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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 5:12 am | Mostly Cloudy 52º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: For Love of All the Fish in Sea

I remember fishing with my dad, using mussels on a simple hook to catch perch in the surf. We would fry them up on a scrapwood fire right on the beach. I wasn’t much of a fish connoisseur, but to me it tasted like the whole ocean: crispy, creamy, salty, sandy and above all, fresh.

When I first realized that fish were swimming right there among us, I was a little anxious about swimming in the ocean. I still think of this when I venture in the surf now, but these days there’s less chance of an encounter.

In the last 50 years, commercial fishing has hunted out two and a half times more fish than its population can sustain. Of the largest predator species, 90 percent of their respective populations have disappeared since the 1950s.

This is a whale of a problem for non-fish consumers as well as avid fish lovers.

Fish gourmands (my husband among them) may have noticed the increasing impoverishment of their options. In the same way that we’ve narrowed our meat diet to cow, chicken, sheep and pig, our fish choices have narrowed mainly to shrimp, tuna, salmon and cod.

None of these is being fished sustainably, for reasons as diverse as habitat destruction, carbon-intensive feed and bycatch.

I’m an indifferent fish eater who serves fish mainly for health reasons, but you’re probably one step ahead of me in wondering if fish is really a healthy choice anymore.

Many favored fish live decades in the ocean. Mercury accumulates in these top predators, especially tuna, swordfish, halibut and orange roughy, so human health concerns may dictate reducing fish consumption. Meanwhile, factory ships with fifty-mile long nets result in far more wasted bycatch than catch.

If you’re not really into fish eating, you may shrug at yet another resource that has been more than maxed out, but the emptying ocean affects us all.

At a time when one billion people are malnourished, fish production has been flat for decades. World population is expected to increase by two and a half billion in the next 35 years.

Aquaculture is one promising solution, but has quickly taken on agribusiness-like labels. It can pollute, destroy habitat and be inefficient. Farmed tuna, for instance, requires 15 pounds of feed per pound of tuna. Fortunately, great strides are being made in fish farming.

Whole cycle deep sea farming maintains kelp forests in a healthy nutrient cycle, and former estuaries drained for cattle lots in Spain have been rehabilitated for fish farms.

If fish eating is part of what makes life livable for you, you can encourage fish sellers and restaurants to operate their businesses sustainably. Get in the habit of asking about seafood’s sources:

» Where is it from?

» Who raised it?

» What did it eat?

With the pressure of educated consumers, they will listen, and we all will benefit.

Eating low on the food chain — vegetables or vegetarian animals — is superior for our own health and the health of the earth.

A good example of eating lower on the food chain is the mussels we used to gather for bait. Mussels are now often plated instead of baited. They’re too slimy for me: I don’t think I’d eat a mussel for all the fish in the sea.

I just hope that isn’t an empty threat.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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