Voting with your fork. Why eating is political – part 4. Somethin’ fishy

Ahhh, bad puns. Anyway, first of all I need to apologise for the delay in posting this…work has been crazy, we had about 15 guests around on Saturday for feasting and mulled wine, our Gogolcat has just been diagnosed with cancer and uni is trying it’s best to be the proverbial straw on the camels back. Whew. So now I’m done making excuses, onto the issue itself, ie. that we need to eat a lot less fish.

The gif above is from an amazing infographic site, What it shows is the size of the various fish stocks in the North Atlantic in 1900 and 2000. What it also shows is that the industrial fishing industry is decimating biodiversity in the region and ultimately destabilising the local ecosystem. This isn’t just happening in the Atlantic, it’s happening right around the world but in different species and ecosystems. In South East Asia, for example, the main impact is on shrimp populations. In addition to the loss of fish and shrimp species though, the statistics of the bycatch of commercial fishing and trawling are also of horrible significance. The WWF estimates include;

– up to 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises entangled in netting annually

– in the past 18 years up to 89% of hammerhead sharks and up to 80% of thresher and white sharks have disappeared from the north-west Atlantic.

– over 250,000 endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles are caught each year in long line fishing operations and in shrimp trawling.

At the moment, tuna are currently being fished at four times the sustainable level. Swordfish populations in the North Atlantic have halved over the last 20 years. And yet our demand for these foods continues to grow. Because of fresh fish’s short shelf-life, possibly the greatest tragedy of all is how much of this over-farmed resource is going to waste every day (more on this next week).

While most of the cans are labelled ‘dolphin safe’ these days, to ensure that we don’t trouble our minds about intelligent sea mammals (who are apparently also rapists- this is a not particularly relevant aside), we’re still woefully under-informed about the other sea species being damaged by commercial fishing. Even worse, we really don’t know what the final impact of such a rapidly declining fish population will be on those sea creatures who also rely on fish stocks as their food supply.

It’s not as simple as just stopping eating fish- it’s an integral part of the global diet and is a staple food in many parts of the world. But where we do have that privilege of choice, cutting back on fish consumption can hardly be a bad thing.

Over to you guys…how often would you eat fish? Would it genuinely affect how you eat on a daily basis to eat less fish? Does it have any cultural significance to you?


Waste, Tristram Stuart, Penguin 2009

Information is Beautiful

The Guardian Datablog




2 thoughts on “Voting with your fork. Why eating is political – part 4. Somethin’ fishy

  1. To answer you question, my wife and I eat fish approximately 2-3 times a week. (Is that too much???) It has no cultural significance but is a health-related choice. I also like that fish is preferable to pork and beef when it comes to carbon footprint.
    But, having said that, less meat (including fish) in my diet wouldn’t be a bad thing.

  2. I eat fish (eel) perhaps once a month, or less, and usually when I’m out rather than at home.

    That particular countries are fishing out their waters annoys me. I think ‘cultural significance’ is a ridiculous reason in the face of sustainability; if it were truly a significant part of a culture, surely they must recognise that a sustainable level of consumption is preferable to the decimation and disappearance of the fish population? Then again, I am looking at this from a point of privilege; I have easy access to food. Then again, one of the more high profile cases of over-fishing is Japan. Surely they, too, have the resources to find more sustainable methods?

    I was channel-flicking the other day, and managed to catch one of Stephen Fry’s TV shows (about manta rays, or some such). Local fisherman understood that the population was decreasing, and could possibly disappear, but it was also their only source of income. And isn’t this why piracy is on the rise in Somalia? Foreign fleets fishing out their waters, and removing the local source of food and income.

    Our seas and oceans are a mess, I think. If we’re going to continue to eat so much fish (on a global scale) we need to find a way to farm it, rather than poaching from wild populations on such a large scale.

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