Sea change: time to stop eating fish

| 11th February 2019
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Marine biodiversity loss is reaching catastrophic levels. Experts have predicted fishless oceans by 2048, but it's not too late to turn the tide.

I personally have stopped eating seafood. I know too much. I know that every fish counts.

Fish are in trouble. It seems that every week we hear warnings about drastically reduced populations in numerous species.

And did you catch the disturbing story about UK fish and chip shops serving up endangered species to unwitting customers?

According to Global Fishing Watch, some species’ numbers have dropped by a huge 90 percent, while lists such as this show ten kinds of fish which have recently become extinct.

Hot water

This isn’t new information either. In a study published in Science in 2006, experts said that we risk seeing fishless oceans by 2048.

And so what has happened since then to avert this disaster? Very little. In terms of UK policy we’ve in fact seen the opposite, with news that Brexit could lead to overfishing on an even larger scale than before.

The reasons behind marine biodiversity loss are many. However, we can boil it down to the fact that more fish are caught than can breed to replenish the numbers.

Illegal fishing and government subsidises contribute to overfishing, as does the use of certain fishing industry practices.

Trawler nets do not discriminate based on the type of sea life they pick up. This results in large numbers of fish being caught which are either surplus to requirement or the wrong species.

Seafood

The ‘bycatch’ or ‘bykill’ is then thrown dead back into the sea. ‘Ghost nets’ also pose a threat. These are fishing nets which are lost or abandoned in the sea, acting as a death trap to animals which are then never collected.

The resulting reduced numbers of fish and other sea life has a huge impact on the entire marine ecosystem, which in turn affects life on land.

As well as issues concerning biodiversity, overfishing has been linked to declining water quality, ocean dead zones and coastal flooding.

So isn’t it enough to cut down on the amount of seafood you eat, and to look into the fishing methods used to bring it to your plate?

Some experts take a different view, such as Marine Biologist Dr Sylvia Earle. Dr Earle explained to the National Geographic: “I personally have stopped eating seafood. I know too much. I know that every fish counts.”

Oceans

There are also the wider ethical arguments to consider.

Animal rights groups may be more likely to share content depicting animals such as cows and pigs in distress, however it’s important to remember that fish also suffer in the hands of our food system.

Fish are animals, like us, with a central nervous system. They experience pain and discomfort and have an inbuilt desire to live. While methods for catching fish vary, none of them make for an enviable end of life.

It’s easy to feel discouraged in the face of such large-scale problems. However, there is still time to make a difference.

The oceans can be assisted to return to a healthier state. We need protected ocean areas and government legislation – but what can you do as an individual?

Blossom

By withdrawing your funds from the fishing industry, you can play a part in fighting against the harmful effects of overfishing.

While it is true that from an environmental point of view certain fishing practices are less harmful than others, there is no essential reason to continue eating fish given that we do not rely on them for a single nutrient. From protein to fatty acids, all of our nutrients can be found in totally plant-based sources.

And what’s more, vegan-friendly options to replace fish are springing up left, right and centre – from Quorn’s fishless fingers to more gourmet restaurant options such as “tofish” and chips, or battered fish made from banana blossom.

If you’re intrigued, why not sign up to The Vegan Society’s Plate Up for the Planet Challenge and try a vegan diet for 7 days?

This author

Elena Orde is communications and campaigns officer at The Vegan Society and editor of The Vegan magazine.

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