Sharks kill 12 people per year, people kill 11,417 sharks per hour. Folks, in this consumption cleanse we may well be running out of stuff to eat here, but why are we finning sharks just because certain peoples have small feet? I accept I might lose a billion plus readers from that comment but as at the time of writing I only have 29 followers, so I am going to run with it. Killing a top predator on the false hope that we might wear bigger socks one day is bad enough, but to dump the then mutilated body almost in its entirety back into the sea is a disgraceful waste to boot.
What is it?
I believe and accept that seafood used to be a part of a healthy and balanced diet, albeit replaceable part. Whether it is healthy to catch and eat seafood nowadays is debatable. My approach to this category is more convoluted than other chapters as I’ll be picking and choosing which seafood to eat based on its human and planetary health impacts.
Fisheries that are depleted or over fished or use fishing methods that have large bycatch are excluded from my diet. Anything that is likely to have high mercury or PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls – industrial products or chemicals) content is also off the menu. And lastly I won’t be eating any seafood from large chain supermarkets or that is imported, in particular from anywhere close to the Fukishima nuclear disaster Zone or its subsequent growing radiation plume.
Specifically what species does this exclude?
Fisheries are often vulnerable because they are comprise of the larger marine animals that have a longer life and are slow to reproduce. These animals are also found higher in the food chain and as such have been ingesting more mercury and PCBs for longer so they are not good for you anyway. This category includes Blue-fin, Yellow-fin and Albacore Tuna, Orange Roughy, Halibut, Shark, Swordfish, Marlin, Spanish & King Mackerel, Sea Bass, Grouper & Tilefish. These are the big ones to avoid. For a comprehensive list of seafood and its mercury content I have included a table in the ‘Why Don’t Eat Seafood?’ section. In most cases if it is the small, fast to reproduce species that are neither endangered nor loaded with mercury such as Anchovies and Sardines, then they will remain on my plate.
Of the fisheries that have a poor bycatch record, Mahi-mahi and shrimp take the cake. Shrimp is a tough one because it tastes so good, but in most cases wild-caught shrimp comes from bottom-trawling which always takes a heavy toll on other sea life.
Farmed fish includes ocean and land based farms. If you cannot verify that it is wild-caught, assume it’s farmed. Salmon, excluding Alaskan wild-caught, is usually farmed as is Panga, Tilapia, Carp, Bass, Sturgeon, Trout & Shrimp. In terms of other shell fish I take my guidance from the Blue Ocean Institute in their guide at http://www.blueocean.org/files/Seafood_Guide.pdf.
And watch out for seaweed and kelp from around Japan and China. It’s probably radioactive.
Why Don’t Eat Seafood?
The massive increase in global seafood consumption and the advent of “factory fish farming” has fundamentally changed the very nature of fish as a food and the oceanic environment. Seafood has gone from being abundant and healthy to being on the verge of ecological collapse and toxic to consume. If you are not eating seafood intelligently then you are most likely an accomplice to the poisoning of the earth and your own body.
- Overfishing. Overfishing…is overfishing.
- By Catch. Destructive fishing practises greatly contribute to avoidable depopulation of see life. Large scale fishing produces loads of accidental bycatch that is simply dumped at sea dead or dying. Bottom trawling, the worst offender accounting for 50% of global bycatch, drags nets across the ocean floor to catch shrimp. This kills large amounts of marine life not targeted like crabs and young fish. 26 pounds of bycatch perish for each 1 pound of shrimp caught. Long-lining and gill netting are also destructive methods particularly for sea turtles. Over 28,000 of them are caught in shrimp nets every year. 300,000 whales dolphins and porpoises die each year from getting snagged as bycatch.73
- Mercury. Activities such as coal burning and iron mining contaminates water sources with methyl mercury. This is then absorbed in the bodies of fish. It is a very real and very dangerous neurotoxin that effects brain function and the nervous system and is extremely dangerous to young children and pregnant women. Generally, the higher up in the oceanic food chain and the longer the lifespan of the animal, the greater will be the concentration of mercury. This is simply because big fish eat little fish and older fish do so for longer. So seafood like squid, scallops and sardines which are low in the food chain and live shorter lives have less mercury than top predators like tuna and swordfish. The table below from The Smart Seafood Buying Guide74 shows us which sea life is the most dangerous in term of mercury.
