Why eating fish is not okay and why it has nothing to do with your ethics.

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The fish issue

Some vegetarians like to eat fish. People think meat might be a problem for numerous reasons – global warming, animal cruelty, resources use… With fish we judge on different levels rightly or wrongly. They are not mammals so maybe we don’t believe in or empathise truly with their possible pain and suffering. And as far as people are concerned eating fish is not bad for the planet.

In recent years there has been more talk of overfishing and sustainably sourced fish. We are told that it is bad to eat this fish right now. So maybe we should eat this other fish instead until the population of the first fish manages to rejuvenate itself. This all seems incredibly responsible and if we were all to eat sustainably sourced fish surely there would be no problem.

But there is a problem and the problem is that there is no such thing as sustainably sourced fish.

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Sustainably empty

The idea that a certain fish is sustainable implies that the fish population is keeping up with consumer demand, ie that fish are reproducing at the same rate that they are hooked and turned into sushi. This is very far from the case. World fish reserves are at the lowest they’ve ever been and the world’s appetite for fish is at it’s highest. At the rate that we are consuming fish we run a real risk of eating our oceans into extinction.

This is very difficult to believe because our oceans are vast, but so is the human population. In 2006 Boris Worm was part of a study predicting that our oceans could be empty by 2048 if conservation action was not taken. For such a scary prediction there has been frighteningly little awareness or response. The study advocated creating no fishing zones to regenerate biodiversity and protect ecosystems. But the only thing we can do to fix the dwindling population of our oceans is to curb our appetite for fish. This is the simplest thing in the world. We are eating more in a year than the ocean is producing in a year. There is nothing sustainable about this.

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The growing emptiness of our oceans is illustrated by the increasingly destructive fishing methods that are having to be utilised in order to keep up with demand. Trawlers rake the ocean beds, bulldozing habitats and marine life in order to scrape up every last fish and killing many other marine species in the process which are discarded as by-kill.

Even farmed fish is problematic for this reason. Small fish like sardines are used as fish food and continuing to farm fish in the manner and scale that we do could drive those small species to extinction.

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Love fish, hate fishing

It seems that every way you turn there is no way out of the issue which is that we should not, under any circumstances, be eating fish right now. If the world does not wake up until it is too late then we will be forced to deal with the far reaching consequences of a dead ocean. Converting to veggie sushi and tofish and chips is a small price to pay for a vibrant marine ecosystem. Two thirds of our planet is an underwater world and we have been neglecting it for long enough.

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