Wednesday, June 10, 2009

End of the Line

Imagine a world without fish.

On June 8 the film End of the Line was released. I encourage you to see it. The movie is based on a fine book by British journalist Charles Clover. I remember reading the book several years ago and thinking, this should wake up a few folks. But change is slow. The question is: Do we have enough time?

In one passage about the harmful effects of bottom trawling, Clover asks readers to to imagine "what people would say if a band of hunters strung a mile of net between two immense all-terrain vehicles and dragged it at speed across the plains of Africa." The result, in this apt analogy, is a "strangely bedraggled landscape resembling a harrowed field. There are no markets for about a third of the animals they have caught because they don't taste good or because they are simply too small or too squashed. This pile of corpses is dumped on the plain to be consumed by scavengers."

This is just one of the common practices that occurs on the high seas every day.

Over-fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution are taking a toll that, for many generations, was hard to quantify—because it was hard to see. Then the great Atlantic cod fishery collapsed and since then the litany of diminished fisheries has been ever-increasing. The decline and fall is now clearly visible if we open our eyes. I've lived in Seattle since 1991—less than 20 years. In that short time I've watched certain salmon and steelhead runs in Puget Sound dwindle to near extinction. Shellfish beaches have closed. Limits on crabs continue to shrink, and stocks of rockfish are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2002 the sorely missed Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a 5-part series, "Our Troubled Sound," that was a clarion call for anyone who thinks the Sound looks just dandy from the top deck of a ferryboat. More recently PBS Frontline has documented the hurdles facing the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. (You can watch the entire 2-hour program, "Poisoned Waters," here.)

So, what can you do? For starters, you can get involved with your local watershed. In my area, Puget Sound Partnership and a number of smaller environmental groups are doing the heavy lifting; no doubt there's a group of concerned citizens in your area too. You can also make a difference with your purchasing decisions. As a consumer it's very difficult to know how to purchase fish wisely. Fish don't come with labels. Usually we don't know the specifics of where they're caught, by whom, and with what equipment. Seafood Watch tries to take some of the mystery out of the equation so you can make an informed decision. Check out their helpful Seafood Guide—and make sure to bookmark it.


matt wright said...

Here, here. The seafood guide is available in wallet sized form too - a great thing to carry around.

I think it has to be said to buy fish from reputable sources. Find a decent honest fishmonger, talk to them, make sure they know where the fish is coming from. If not, find another. Ask questions about the product too.. if they don't know much about fish, you can pretty much guarantee they won't know much (or care) where it is from.

Lovely article mate. I have still to see End of the Line.

audrey said...

I was surprised by what I found in the Seafood Guide. It's extremely helpful in guiding our fish selections.

It's also been interesting to learn that a lot of popular fish are actually toxic to women in pregnancy ... not what you'd expect from 'wild' food, but very good to know.

Anonymous said...

I've been using the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's seafood guide app for my iPhone (wrote about it here). Very handy.

R. Gabe Davis said...

Always bothered me how Hunting gets drug through the mud and blamed for loss of species even though hunting is heavily regulated and provides most of the money for conservation while commercial fishing gets little attention. This type of commercial fishing does not seem to garner as much contempt since most people don't find fish as cute as mammals and most people enjoy eating them (most people don't eat deer like I do). I wish the same stewardship that brought back eastern deer and turkey populations would be used at sea and more fish farming could lessen the demand on the ocean.
your pal The Envirocapitalist

Langdon Cook said...

Matt - You're right. We as consumers need to do our due diligence.

Audrey - Are you staying away from tuna? That's one we hear about with regard to mercury.

GraduallyGreener - Yet another reason why I need one of these newfangled contraptions!

Gabe - I agree that commercial fishing should be subjected to closer scrutiny, however I'm lukewarm about farmed fish. With some species it seems to make sense (tilapia, catfish) but with others it's a bad deal (salmon). That said, it's hard to imagine there won't be more fish farming in the near future.