- PCBs and Other Toxins. Most major waterways in the world are loaded with heavy metals, and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs, and other agricultural chemicals that wind up in the environment. This makes its way into the seafood we eat and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this is not a good thing to be putting in the water or your body.
- Fukishima Radiation. This one sniffs like a massive cover up if ever I have come across one. The fact that a Canadian high school student named Bronwyn Delacruz was surprised to discover radioactive fish in a school science project with a gifted $600 Geiger counter is the giveaway. She ran her radiation detector over seafood bought at her local store and discovered that a lot of the Chinese products sent her machine spinning. It made the headlines and got people talking. It turns out that most governments, while they used to test for radiation in the wake of the 2011 Fukishima nuclear disaster, decided to stop testing around 2012. How odd. “Some of the kelp that I found was higher than what the International Atomic Energy Agency sets as radioactive contamination, which is 1,450 counts over a 10-minute period,” Bronwyn said. “Some of my samples came up as 1,700 or 1,800.” Additionally, back in 2012, the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being found in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada.75 Another test off the Californian coast found all 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna tested were contaminated with Fukishima radiation.76 Cover Up! And I found plenty more independent and verified tests showing high levels of radioactivity in Pacific Ocean fish.
- Farmed Fish. The solution you have when you’re not having a solution is farmed fish. There’s two categories of farmed fish – open net pens and those that are land based or otherwise not exposed to the ocean. Both are no good for you but the latter is not as bad for the planet. The majority of fish farms are open-net pens in the ocean where tightly packed fish stagnate over a mountain of their own waste teeming with bacteria, drugs, and pesticides which drifts into the open ocean unchecked. The overcrowding almost always results in infection with parasites and disease, frequently spreading to and decimating wild fish populations and which has to be treated with ever increasing doses of antibiotics. In addition the farmed fish are pumped full of chemicals to make them grow faster and have a more consumable color. All of this junk makes its way to the sea floor and devastates everything there. Aquaculture tells us that it’s the solution to the fishery depletion problem but in fact it is blatantly and knowingly making it much worse. It takes between 3 and 11 pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of salmon. Fish farms are the leading cause of mangrove destruction, marginalise local communities and leech invasive species and pollutants into the surrounding areas. And as for the fish coming out of these farms, well, they are some of the most toxic things you can put in your body. Farmed fish have ten times the cancer causing organic pollutants that wild fish have and have much higher saturated fats coupled with lower levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. The fish feed contains chicken shit – what the hell! This stuff is NOT a health food. A great documentary by Nicolas Daniel called “Fillet Oh Fish”77 smashes the romantic myth of fish farming and it exposes this industry for what it is.
- Imported Seafood. Besides the obvious environmental and economic cost of transportation, the lack of controls around sustainable fisheries in export countries tells me to steer clear. Chemical use, environmental destruction and human exploitation is usually way worse than even what is farcically acceptable in western countries. I found out that imported shrimp from Thailand is filthy, often found to contain huge levels of antibiotics, rat and mouse hair, unauthorised chemical residues and even pieces of insects.
- Big-box Stores. These are the massive supermarket chains. They are listed companies. Profit is god. Sea life welfare, environmental and health considerations are meaningless. Do not buy seafood from these places. They will be the first to accept GMO “Monster Fish” based on cost and their affiliation with biotech companies. Call me a fear monger but do your own research – the web of inter-company affiliation is surprisingly opaque. 90% of frozen fish in big-box stores comes from fish farms.
Book 1 of the Consumption Cleanse continues the story and discusses why Seafood is bad, how to intelligently choose seafood such that you can save your health and contribute to the environment.
73 “Kistine Lofgren”, 35 facts that will make you never want to eat fish again”, http://inhabitat.com/35-facts-that-will-make-you-never-want-to-eat-fish-again/, accessed 3/5/16
74 Nicole Greenfield, “The Smart Seafood Buying Guide”, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/smart-seafood-buying-guide, accessed 3/5/16
75 Alex Roslin, “Canada: Fish Eaters Threatened by Fukushima Radiation”, The Vancouver Sun, 16 Jan 2012.
76 WaashingtonsBlog, “Absolutely Every One” – 15 Out of 15 – Bluefin Tuna Tested In California Waters Contaminated with Fukushima Radiation”, http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/05/absolutely-every-one-of-the-15-bluefin-tuna-tested-in-california-waters-contaminated-with-fukushima-radiation.html, accessed 3/5/16