Sunday, May 06, 2007

No More Scrod

When in Boston, she said, it makes sense,
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Her friend said, that's odd!
Why use the past pluperfect tense?
-My Favorite Dirty Limerick, sometimes attributed to Isaac Asimov

For those of you who are higher minded than I (this would not be difficult), I apologize for the lowering of the tone of this blog. I'd say I'll never do it again, but we all know that's not true.

By now most of you may have read the study that says that the oceans will be entirely depleted of edible fish by 2048 at present rates of consumption. Now speaking as a girl from the Massachusetts coast, the granddaughter and step-sister of fishermen, and someone who thinks that there really is no such thing as too much sushi, fish is practically an article of faith. And within my lifetime, it may all be gone. I've cut way back on fish over the last few years, because mercury and PCB contamination are bad news for pregnant women and nursing mothers, but I do miss it.

Now this is terrifically sad for me, of course - my culture too is tied up in its food - but it is really terrifying for people whose indigenous diets revolve around fish. Most Island and Arctic peoples rely on fish for a large percentage of their diet. They're already struggling with rising seas, melting ice and mercury and PCB contamination of their staple food - and now they stand to lose fish altogether.

There are 1 billion people who rely on fish or fish predators as their primary source of animal protein, and another 3 billion people who eat it regularly. But the big problems come from industrialized nations - the US, Japan, Britain, where we increasingly want to eat a lot of fish and seafood imported from far away. Our own waters are depleted, so we go off to the waters of other people, and take their fish. And the oceans cannot endure it.

This is an even bigger problem because we are entering a period in which food supplies themselves are destabilizing. Recent research documents that we are already seeing significant declines in crop yields because of global warming, and that over the next few decades we may be producing up to 30% less per acre of most staple grain crops, including wheat, rice, soy and corn. Add that to increasing desertification, increasing soil and water depletion, the movement towards using food crops for fuel, a rising population (by 2030 at present rates of increase, China alone will consume 2/3 of the world's grain harvest), and risings costs and potentially decreasing availability of fossil fuels for agriculture, and over the next 4 decades, we may well see a world much shorter of food than we are now.

You all know what I'm going to say, of course - we simply cannot afford to lose fish too. Which means we in the industrialized world have to eat less fish - period. Even those of us on coasts, who can fit fish into our local diets need to cut *way* back. I must sound like a broken record here - first I tell you to give up flying, then so much meat, now fish. I imagine people are wondering "are we allowed any pleasures at all?

Well, I've decided I can eat sushi once a year. For the rest, time to switch my beloved fish and corn chowder down to just (or mostly) corn. And that's it for most of the scrod - at least of the fishy type - the other sort, well, that's low impact, sustainable, good exercise and a good distraction from lack of fish at dinner ;-). So yes, there's still at least one pleasure left ;-).



Chelee said...

I personally love veggie sushi:).

Anonymous said...

Personally, I miss the past pluperfect scrod - those were the days.

But seriously I am appalled at the sight on TV of fishing boats hauling in huge nets of fish, picking through what they want and throwing the dead and dying remainder back. The bottom trawlers are worse as they take everything and wreck the environment

Also, I have just inherited a cat who will only eat two varieties of canned fish. When I opened her little tin this morning I thought what a waste - both the tinning and the fish inside the tin. An awful lot of fish must go into cat food


Kiashu said...

On the positive side, recently South Pacific nations agreed to effectively cease the practice of bottom-trawling, as you can read here at the BBC. It's not much on a global scale, but it's something.

In terms of fish farming, it should be noted that something like a quarter of the world's fish for human consumption are now produced in fish farms - especially in China. Unfortunately, these fish are often consuming sea fish - when they do trawling, anything they reject for human consumption goes into making fish meal, then pellets, which go to the fish farms. Across the world, about 1/4-1/3 of the wild fish caught go to feeding other fish in farms. Also, the fish farms take in a lot of grain.

Somewhat promising is the practice of aquaponics. One system is to have water circulating from fish ponds to vegetable beds; the vegetables take up the fish poo, cleaning the water and being nourished. Again, for these systems there's a large input of fish or grain pellets (depending on which species you choose).

Nonetheless, this sort of small-scale stuff seems promising, and seems overall a less wasteful process than current commercial fishing methods.

You could probably get a fish a week with a fairly small setup ;)

John said...

Two sides of one thought come to mind. I don't have hard statistics to back this up, but I know that more and more farmers have been turning to raising fish on their farms. It's relatively easy and lucrative. Even here in Rhode Island, I'm seeing more fish in stores that are "farm-raised." My point on the one hand is that the fish in the ocean aren't the only fish out there, but I don't say that with anything like hope, just to point out the fact. However, that farm-raised fish is, if I'm not mistaken, largely fed a diet of corn, and from what I've read it seems likely that such fish will be less healthy for us--just as traditional farm animals raised on a corn diet tend to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, the same would likely be true with corn-fed fish.

RAS said...

Farm fish aren't just less healthy because of their diet, but because they have higher concentrations of pollutants in their bloodstream. Also, farm-raised salmon are so off color the flesh has to be dyed so it will look right and people will eat it.

Sharon, I agree with the idea of eating less fish (I've had fish once this year) but I have NO idea what that limerick means. Obviously, I do not have a dirty mind. ;-)

Kiashu said...

Fish farming can be sustainable, and provide us with good and healthy fish. Just as the Amerindians had the corn-maize-squash triangle, so too in south eastern Asia they had the rice-ducks-fish triangle.

It means we eat less fish than we currently do, but that's the same with everything - if we want to be able to have as much tomorrow as today, then we must have less today.

M.Squirrel said...

As a people, we eat way too much animal flesh, period. We're in a world where the quarter pounder is snack, and a 14 oz. steak is dinner. (Although I can make an 8 oz. steak feed five people, and have left-overs).

The fish that are thrown away would be known in my neck of the woods (with no ocean-side) as "pan-fish". Frankly, I've eaten pan-fish, from both fresh water and salt water, and loved both. These fish that are thrown overboard could easily feed anonymous #1's cat.

And sadly enough, the fish that I love the best, whether from sea or salt water, I can't find. Why? Because American businesses have decided its "too cheap" of a fish to sell. And it, too, makes my favorite sushi.

Anonymous said...

The pressure on pregnant women (or worse, all girls and women) to avoid fish because of the mercury is alarmist hype that does real damage to babies as well as women. The "good" oils in fish, which are otherwise underrepresented in the modern diet, are necessary for proper brain development. A large recent study found that women who ate plenty of fish while pregnant had kids with IQs several points higher than the children of non-fish eaters. Another way to look at that, since fish is a natural part of the human diet, is that the women who avoided fish had their children's IQs LOWERED as a result. Some years back, there was a study of women on a Pacific island with much higher contamination levels and there was still no correlation at all between amount of fish eaten and any negative outcome. IMHO, some of the people who push this phobia are vegan activists who are happy to threaten that your baby could be retarded if you eat fish [meat], just like the anti-choice crowd who tell you that you'll get breast cancer if you have an abortion. They don't care if it's true, so long as it gets you doing what they want.

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