21 June 2012

Eat fish but don’t complain about the heat

Fish. Hooks. Bait. Nets. Netting. Looking like a fish out of water.  Election time is made for fish-related metaphors I feel, well, at least in the run up to announcement regarding candidacy.  It is all about getting people into one’s boat, tossing others out, trying this and that bait on fish, little and small etc.  Fun stuff I suppose.  Not for the fish, when you come to think of it.  The fisherman gets something, the mudalali something more and the consumer gets a bit creamed but then enjoys a good meal, but the fish?  Well, the fish get death. 

I know some people love fish, in that they enjoy eating it.  I used to too.  I’ve got nothing against fish-eaters.  It is their preference, their sense of ethics and their cosmology and their right even, one could argue.  I do find it a bit odd though that professed vegetarians think that the status is not compromised by fish eating.  And then there are no-meat, no-fish people who eat karavala and umbalakada.  Maybe just like non-humans are considered by some to be lesser creatures, ‘fish’ comes under a lesser and non-sinful category in the whole business of consuming dead things. 

Let us forget the moral issue here.  I am thinking of fish as a resource and fish as an integral part of the overall health of the planet, in particular the vast eco-system that is the ocean (which, I found is not as limitless in resource, including fish, as we are made to believe). 

I watched a documentary recently screened by Practical Action at Barefoot. It was called ‘The End of the Line’. Nice line, isn’t it, considering it talks of fish, fishing and over-fishing? Anyway, it scared the hell out of me. 

‘End of the Line’ is supposed to the first major documentary on the devastating consequences of over-fishing.  It is advertised as follows: “Filmed across the world – from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coasts of Senegal and Alaska to the Tokyo fish market – featuring top scientists, indigenous fishermen and fisheries enforcement officials, The End of the Line is a wake-up call to the world.” The film persuaded me to actually imagine an ocean without fish.  That is the future, folks, if we go on doing what we’ve been doing as a species to the fish.

The current rate of harvesting oceanic resources will result in the end of most seafood by the year 2048, scientists predict.  The world’s greed, for fish and money, environmentally harmful fishing technologies, complicity and/or ignorance on the part of politicians and other officials who are empowered to take remedial action and apathy on the part of all human beings has seen the numbers of many species declining so sharply that they warrant the ‘endangered’ tag. 

Charles Clover, the author of the book on which the film has been based, points out that it is imperative that we stop thinking of the ocean as a food factory and realize that it is a huge and complex marine environment.  Over-fishing is clearly the monumental environmental disaster that few have heard about. We know about greenhouse gases and global warming. We are careful about using polythene.  We teach our children the importance of growing and saving trees.  What do we tell them about fish?

We tell them fish is good for them. Perhaps, but if we go on like this our grandchildren will have to tell their children, ‘you know darling, there used to be a thing called fish which was good to eat, very nutritious and all that, but that’s all gone now; how about some jellyfish and algae?’ 

The global fisheries industry has harvested extensively and continues to do so and the depletion of fish such as bluefin tuna has now made conservationists, environmentalists and scientists demand that a complete ban be imposed.  Around 75% of wild marine fish are either fully-exploited or over-fished according to the FAO.  And the kind of conservation and management required to ensure that these species survive simply does not exist. 

People talk of fish farming, which now provides almost half the fish consumed by humans in the West; but it is mostly the carnivorous species that are ‘managed’ thus. Guess what, they have to eat small fish and these species are also over-fished now.

In UK waters stocks of palatable fish such as cod have been reduced to less than 10% of what they were 100 years ago.  I guess people in that island will not be eating cod for very long.  According to the European Commission some 80% of stocks in European waters are recorded as over-fished. Are they doing anything about it, though? 

Well, the EU argued for a quote of 22,000 tons of bluefin tuna at a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas held in Marrakech in November, 2008.  The scientists had recommended a quota of 15,000 tons to avert stock collapse.  In actuality over 60,000 tons were harvested!  Shows how serious some people are about the health of the planet, doesn’t it?

Want to know what the future is like? Well, the British waters tell a story.  In certain places over-fishing has resulted in simplified ecosystems facing total collapse.  In the Firth of Clyde, near Glasgow, cod, haddock, saithe, brill and whiting have all been over-fished and there’s only the Norway lobster to be caught. 

I am not saying, ‘don’t fish; don’t eat fish’. I am saying, ‘be aware’.  I only regret that I was absolutely ignorant about this issue for over 40 years. 

It is time for marine reserves to be established.  And it is time to think many times over about what we eat.  Here’s something to think about. Scientists now claim that fish droppings constitute an important part of controlling global warming.  No fish, no droppings!  So when you eat fish, it follows, you lose the right to complain about the heat, about rising sea levels, climate change etc etc.  We are in deep shit, I believe.  But there’s a way of extricating ourselves from it.   Be aware.  Act.  We could remain ignorant and be apathetic.  And then we (or our children) drown in our own shit.  I suppose that would be poetic justice, what do you think?


Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking. thank you.

Anonymous said...

End of the fish eating line 4 me!!!!!

G. de Silva said...

Also check out www.earthlings.com to get some idea about the bigger picture of human cruelty towards animals, co-habitants of this world.

Lisha said...

Overfishing is definitely a problem, but that's not the only threat to marine ecosystems - a big one is ocean pollution from agricultural/industrial run-off and other non-point-source pollution. It's a complex problem and harder to mitigate given the short-sightedness of the people in charge.