In 1994, humans extinguished the Atlantic cod populaton off Newfoundland’s coast. The collapse of this fishery was unthinkable – a century ago, cod were the most abundant fish in the Northwest Atlantic. They had supported a viable fishery for 500 years. At one point in time, people thought that they couldn’t deplete fisheries – the oceans were too big, the numbers of fish too vast, for human activity to have any significant impact.
Thanks to modern technology, however, we can have a significant impact on fish populations, and we do.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that about 10 percent of the world’s major fisheries are significantly depleted, 18 percent are overexploited, and 47 percent are fully exploited, leaving just one-quarter of the world’s marine fish populations at sustainable levels.*
Between 1960 and 1975, humans caught as much cod as they did between 1500 and 1750.
Folks, we are catching fish a lot faster than we ever have in human history and it is causing serious problems. Depleting commercial fish populations is obviously going to have a huge impact on ocean ecosystems. More importantly, it is an enormous threat to our food supply.
Twenty percent of the world’s population depends on fish for their protein source, and most of those people live in developing countries. If we wipe out our fish populations, most of the people who really, truly depend on fish as a food source will have great difficulty finding alternative sources for protein. Most of these people are very poor, and may not have the cash to purchase other kinds of protein. The collapse of the fisheries will place even greater strains on their economies: fishing is a major source of both food and cash in developing countries where most of the population depends on fish for protein. If the fisheries collapse, people will have far fewer fish to catch for subsistence, and less cash to buy protein produced somewhere else.
Some people really don’t have a choice about whether they eat fish – if they don’t have fish, they don’t have a viable protein source. Many of us, however, do have a choice, and I think we have a moral obligation to make sure that our choices do not contribute to the elimination of a food source that 20 percent of the human population depends on.
So I think we should stop. We should stop eating fish until their populations recover. We simply can’t afford to wipe out this food source, and that is what will happen if we keep doing what we’re doing. Anyone who has any choice in the matter should stop, so that the people who don’t have a choice can live.
So that’s why I don’t eat fish, in case you were wondering. I’m one of the people who has access to alternative sources of protein, and I think it’s wrong for me to take fish when other people need it and I don’t.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you, too, live near a grocery store that sells beans and split peas and lentils and edamame and tofu and chicken and eggs and milk. Those of us who have ready access to the Internet generally have the cash to buy beans and rice – in fact, it’s considerably cheaper than buying fish. So we have a choice, and I think we should let the other folks – the people who really, truly need to eat fish because they don’t have viable alternatives – have the fish. We can eat something else.
* Quotation from Rasband’s Natural Resources Law casebook.
** Click here for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of depleted, overexploited, and fully exploited.
***If you can’t bear to give up fish, there’s a list of fisheries that are in pretty good shape. Print out the list, and take it with you when you go shopping.
****And no, farmed fish are not the answer. It takes about two pounds of ground-up wild fish to produce one pound of farmed fish.