Fish and seafood are excellent sources of protein, and if of the right varieties, also of Omega 3s (DHA and EPA), Vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium, iodine and potassium. As such they can contribute to our immune system function, our brain function, our metabolism, our thyroid function, our nerve functions and our bone strength. Eating fish is widely considered good for us. (British Nutrition Foundation)
However fishing … and in particular the commercial and large-scale fishing industry … is fraught with difficulties surrounding sustainability (wild catch), animal welfare (fish farming) and the general destruction of our vital marine habitats that both of these can cause.
And so I often find myself asking the questions “should I eat fish?” and “should I eat other seafood?” It’s a shame I need to ask these questions. I love fish and seafood. I would like to include them in meals many times a week – although even looking for just ‘dolphin friendly’ or ‘MSC certified’ / ‘ASC certified’ in the hopes this will do the job of keeping me ‘ethical’ the price is a bit prohibitive. However, I don’t even know if these labels mean anything substantial. I recently saw pre-pack of cod labelled both “trawler caught” and MSC Certified! Maybe I’m behind the times, but when I was in school and just starting to think about these things in the 1990’s “trawler caught” was about as bad as it got – on a par with “battery eggs” – pictures of whales, dolphins, turtles all caught up in the nets, dead.
Now obviously not all seafood and not all fish are equal – Even within the bounds of MSC / ASC certified, and especially if we consider all animal food from the seas. Just as a battery raised, super-speedily fattened, antibiotic filled (and soon even possibly chlorine -washed) chicken can not be lumped together with a slow grown, naturally raised calf-at-foot, pastured-cow beef joint when we consider the ethics of meat eating, we also cannot lump together rope grown Scottish mussels harvested at the right time of year with trawler caught cod. But underlying that, there is a valid broader question … Can our seas, in their current state sustain any further loss?
Small fishing communities around the UK had thrived for years on small day-boat catches until the supertrawlers and large-scale industry really took off after the second world war. Although commercial fishing had started in the 19th Century, it was the technological advances, particularly in materials that led to the huge scale up in the 1950’s … and this included not just the ability to fish by trawl and seine but also the use of plastic netting. .. Both it seems may have had devastating consequences. (https://www.britannica.com/technology/commercial-fishing/History-of-commercial-fishing) Unfortunately many small fishing communities are now struggling – not just from the financial implications of large scale economics, but also because in some areas fish stocks are so depleted that there is nothing there for them to catch.
Because of the current state of our seas there is a concerted effort amongst environmentalists to create truly protected international ocean zones to help the seas to re-establish. Campaigns such as the “30 x 30” campaign, which are officially endorsed by both our government and the EU. .. with the UK government actually leading the official global alliance. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-creates-global-alliance-to-help-protect-the-worlds-ocean
Obviously our seas need protection, and so maybe we should not eat seafood was where I was starting to get to. And then I got an email from Greenpeace…
It asked me to sign the petition to prevent Supertrawlers from pillaging international Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (Greenpeace Press Release, Greenpeace petition). It states that in 2019, in international waters off the UK coast supertrawlers spent 2963 hours (equiv. 123 days non-stop) fishing in MPAs, without any admonishment. I was a bit baffled as we in the UK are leading this alliance. …
I went onto the Greenpeace website and found the articles above and several others. I also found an excellent article on why Greenpeace supports local fishing and why it can in the long run be good for our planet. (https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/why-greenpeace-supports-local-fishing/). This makes sense to me. It shows that once again we are looking at a nuanced question. It reminds me again that thinking about our world as ‘we’ the humans and ‘they’ the animals, plants, biomes, habits etc that are not human is a ridiculous division. We, humans, are part of our planet. In animal terms we are top predators who have outstripped our natural population ceiling and continue to do so, but maybe we can do so in a way that works, if we are careful.
So I think I will continue to eat fish – but maybe not fish bought from a supermarket, and maybe not when I’m at home in “Hertfordshire-far-from-the-Sea”. I think I will choose to support local fishing, and buy it if possible straight off the boat when we visit family and friends in Devon and Cornwall, and the North coast of Norfolk. It won’t be frequent, but I’ll really relish it when we go.