Seafood - A New Form of Factory Farming
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that 950 million people worldwide rely on fish and shellfish for more than one-third of their animal protein. As fisheries and commercial fishing vessels respond to this huge demand, according to the FAO, an estimated 70% of the world's fish species are being exploited or depleted.
FROM THE SEA
Commercial fishing vessels play a huge part in depleting marine populations and their habitats. Where over-fishing persists, it eventually causes the collapse of fish populations because the populations cannot breed fast enough to replace the individuals removed by fishing. In 2006, the International Union for Conservation of Nature included our Atlantic cod on their list of fish that are being threatened with extinction.
Methods used by large-scale fisheries often prove deadly to many other marine creatures who share their home with commercially targeted fish species. Most large scale fishing vessels use huge nets, long-lines and/or bottom trawls which often trap or fatally wound non-target species, such as dolphins, whales, sea lions, seals, manatees, and sea turtles. Bait and catch in nets and on lines also prove to be a fatal attraction to seabirds and other scavengers. Nets lost at sea and the use of dynamite or cyanide to bring fish to the surface, indiscriminately catch and kill marine life, as well as damage ecosystems such as coral reefs.
FROM THE FARM
Fish can be either collected from the wild, as discussed above, or farmed in much the same way as cattle or chickens. Currently, over 70% of the seafood Americans consume is imported and at least 40% of these imports are farmed seafood.
Fish farms raise fish commercially in tanks or enclosures, usually for food. Fish species raised by fish farms include, among others, salmon, catfish, tilapia, cod, carp, and trout. When fish densities are high, such as in these commercial enclosures, the risk of infections by parasites, intestinal worms and bacteria is high because of the ease in which pathogens can invade the fish body through the gills. Water pollution and depletion of oxygen in the water in the commercial enclosures can also swiftly destroy a fish population. Read The Humane Society's report on the welfare of animals in the aquaculture industry.
Sales of wild caught salmon have been on the rise as a result of several factors: a court ruling in 2002 forced retailers to label their pink farmed salmon as "dyed", a growing public awareness of the use of antibiotics in farmed seafood, the surfacing of studies showing higher PCBs in farmed seafood over wild fish, and advertisement campaigns which have promoted the health, taste and environmental friendliness of wild caught over farm raised salmon. At the International Boston Seafood Show in 2003, Legal Sea Foods, owner of 26 restaurants in the U.S., announced the addition of Alaskan caught salmon to their menus. In 2004, a Salmon National Campaign was launched by Ecotrust in an effort to encourage the sale of ocean-caught salmon, as Ecotrust believes this "protects the environment and supports local economies."
Wild caught shrimp have also benefited from new laws governing seafood retail, namely the country of origin labeling law that took effect in 2004. Wild American Shrimp, Inc. is a nonprofit group that represents the interests of wild shrimp harvesters in several of the southern states. Their mission is to "educate consumers about the advantages of choosing seafood that grows naturally, is caught fresh and supports the U.S. seafood industry." The Alliance advertises that wild-caught American shrimp is meaty, tender, and flavorful because of the nutrients derived from its wild habitat. Though not many people know, the cholesterol levels in shrimp match those of red meat!
What can you do?
Sustainably harvested fish, the seafood equivalent of organic fruit and vegetables, is a great example of refinement. Definitions of sustainable vary, but it generally refers to seafood caught or raised in ways that won't deplete stocks and are sensitive to the environment.
Refining your diet by buying fish products made only from sustainably harvested fish helps ensure fish and other marine dwellers live a better life. Click here to read a National Geographic article which contains more information on where to find fish products from more eco-friendly companies. Read a recent New York Times Article on organic fish.
Grocery stores now have a large assortment of delicious fish products to replace those traditionally obtained from fish who are intensively fished or raised. These vegetarian alternatives include fake fish cakes! You can find many of these alternatives in your local grocery store. There are also many wonderful and creative animal-free recipes available on the internet.
If we reduce the consumption of fish products by just one meal a week, we can help decrease the effects of overfishing on the environment as well as on the fish species. Check out creative animal-free recipes available on the internet.