and pollution. Sad but true. I will not catch and keep fish from the Gulf of Maine and Cape Cod because I would be catching a spawner that needs to live and spawn if these fish are to ever come back. If we leave them alone and give them their habitat back, they will come back. But for now, we have to exercise restraint and just leave them alone. This applies to cod, haddock, hake, halibut, goosefish, tuna, striper, bluefish, sea bass, tautog, scup, fluke and the fish that are almost completely gone, like swordfish, shad, salmon, alewife and squeteague.

    These fish need to be left alone for 50 years at least. They, and their habitat, have been hit far too hard for the last two centuries.

  21. #21 Douglas Watts
    January 5, 2010

    In Maine, we have been working very hard for the past 10 years to restore the Penobscot River and Bay ecosystem to restore its entire panoply of diadromous and marine fish species by ripping out the two lowermost dams on the river and restoring the connections between above tidal and below tidal habitat. We are almost there. This is the type of grassroots, community based ecological restoration that everyone can get involved in. Amidst all the bad news, what is happening now on the Penobscot is good news. I would like to see this spread up and down the seaboard. It can be done.

    http://www.penobscotriver.org

  22. #22 DR.CEMAL SEVİNÇHAN
    January 5, 2010

    THE SEAFOODS ARE NOT AS CLEAN AS 100 YEARS AGO ,THERE ARE
    SO MANY İNDUSTRIAL TOXIC SUBSTANCES IN THE SEAS.
    OCEANS HAS BECAME A GREAT DUMPİNG GROUND OF THE PLANET.
    I DONT THINK THAT THIS PROMBLEM WILL BE SOLVED.
    BECAUSE THE HUMANBEEİNGS ARE VERY EGOİSTIC.

  23. #23 Lab Rat
    January 5, 2010

    Thanks very much for the links to the papers. Brunner et al was particularly useful, good review of a number of different issues.

  24. #24 Karen James
    January 5, 2010

    Why not just boycott ‘bad’ seafood? It’s not like there aren’t any resources out there to help you/us do that.

  25. #25 Scott D.
    January 5, 2010

    If you really want to conserve seafood- pick up a fishing rod. Go fishing- take in the whole experience. And if you are lucky enough to catch a fish that is is season, in-slot, and not a gamefish, eat it. And realize that the ultimate sustainable fishery is recreational fishing- far less impact on the stock, FAR greater economic impact than commercial fishing, especially in the US and countries where sportfishing is a major tourism sector.

    And you will not find any greater advocates for conservation of fish that recreational fishermen. They have bene the advocate for stock improvements, bag limits, gamefish status, banning of destructive commercial fishihng practices, etc.

  26. #26 SouthernFriedScientist
    January 5, 2010

    We covered this last year on SFS:

    http://southernfriedscience.com/2009/01/25/supply-side-conservation/

    While boycott efforts make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy, they don’t work for supply limited resources. The basic gist is more people want to eat fish than actually do eat fish in the US. If there are 100 people who want to eat grouper and only ten grouper, then you can convince 90 people to stop eating grouper and 100% of the grouper will still be consumed. That’s the case with nearly all US fisheries.

    So you can convince as many people as possible not to eat seafood, but the demand will still outweigh the supply. The better solution is to create an even greater demand for sustainable fishing practices which shift the balance towards environmentally responsible fishing.

    Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to be part of that demand and educate others, when all the environmentalists stop eating fish, they leave the table and the only consumers are those who don’t care how the fish was caught. You can educate people all you want, but if the only consumers are people who don’t care where their fish came from, there won’t be any pressure to change the fisheries.

  27. #27 doug mcl
    January 5, 2010

    Living on the puget sound, I offer the opposite advice. You should eat it to want to save it. If there wasn’t a demand for line-caught wild salmon, the public would be indifferent to water flow management on the damed rivers. Similarly, the local market for fresh crabs, clams and oysters underpins public support for policies that promote water quality, wetland restoration and reduction of non-point pollution sources. Removing yourself from the market for fresh fish also takes away your seat at the table when policies and regulations are negotiated.

