In combination of my Climate Change Challenge and Plastic Free July campaign, I have been learning some staggering and sobering facts when it comes to my diet. It is a hard one to convince others of these societal implications when it comes to our food, however I have found the information I am learning so powerful and meaningful it literally has put a foul taste in my mouth.
My big news — I am done with fish.
We are on the brink of a sixth, mass-extinction here on Earth. This global decline of species most indefinitely has something to do with human activity, and until us as humanity slows down our consumption and reverses our negative influences, my plate shall remain empty of marine life.
Yep, thats right. No salmon lox bagels. No oysters on the halfshell. No spicy tuna rolls. No shrimp scampi. No. No. No.
Here is why. It’s no longer the healthy, versatile, alternative-protein anymore. It’s the fault of climate change. (What I refer to as “climate change” in this instance is to all of human activity destroying ecosystems, not just carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.) Between our oceans waters warming/acidifying, becoming more toxic by the minute due to plastic pollution and sewage dumping, and then pack on the overfishing and decimating of fish and coral populations, it is becoming fairly obvious that as humans we lack respect for the circle of life — or at least we have lost the personal connection to the oceans.
I grew up on the ocean. I was familiar with crabbing, fishing and exploring tidepools. My family’s friends were fishermen. It was a local staple in our diets and contributor to our economy. However as of right now, food chains in the ocean are become destroyed at every level, in every corner of the globe. Fish populations can no longer keep up with human demand, as well as provide enough resources for other marine life in the food chain. Our necessity for consumption is destroying the scales of nature. But why?
Here are some facts:
90% of world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished. Thats right, where there is biodiverse areas where fish can be found — we as humans have depleted those numbers by 90%. That means we have 10% of fish species left to sustain our eating habits, but that number is quickly going to disappear as well considering we are not giving marine species a chance to reproduce — because they cannot find enough food for themselves — or their food sources are contaminated. (1)
Also known as bottom-feeders and the ocean’s water filters, these oysters, crabs, mussels, and lobsters are now all victim. They are now the vessels in which our sewage, plastics, and other unnatural pollutants are going through these crustaceous and bivalve membranes and ending up in our bouillabaisse. For a consistent consumer of these type of foods, dietary exposure of 11,000 microplastics per year enter our own intestinal gut (2). We are what we eat. Fish eat plastic, we eat fish. Ipso, facto, we are eating plastic.
Heard of bycatch?
I learned a staggering fact that up to 40% of marine life caught in nets and onlines end up being unwanted fish and endangered species. That means whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles, other fish, and marine birds are all ending up unwanted in fishing nets, and rarely getting a second chance at life after their unfortunate encounter. It’s estimated many fisheries discard more fish at sea as their bycatches than they end up bringing back to port to sell. (3)
That shrimp cocktail you had as an appetizer? Probably cost the life of a sea turtle. Fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico, a large shrimping operation for the United States, use large bottom nets known as trawls that can catch up to 70% of bycatch in shrimp fishing practices.
Remember when dolphin-safe tuna was a thing? Now we have to be on the look-out for shark-safe tuna. Because it is most likely there are other species of large fish in your sandwich cans. But you will never see turtle-safe or whale-safe, because these industries do not want to bring to light how destructive these practices are to different species. Creatures like this can live up to hundreds of years, and we are robbing them at a chance of life so we can have some grab-and-go-sushi from the corner store. Worth it?
What about farmed fish?
Okay, so maybe you do not care about the wild animals, you just care what is for dinner tonight, and will just resort eating farmed fish instead to not mess with the fragile ecosystems at risk. Right?
Think again. Over 50% of our fish for consumption is now farmed. And usually farmed in unsustainable and unnatural environments. Farmed salmon, for example, has been through much controversy and being deemed as one of the most toxic things you can put in your body per cubic inch of food considered “fit” for human consumption. The pools in which the fish are farmed are otherwise dubbed as “toxic toilets.” These unnatural living conditions utilize diets of chicken fat, soybeans, GMO grain feed, and not always other fish. In the past five years these industries have been struggling with a huge salmon lice epidemic which is forcing farmers to increase pesticides and antibiotics to the masses. This makes the excrement-filled pools a breeding ground for more toxic diseases, and because of these unnatural living conditions, the flesh and health of these animals suffer. Salmon are meant to migrate through open ocean waters, and swim inland through rivers and streams to create new life. Not be bred in pools.
We are not eating what we think we are. These farmed salmon turn a sickly grey color instead of their normal bright pink flesh. The pink — which they normally should get from krill and shrimp, is instead substituted with a dye (astaxanthin) to mimic a healthy looking fish. (4) If we got gross, grey, toxic filled salmon in our stores — would you eat it?
But you are probably thinking — “but I need my omega-3 fatty acids and healthy protein according to nutritionists!” Well do you need a solid dose of toxic byproducts as well? What originally is being sold as healthy is now making us over-consume to the point we are most likely not even eating a natural thing anymore. It now comes as a compromised, dirty, industry that is hurting other species and ecosystems. The climes, they are a changin.
When it comes to our diets — and our food sources — is it healthy and sustainable if we throw out over 50% of fish that comes to market because it goes bad? Half of the fish that you see sitting in the deli, goes into the garbage, which means our unsustainable fishing practices are also unsustainable consumer practices too. (5)
The saddest part about all of this?
What we think is healthy for us is really not healthy at all for our oceans. I recently watched the film Chasing Coral, which day by day documents the decline of these starving reefs due to increasingly warming waters. 20% of our reliance on fish for food as well as 20% biodiversity in the ocean comes from Coral Reefs. Right now, we have exponentially lost 50% of the world’s coral in the past thirty years, and more than 85% of our own backyard American coral here in Florida has already disappeared due to Coral bleaching. These rapid, exponential rates should be a wake-up call of what is to come. It is an apocalyptic war-zone down under the sea, which is what we should expect here on land in the near future if we do not change something, and fast. The results are gut-wrenching and quite alarming to the fact we are going to have a difficult time reversing this one. (6)
I was extremely moved when I watched another film, Racing Extinction. It shared how humans are taking advantage of our resources, instead of working in symbiosis with nature. In this film, a poignant solution to climate change related it to species decline — and that if we work on saving and understanding the diverse species of flora and fauna in the world, we will in turn save ourselves. It shines a light on how important our diet is to changing the fate of the earth. Humans are dependent on earth and the circle of life to provide us food, fuel, air and water, but we seem to be missing that connecting link. (7)
These two films resonated with me by telling the story of animals that dont have a voice of their own. My mind is set, I am ready to make the changes. As a human being, I realize I have the power within my own pocket-book at the grocery store or a restaurant to make an impact on fighting a warming planet. I can choose how I spend my money, and what I put into my body. I choose to vote for a better world with my fork, knife, and wallet.
Humans are overfishing and polluting to the point we are forcing mass extinction towards all species of life, as well as unsustainably consuming unhealthy animals. Will we finally stop once our oceans are sick and there are no more fish to eat? Will we not learn until we are forced to make a choice? This is one simple thing I am foregoing in my life, out of respect to nature and myself — what will yours be?
(To find out what sustainable fishing can look like, and how you should better shop for fish if you are not ready to go 100% free, read this guide by Seafood Watch to learn state-by-state what is sustainable for your area.)