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An explanation of our oceans

November 19, 2011

Something happened the other night. I got home from work and my roommate was preparing fish for dinner. I asked what kind of fish she was making and she said “I get whatever is on sale at Whole Foods.” And there it was, my opportunity to be a good environmentalist, my 15 minutes up on the soapbox. My head swelled with what to say first and my mouth tripped over some of the thoughts as they stumbled out. It was awkward and probably not as informative as I hoped, but what I wanted to say was:

You really ought to think about what kind of fish you’re eating, how often you’re eating it and why you’re eating it. And . . .

Do you know that in the past 50 or so years, we’ve taken and eaten 90% of the big fish in the sea?

Do you care that for every pound of fish that goes to market, more than 10 lbs or 100 lbs is thrown away as by-catch (dolphins, turtles, whales, sharks…)

I thought back to several of my favorite TED talks including this one by Sylvia Earle and Dan Barber’s How I fell in love with a fish. I thought about a book I read recently by Paul Greenberg called Four Fish that lays out the history and future of tuna, cod, sea bass and salmon.

How could I best explain fish farming?

And how could I get across the idea that what we put into the ocean is what ends up on our dinner plates? That my stomach gets a little queasy every time I hear about the quantities of oil pouring into our ocean from spills or the toxins that accumulate up the food chain to the big predators and into our mouths?

And what about unimaginable quantities of plastic floating in the Pacific and filling up the stomachs of seabirds, turtles, fish and other wildlife?

I thought of telling her to watch the documentary The End of the Line or to at least watch the trailer to learn more about fishing practices and what the demand for seafood is doing to our oceans:

I hoped to convey the lack of regulation in the fish market by telling her about the recent Boston Globe expose on mislabeling of fish in local Boston restaurants. Or how Whole Foods as done a superb job marketing themselves as selling “sustainable” food even though many of the species of fish they sell are clearly on “avoid” lists like that of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

I wanted to explain fishing methods and why bottom trawling causes utter devastation ocean’s floor and ecosystems.

I thought about trying to get her to see that bluefin tuna which are closer to extinction every day grow to over 6 feet long and can swim at speeds of 40 mph and are really beautiful animals.

via national geographic

But really, when all was said and done, my 15 minutes were up and I was disappointed in myself for not being able to give a succinct 5-point essay on why I sigh every time I see someone eating seafood. It’s really a bit of everything I guess. We are making progress with the protection of land-based systems, but the majority of the public still sees the ocean as something so vast that no matter what we do to it, no matter what we put into it, it won’t matter. We know better.

And as Sylvia Earle said in her TED talk, with knowing comes caring, and with caring comes hope.

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