  28. #28 mk
    January 5, 2010

    “EATING SEAFOOD IS NOT THAT HEALTHY.”
    –and–
    “Seafood is not as healthy as people think.”

    What a crock.

    To back this up you only point to the “dangers” of mercury and PCBs. The rest is basically that Omega 3s aren’t THAT great. Whether that is true or not, it certainly doesn’t mean it is “unhealthy.” You do your cause no good with stupid crap like this.

    Eating seafood is in fact that healthy. Whatever “that” is.

  29. #29 gb
    January 5, 2010

    If you really want to save the planet then perhaps one should start eating humans! Just saying.

  30. #30 orion
    January 5, 2010

    I have to share with everyone how much I enjoyed those garfish and blue swimmer crabs I caught on the weekend. I spent an enjoyable day in the boat in glorious weather, pulled in enough garfish for dinner for the whole family, plus a bag limit of crabs. Cooked them up and I think I will make Singapore style chilli crab on Friday.
    Now – what were you saying??

  31. #31 Dave X
    January 5, 2010

    I think her “EATING SEAFOOD IS NOT THAT HEALTHY” as seafood not being a miracle food, like eating a 1/2 cup of oatmeal won’t cure your heart, and omega-3s won’t stop Alzheimers.

    Fish is still a non-magical food, no matter what the mongers say.

  32. #32 mk
    January 5, 2010

    “seafood not being a miracle food”

    Straw man. {Straw fish?}

  33. #33 Chelydra
    January 5, 2010

    And realize that the ultimate sustainable fishery is recreational fishing- far less impact on the stock, FAR greater economic impact than commercial fishing, especially in the US and countries where sportfishing is a major tourism sector.

    And you will not find any greater advocates for conservation of fish that recreational fishermen. They have bene the advocate for stock improvements, bag limits, gamefish status, banning of destructive commercial fishihng practices, etc.

    Unless you’re talking about the U. S. Great Lakes, where the most desirable recreational game fish are non-native salmon and trout that feed primarily on invasive alewives, giving governments little to no incentive to restore the native ecosystem. Most fishermen here could care less about the preservation of native species.

    Count me in on the ban (though my pseudonym may disagree).

  34. #34 oceanhybrid
    January 5, 2010

    It just warms my heart to read all you nut cases wanting to boycott seafood. As a vegetarian, it’s so easy to sign on to some half-baked boycott that commits you to not eat something you don’t eat anyway.

    Why don’t you commit to not flying (in an airplane, of course) for an entire year? How about cutting your driving time by 75% for a year? Or, would that interfere too much with the quality of life you have grown accustomed too.

    I say – go for it!!!

  35. #35 Divalent
    January 6, 2010

    Before you act too hastily, think of the cows.

  36. #36 rapanui
    January 6, 2010

    Great post, Jennifer. However, in my experience most people are quite willing to drop either meat or (sea-)fish from their daily meals to improve the world – but not both. Which would you recommend getting rid of (suppose you liked both equally well)?

  37. #37 Chris Martell
    January 6, 2010

    Wow. This is exciting. I am also going to have a good long talk with my cat and get him to get on board with this. In the morning we read the fine print in his kitty kibble…

    And for “oceanhybrid” I will do you one better. I will hold my breath twenty five times a day, to do my bit to conserve oxygen and prevent my self from expelling hot air. Want to join me in this attempt at civil collaboration?

  38. #38 Harman Smith
    January 6, 2010

    “Eating seafood is in fact that healthy.”

    “That” refers to miracle food, though. And it’s not really a sraw man argument. People have hyped it up, that much is true. It’s still healthy, just not ‘that’ healthy. The point is: thousands and thousands of different types of food are healthy as well. Why pick the one type of food that harms the environment?

  39. #39 Rita
    January 6, 2010

    Put the petition on the vegan sites – we’re all non-seafood eaters already!
    (and the person who wondered about giving up fish OR meat? – doing without both is just SO easy it’s not worth spending time on..)

  40. #40 mk
    January 6, 2010

    “Miracle food.” Who says that? Nobody. Or I should say, only you! Again, straw man.

    It is a very healthy food. That much is true. Eat it or don’t eat it, fine. But saying it “isn’t that healthy” is plainly stupid, because it means absolutely nothing.

