Everyone extols the health benefits of eating fish, and we have responded through our diets. Americans have gone from consuming 22 pounds of fish per person per year in the 1960s to over 45 pounds of fish per person per year in 2016—this is the highest rate of fish consumption in history. In turn, it’s not a surprise that the state of global fisheries is declining. 90 percent of fisheries are considered over-expended or fully collapsed, and this doesn’t even consider damage to other species habitats, such as otters or turtles.
So how are we meeting this intense demand for fish? “Fish farms” have been created to meet the demand in the face of spent fisheries. In fish farming (or “aquaculture”), fish are raised in pens or enclosures in bodies of water, and are fed fish, fish meal, fish oil, as well as antibiotics to protect them from disease and parasites. Starting in 2014, more fish we ate were farmed fish than wild caught. (In fact, all the fish you eat is from a fish farm unless otherwise noted on the package.) But this isn’t a solution that bypasses our reliance on the earth—even fish farms depend on the sea, for example for supplies of eggs and for fish like sardines and anchovies to feed farmed fish.
Fish farming is also not considered efficient. Most often, more fish are needed to feed a farmed fish than the meat that fish produces. It takes a fish like tuna 1.5 pounds of fish for to gain 1 pound. Salmon are more efficient, needing only a pound of fish to gain a pound.
So how can you help save the earth’s oceans just by what you put on your plate? It’s easier than you think and can make a huge impact with just a few easy choices.
1. Clams, mussels, and oysters are a best bet.
Unlike fish and shrimp farmed species, which can escape pens as an invasive species and transmit diseases or prey on local populations of fish, these mollusks thrive in a farmed environment. Not only do they thrive, they are filter-feeders, so they actually clean the ocean water they live in and boost local ecosystems. (Scallops are pretty good in this sense too, but have caused some negative impacts that the others don’t.)
2. Eat low on the food chain.
Building on #1, the lower on the marine food chain we eat, the less we have contributed to the inefficiency described above—other fish being fed to the predatory fish just to create pounds of meat. Sardines and anchovies are the best, as these are fish that only eat algae and plankton, plants and organisms that are plentiful and easily reproduce. But don’t worry, there are other good options, shrimp, haddock (although they are a vulnerable species), and even salmon are lower on the food chain. Here are mega-predators to avoid: swordfish, tuna, kingfish, sea bass—oh and obviously, shark!
3. Educate yourself.
There’s a lot of hope for world’s oceans. Removing human impacts from an ocean system can enable it to completely rebound within 5-10 years—this has been tested and proven! Little things we do today can help restore the oceans and marine wildlife we love.
Information used in this blog was provided by Kara Pellowe, PhD student in marine conservation science, at the 2017 iV Conference.