Looking below the surface

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” — Chinese Proverb.

Seafood is easy to prepare, nutritious and delicious. It’s the second most consumed food source worldwide after cereals. But at current rates of catch, due to commercial fishing — fleets of super trawlers and commercial ships aided by spotter planes — it’ll also soon be unavailable. Average catches are up but average fish sizes are smaller than ever; we’re depleting the resource.

The discussion surrounding proposed regulation on international shark trade at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is evidence that some people are concerned, but the baby steps taken are ineffective. The statement basically says we shouldn’t kill so many sharks. Canada has a small shark fishery going after the porbeagle, a species categorized as vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered in its various zones, and the spiny dogfish which is classified as vulnerable globally, and critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic. We refuse to give it up.

In Richmond, B.C., the city council refused to ban the sale of shark fin soup saying it would be out of line with ethnic sensitivities. Apparently “ethnic sensitivities” trump the reality of poor animals having major body parts chopped off and then thrown back into the water to die excruciating deaths. Another Chinese proverb says anything with four legs can be eaten, except the table, while Chinese writer Lin Yutang wrote, “We eat everything on earth that is edible; crabs by way of preference, the bark of trees when we must.” This goes for finned creatures too.

To prevent me from being the world’s most boring gloom monger here’s a spark of good news. It’s been reported that the Japanese are losing their appetite for whale meat. It’s taken 50 years for some of them to do so. Marine populations don’t have the luxury of surviving that long. Without real leadership all marine creatures will face drastic and possibly irreversible crashes in numbers.

Even my most ardent environmentalist friends are clueless about the extent of the devastation of the resource. They say the reasons for fisheries’ troubles are oil spills, pollution, global warming and acidification of the seas. They have a point, but what really kills 110 million tonnes of fish annually, never mind the other hundreds of millions of tonnes of so called bycatch (turtles, seals, dolphins and smaller fish), is commercial fishing.

“Save the fish, be a warmonger” isn’t exactly what I’m proposing. Despite the proliferation of sushi restaurants creating wonderful new dishes with excellent preparation, a year ago I made the decision not to touch seafood. Let’s eat those flatulent cattle and pigs for a while and give all seafood a break. Bon appetit!

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