  41. #41 Brandon
    January 6, 2010

    So I guess you meant to say that some seafood is not healthy, and some other seafood is not as healthy as once thought? Kind of like saying don’t be a vegetarian because you will become anemic. If those Japanese could just wean themselves off seafood they could become healthy… As an Alaskan with a freezer full of healthy salmon (from a sustained, well-managed fishery) I find this post misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

  42. #42 Jessica
    January 6, 2010

    So many good reasons not to eat fish (or other animals). Count me in.

  43. #43 willb
    January 6, 2010

    hate to say it, but I agree with post #10… as long as daniel pauly is still eating seafood, so will I, although i will say i doled out my fair share of don’t-eat-shrimp lectures at various holiday parties… didn’t you just post on vertical agitation?

  44. #44 Jeremy
    January 7, 2010

    Regarding the healthiness of seafood. I think those people arguing that it is healthy are missing the point.

    The point is, could you quantify a difference between a group of people who gave up eating seafood and a group that did not – assuming it’s a well run experiment of course.

    The evidence suggests that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So while we can certainly consider seafood healthy in the context of the average Western diets, whether or not you choose to eat it won’t have a significant impact on your health unless you replace it with something significantly unhealthy.

    That said, I’m not going to commit to give up seafood, and I’m not really even a vegetarian for that matter. I am unconvinced of the arguments for either, although I’m also unconvinced of the arguments against either, so I’ve greatly reduced my meat intake (including seafood) over the last year and am trying to learn as much as I can about food issues.

  45. #45 Anton
    January 8, 2010

    I haven’t eaten seafood for about a year now, and I’ll continue to do the same. The reason that I have stopped isn’t because I think my stopping eating fish is making a huge difference but is instead simply a statement I use to raise awareness among others. The responses to this blog post demonstrate the need to raise awareness. So many people responded with emotion rather than logic especially to the “Eating seafood is not that healthy” comment. Post 44 seems to be the only one who took the time to read Jennifer’s blog post and understand what she meant by this comment while everyone else simply gave an angry response without really understanding what had been said.

    This is why I find it so important to make a statement by stopping eating fish. So many people live in denial of the damage we are causing to the oceans. As Jennifer pointed out yes there are some sustainable fishieries, however, when the demand is higher than sustainable fisheries can supply then we fish unsustainably. In addition, farmed fishing doesn’t fix the problem because of issues such as sea lice which spread from farmed fish to native fish destroying hatcheries. Even though it may be possible to fish sustainably or create ecologically sound farms the point is that currently we are not doing these things. Instead we are fishing in unsustainable ways.

    I find that not eating fish is a great way for me to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the consumption of fish. When I am out with others and they learn that I don’t eat fish it generally creates discussion, and although others don’t always agree with me, at least I have made them aware that there might be an issue and awareness is the first step toward creating a solution.

  46. #46 Chick Filet
    January 9, 2010

    Eat More Chikin

  47. #47 battlebunny
    January 9, 2010

    Nice post. I stopped eating seafood about 3 years ago with the occasional indulgence. At first I carried around my Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainability guide trying, as some people here have suggested, to just eliminate the at risk species. The problem was that nobody in the restaurant industry knew jack about their product. They either would respond to my questions with a blank look and head tilt or just tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I got so frustrated that I decided to just write seafood off and eat as consciously as possible when I do decide to have an ocean treat.

  48. #48 Hungry
    January 29, 2010

    Great idea, let’s save the environment by eating more meat… producing more methan and trucking it all over the world! There are nearly 7 billion people in the world, why don’t we just implement a one-child policy too while we’re at it. Look, the reality is that people have to eat something. Best that we support sustainable farming practice in the oceans before it’s too late.

  49. #49 Katie
    February 3, 2010

    I gave up seafood completely when I was 10 years old. I’m 16 now so I guess thats not that long. I am really happy to have found your blog, most of my peers do not understand my passion for saving the oceans (and go as far as to tease me for it) and its nice to find people who do. I’ve been showing parts of your posts to my friends and they were astonished at how it sounded like me. Anyways just thought I’d mention that.