Of all the things mankind has ever put on his dinner plate, fish has long been lauded as one of the healthiest options. Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, high in protein, and absolutely delicious, fish provide benefits to communities all over the world. And for most our existence, seafood has remained among the most abundant natural resources. For centuries, fishermen and seafood lovers have always relied on the vast depths and far reaches of the oceans to support local economies and hungry bellies.
But the oceans of today have much less to offer than the oceans of our ancestors. The density of fish per cubic kilometer has decreased substantially since 1900. By some accounts, there will be no more edible seafood in our oceans by the year 2050 if we continue to pull them out of the water at the current rate. Some fish, like the Bluefin Tuna, face the possibility of extinction by the end of 2012.
On one level, it’s one of the easier environmental problems to pinpoint a cause for: we caught them all, and we ate them. But if we get down to the nitty gritty, down to the human level of the problem, it all becomes more complicated. For starters, human population has exploded over the last century. And as totalitarian regimes have fallen and developing countries have started to develop, there are not only more people, but more people in burgeoning middle classes. All told, there are more mouths with more money to afford fish than ever before. And all the while, the number of fish in the sea hasn’t kept pace with population growth, so there’s not enough to go around. In order to keep pace with an increased demand, the fishing industry has changed dramatically.
Industrial fishing companies rule the water, and use their resources to catch as many fish as they can while spending as little money as possible. The problems here are several. First, many companies have realized that they can catch more fish through processes that completely dismantle underwater ecosystems. Many fish are caught by trawling, which essentially bulldozes the ocean floor and destroys the life below, or through longlining, in which miles of netting are stretched throughout the ocean. And despite the increase in “dolphin safe” tuna labels, bycatch remains a threat to many species.
Finally, there are also cultural reasons. Bluefin tuna, for instance, is consumed primarily by Japanese diners. Despite calls from many international organizations to institute not just quotas, but a complete moratorium on Blue Fin tuna in order to save the species from extinction, Japan has insisted that the fish is a delicacy vital to their culture and continues to fish from already collapsing populations.
At current rates, our grandchildren will never know what it’s like to eat crabs on the bay or enjoy sushi at a fine restaurant. In fact, tuna salad sandwiches will even be out of the question. But it’s not too late. By becoming engaged and educated diners, it’s still possible for us to turn back the clock. Explore the tabs above to learn more about the issues, and more about what you can do to ensure the future of seafood.
[Over fishing graph credit: http://www.seaaroundus.org/flash/NorthAtlanticTrends.htm]