My love affair for fish has appropriately become something of the not so distant past. Shocking and disturbing footage broadcast on Channel 4’s Big Fish Fight has inspired me to dump over-exploited species such as cod, salmon and tuna and try my luck with other varieties of fish that have pointlessly remained unpopular largely due to their potent ‘fishiness’ or numerable bones. Many supermarkets have invested in technologies associated with the removal of bones in fish, and can now produce perfect fillets. Despite this, the consumer generally remains reluctant to embrace what local seas have on offer. This dominant consumer behaviour and the fishing industry behind it are deeply unsettling and here are the reasons why.
Half of the fish we consume comes from cod, salmon and tuna, yet the over-exploitation and continuing demand for these species means that our own stocks are rapidly declining. As a result we source the desired fish quota from other communities whose survival can often depend on them. Evidently this is socially problematic.
The second issue arises around the horrifying EU laws on fishing quotas. In an attempt to get a grip on declining stocks, quotas were enforced as an attempt to prevent the over fishing of popular species. The unforeseen result was an improvident nightmare; commercial fishing techniques imprecisely plough the sea, gathering numerous species that exceed their quotas. Landing fish that are not contained in their quota is a breach of the law and as a result, fishermen are forced to discard up to 80% of their dead catch back into the sea, annually wasting up to 1 million tonnes of fish in the North Sea alone. The laws do not aid declining stocks; in fact they have instigated a further moral crime.
Furthermore, there are dilemmas associated with aquaculture, found most controversially in the farming of salmon. In order to produce one kilo of farmed salmon, you need to feed it three kilos of wild fish such as sardines, herring or anchovies. This is how salmon achieves high levels of Omega 3. As the salmon farming industry expands, increasing amounts of wild fish are needed. These are extracted from the sea, leaving wild salmon extremely hungry. Current approaches to salmon farming not only threaten wild salmon and their ability to rejuvenate but also destroy populations of smaller wild fish whose prominence is vital to the food chain.
Lastly, but by no means least, are the concerns about decreasing tuna stocks. In a report last year from the WWF, if fishing continues at current rates, the Atlantic bluefin tuna (which can accelerate faster than a Porsche) would be “functionally extinct” in less than three years. These fish are a major part of people’s diets all over the world, yet globally their populations are being dangerously jeopardised by fis0hing techniques called FAD (fish aggregating devices.) These ships or mini factories are accountable for 70% of the world’s tuna fishing, and capture a large variety of unwanted by-catch such as sharks, dolphins, skate and turtle. A large proportion of the tuna caught with these methods will be made into tinned tuna or will be exported to sushi restaurants all around the world; devastating tuna populations. The haunting element in all of this is that if we can’t change our consumer behaviour now. Using tuna for sushi will be as impossible as a dodo roast dinner.
Our failure to change consumer behaviour will result in some of our most loved and delicious species becoming fully exploited. Campaigners are not asking consumers to never eat popular species again, but to reduce the amount we buy and try to become more adventurous with a wider variety of sustainable (and cheaper) fish such as coley, hake, mackerel, whiting, pollock and sole, just to name a few! The consumer, and student alike, must play a central part in radically transforming the crisis in our oceans before it hits our plates.
Look out for the label below on any sea food you buy from a supermarket, and sign the campaign to end discards at http://www.fishfight.net/
Five student unions in the Greater Manchester area, collectively called the Greater Manchester Student Assembly, have written to Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, to petition him for a £1.50 cap on public transport for students.