Friday, January 30, 2009

PETA Brands Fish, Sea Kittens

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has attempted to rebrand fish as sea kittens, because kittens are cute and one would never want to eat a kitten (unless you are George Bush). As we overfish our fish and our fish farms become less and less sanitary places, a movement to eat sustainably fished poisson has begun, PETA leading with its sea kitten campaign. But, hold up PETA, kittens don't like water.

Still, PETA's goal to educate fish consumers about the harm their consumption is doing to our underwater friends is well placed. Mark Bittman, in a recent NY Times article, spoke out against how we consume fish. Bittman, always an avid eater of fish and of all things really--considering his NY Times food column and cooking videos--has noticed, as has every person who reads the labels on their fish, that our fish is becoming increasingly raised on farms. As Americans and the world began to increasingly eat fish (global consumption has doubled since 1973, 90 percent of this growth being from developing countries), we also began to over fish the wild populations and had to find a solution to meat the fish consumption demand, which meant farming fish.

This movement to aquaculture, sometimes called the blue revolution, while it superficially stops us from fishing wild fish has us feeding fish with edible food that could be used to feed people; very often, farmed fish are fed smaller foraged, wild fish. What is particularly frustrating about this is that most fish don't convert a high percentage of the food they consume into edible flesh: it takes three kilograms of forage fish to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon, while it take 20 kilograms of forage fish to produce one kilogram of farmed tuna.

There is, however, some "good" aquaculture. China, which accounts for around 70 percent of the world's aquaulture, focuses on herbivorous fish, who consume water plants; this practice, which is often small scale, is not only sustainable but environmentally sound. Industrial aquaculture, on the other hand, is very different. Most fish farms use fish meal, which is made from wild-caught smaller fish, to feed the larger fish; one third of the wold's wild caught fish is reduced to fish meal in addition to a quarter of the wild-caught fish being thrown back, dead, as "bycatch." Considering the inefficiencies of farm raised fish in converting feed mass into human-consumable food mass, using wild-caught fish to raise farmed fish is terribly inefficient. In addition, farm raised fish pollute waters via their fecal waste and degrade the land near to wear they are farmed.

Still, the point is not to stop eating fish all together--sorry PETA, I like it too much and I get grumpy without it. We need to change the fish we eat and the ways we raise fish. Long term, through preservation practices, we can help wild fish populations grow to their original sizes. This means new laws reducing bycatch and regulations on how much fishermen can catch in a certain fishery, a limit which would be a scientifically determined percentage of the harvest. For consumers, this means consuming smaller, more bottom-of-the-food-chain fish, like sardines and anchovies, more frequently, while only consuming more top of the food chain fish, like wild-caught cod and salmon, once a month. Thinking of this another way, we'll be eating tastier wild caught fish while also preserving our ability to eat this fish.

Sorry PETA, your efforts to convince me to stop eating fish by dubbing them sea-kittens has failed, but your heart was in the right place. I'll make sure to only eat wild-caught fish and up my consumption of sardines and anchovies.

No comments: