A SEA CHANGE (Or, No More Tuna Sarnies)
By Chris Vick
I’m writing this blog in response to the recent Netflix film, Seaspiracy and questions it inspires, that I’m getting asked daily:
‘Should I give up eating fish?’ and, ‘This is awful…What can we do?’
If you haven’t seen it, Seaspiracy is a film by Ali Tabrizi. He travels the world, exploring the scale and impact of commercial fishing; on fish ‘stocks;’ on plastic pollution (a lot of it is fishing gear); on the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon; on whales and dolphins, other marine mammals and birdlife.
It’s not a perfect film, it gets a few things wrong, and arguably paints all of the fishing industry with the same brush, when it’s really a lot more complex than that. There are bad actors and practices, but there’s plenty of good ones too.
However, there’s no denying the power of its brutal and simple message: The status quo is an environmental and conservation disaster. If we don’t make changes, and quickly - there won’t be much ‘ocean’ left to protect. Just a lot of plastic filled salt-water , an aquatic desert, stripped of the coral, sharks, dolphins and fish that once lived there.
I’ve worked in marine conservation a long time. I’m also a member of Authors4Oceans, and – like all of us A4O authors - I put a lot of sea and storms into my salty adventures and tall tales. I usually sneak in a bit of ‘conservation’ while I’m at it.
So, no surprise I’m getting asked those questions, really. And what answer, you might ask, am I giving?
Well here is the hard truth. My answer has been, ‘Well, I’m not really sure.’ And for someone in my position, that’s really not a good enough response. Hence this blog. Bear with me.
For several years now our family has been pescatarian (a fish and vegetable diet). Eating less or no meat is a good, simple, way to reduce our carbon footprint. And there’s the animal welfare issue. And fish is healthier.
So there’s a lot of Rick Stein cook books on our kitchen shelves. Sure, I know there are issues with fishing, but as long as I avoid the worst products and the label says ‘dolphin friendly’ on the can, it’s still okay to put fish on the barby. Right?
Seaspiracy kind of changed my mind. And nothing I’ve seen, in researching its claims, and/or the issues it explores has changed it back again. So for me, it’s no more tuna sarnies on the beach.
And my answers, now, to those questions are perhaps a bit clearer and stronger:
‘Should I give up eating fish?’
It’s definitely an option. But for a lot of folk around the world it isn’t. Plus, not all fishing is ‘bad.’ There are fishing operators that are small scale, sustainable and responsible. Supporting them will speed up the rate of change…if you can find them.
So sure, give up if you want, but you don’t have to if you make informed, researched choices.
‘What can we do?’
This might surprise you. Nothing. Not in the hopeless sense of the word. I mean saving the ocean isn’t going to be about what we do, it’s going to be about what we stop doing or do a lot less of.
We should all reduce our consumption and ask questions about the fish we do eat. Personally, I’ve cut out farmed fish, and there’s no more tins of tuna, and no more packs of ‘white fish’ and bags of prawns from the frozen section in the supermarket, and no more fish and chips. It really hurts to write that, I’m going to miss fish and chips almost as much as I miss smoking. But as a surfer, I’d miss a healthy ocean a whole lot more.
Mackerel caught by pole and line in Cornwall, I’m still going to eat. And maybe the odd pot caught crab, but that’s about it.
Unless we can be sure our consumption is not doing harm, it might be better to simply ‘take’ less until things get a bit, or a lot, better.
There are signs of hope. Alternative, dolphin safe, fishing techniques are being developed and tested. And when they are widely used, I’ll be the best customer for fish caught in them. But until then, ‘less is more.’ The ocean needs to recover, not least so its system capacity to absorb carbon and produce oxygen can get back to full health.
Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd was interviewed in Seaspiracy, and asked about complex solutions to myriad problems. I don’t always agree with Watson, but what he said about this sticks in the mind. He says the solution is very simple. If you want the ocean to recover, leave it alone.
Christopher Vick is the author of Girl, Boy, Sea