Last night, I attended a screening event of the beautiful, fascinating and depressing documentary The End of the Line. The film illustrates the message and research found in the book of the same name written by British journalist Charles Clover. The tag line says it all: “Imagine a World Without Fish.”
The End of the Line is the first film to document the devastating effects of overfishing, pushing some species into near or complete extinction. Some scientists predict wild fish may disappear from all but 1% of the Earth’s oceans by 2048.
Did you get that? Extinct. Gone. Eighty-sixed. Scary stuff.
I’ve been sensitive to the issue of sustainable seafood for awhile, but its message rocked me nonetheless. I’m happy to eat less fish, but do I need to completely give up plank-grilled halibut, or the occasional plate of spicy shrimp in tomato saffron broth? I also know about the issues with salmon.
Fortunately, a panel discussion took place afterward that brought me down off the ledge. The group included the seafood sage Jon Rowley, sustainable sushi expert Casson Trenor, Shauna McKinnon of the Living Oceans Society and Becky Selengut of Seasonal Cornucopia. Their message? You don’t stop eating fish completely, but you need to stop eating overfished varieties and be smart about your choices. Eat lower on the food chain — sardines, anchovies and other small “silver flashing” kinds of fish. Call restaurants on bad practices. (In the film, Clover confronts Nobu in London on serving marlin and Chilean seabass, even though both have been on watch lists as being critically and illegally overfished for years.)
Other Ways to Be a Good Fish Eater:
- Get a Seafood Watch Card for your regional area to find what’s good, bad and ugly in terms of sustainable fish.
- Ask questions. Where did your fish come from? Farm raised, or wild? Whether you’re in a store or a restaurant, if they can’t tell you specifics, don’t eat their fish.
- Vote with your dollar. Don’t buy fish on “avoid” lists. Reward places that make an effort to provide sustainable fish by patronizing them, or try to buy it as locally as possible. In Seattle, I routinely hit Jack’s Fish Spot in Pike Place Market or my local PCC for fish. In Florida, I buy directly from the Star Fish Co. in the fishing village of Cortez.
- Don’t blindly eat fish sticks. Do you really want to feed your kids an endangered species? Learn more about them. Better yet – learn to make your own, and buy fish that you feel good about.
- Speak up. I suspect the manager at the Publix on Anna Maria Island cringes when he sees me coming. I’ve repeatedly harassed them for selling farmed shrimp from places like Thailand instead of locally caught wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. (I also complain about shipping tomatoes from Mexico, but that’s another story.)
- Avoid “fish fads.” The blackened redfish made famous by Paul Prudhomme in the 1980s nearly wiped out the entire redfish population. Monkfish is a recent example.