Sunday, July 29, 2007

But what about fish?

As a vegan, this is a question people commonly ask me concerning my diet. It's true, the issues surrounding the consumption of sea creatures are slightly different from those surrounding traditional farm animals like cows, pigs, and chickens. Admittedly, sea"food" was the last animal product that I removed from my diet, even after turning from eggs and dairy milk. But there are important issues, and once I became aware of the truth about fish consumption, I could not justify consuming it anymore. The seafood industry may very well be the most environmentally devastating aspect of modern-day animal consumption.

The following information is taken directly from a pamphlet published by Farm Sanctuary, and it covers the topic of fish consumption so well that I thought it would be best to share their words with you rather than try and phrase it myself.

For millennia, fish have been taken from the world's oceans, lakes and rivers and consumed as food. Long gone, however, are the days of individual fishers seeking out a catch. Today, global fish production exceeds that of cattle, sheep, poultry, or eggs, and consumer demand for seafood is driving ocean life to extinction.

Over the latter half of the 20th century, new technologies have enhanced the ability to locate and entrap fish, and wild catches have increased to nearly 90 million tons of fish per year. High-tech fishing fleets use props, such as airplanes, radios, seafloor maps, and video sonar, to track down fish schools. Large nets are used to drag up coral and every living creature on the sea floor. As a result, wild fish and sea life populations have been decimated.

In addition to profitable fish sought by factory trawlers, "economically useless" sea life, including nearly 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises, drown in fishing nets each day. The dead and dying "bycatch," comprised of marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, and invertebrates, are thrown back into the water. Worldwide, 30 million tons, or one in every four caught sea life, are unwanted and discarded each year. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences states that fishing--not global warming or pollution--is the greatest single threat to the diversity of ocean life in the world's oceans.

The Problem of Overfishing

Many people have the impression that fish are a renewable or inexhaustible resource, but the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization reports that 70 percent of the world's commercially important marine fish stocks are fully fished, overexploited or depleted. In addition, the ocean habitat is being destroyed. Once-common fish are now approaching endangered levels, including tuna, salmon, haddock, halibut, and cod.

During the 19th century, codfish weighing up to 200 pounds were routinely caught. Nowadays, a 40-pound cod is considered a giant. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that merely to maintain existing rates of fish consumption would require an extra 15.5 to 20 million tons of fish by 2010.

Fish Farms--The Nasty Reality

Farm-raised fish account for one-third of the world's seafood, including nearly all the catfish and trout, and almost half of the shrimp and salmon, consumed in the U.S. Fish farmers commonly feed wild fish to farmed fish and destroy fish habitats by collecting wild fish to stock fish farms. It takes about three pounds of wild-caught fish to grow only one pound of shrimp or salmon.

Raised fin-to-fin in excrement-laden saltwater feedlots, the penned fish are fed ground up fishmeal and oil pellets engineered for fast growth, treated with antibiotics to fight disease, and commonly stimulated with growth hormones. The overcrowded fish are susceptible to disease and suffocation. The FDA Veterinarian Newsletter reports that fish farmers "...use chemicals as disinfectants and to kill bacteria; herbicides to prevent the overgrowth of vegetation in ponds; vaccines to fight certain diseases; and drugs--usually combined in the feed--to treat diseases and parasites."

Densely packed salmon farms in British Columbia, Canada operate in coastal estuaries and produce massive quantities of waste each year, including manure, fertilizer and fishmeal, equivalent to the levels of waste generated by half a million people, destroying fragile estuaries.

Hatchery-raised fish spell trouble for their wild-born cousins by spreading genetic traits that impede survival. Science magazine reveals that, compared to wild salmon, farm-raised salmon laid significantly smaller eggs within just four generations, and these eggs were less likely to survive. Farm-raised fish typically escape or are released and breed with wild-born fish.

And Yes, Fish Are Animals Too

Though commonly assumed that fish do not feel pain, the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh report that fish respond to damaging stimuli and chemicals, and that injured fish experience "profound behavioural and psychological changes" comparable to those seen in mammals.

Anatomical, pharmalogical and behavioral data suggest that affective states of pain, fear and stress are likely to be experienced by fish in similar ways as in tetrapods, or land-living vertebrates. This indicates that fish have the capacity to suffer and that their welfare should be taken into account.

A few other things to note: When we go into a restaurant and order wild-caught fish, chances are that fish was caught in far-distant waters. Overfishing and bycatch aside, just imagine the resources consumed in moving that fish from its native waters to your plate. On the other hand, your fish may be farm-raised--in which case, as we've already seen, raising that fish likely increased pollution of marine waters and even groundwater, endangered the survival of its wild-born populations by spreading diseases and genetic mutations, and imposed horribly cramped, painful conditions on other living beings (which, of course, are capable of suffering just like any other creature).

I grew up on the coast, dining on fresh flounder and shrimp and crab, and sea creatures were my favorite food for most of my life. When I began considering becoming vegan, I thought I would never be able to give up fish. But I did give them up, and I know that it was the right choice--knowing the consequences of consuming sea"food" products, my excuse of I like it too much to give it up held no relevance. And trust me, life goes on--your tastes change, you begin to love foods that you never gave a chance before, and you come to enjoy a diet which is more peaceful and more sustainable... and you realize that you do not need to put flesh in your mouth to be happy.

1 comment:

KleoPatra said...

i'm a Pisces... and even if one doesn't "buy into" astrology, i still have always felt a strong connection to fish. It was the last "animal" i gave up when i decided to stop eating "anything with a face." Fish feel pain and i can't tell you how it hurts when i go running and i see peeps fishing... and watch what happens when one of these beautiful swimming creatures is caught - the whole thing is just incredibly torturous for the fish, and for me. I avert my eyes but my heart remains heavy. Just senseless, like the killing of any animal...

Thanks for another thought-provoking, insightful post, Laura.