by Vesanto Melina
Fish has long been viewed as an ideal protein source and the significant source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. Health authorities have sometimes advised people to consume at least two servings of fish per week.
Globally, an estimated one trillion fish are caught each year, excluding illegal catches and bycatch. About half of the commercial fishing industry targets wild fish and other aquatic animals and half relies on “farms.” Concerns about both sectors grow each year. This article features wild sea life. Next month’s topic is fish farming.
Overfishing is rapidly devastating marine ecosystems. Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by 2048 there will be a global collapse of all stocks currently fished. Sea lice and other infections from farmed salmon have an impact on numbers and global warming is changing habitat; for example, aquatic temperatures in the Strait of Georgia and Fraser River are one and a half degrees warmer than 50 years ago.
Bottom-trawling – dragging huge nets with metal plates and metal wheels – along the ocean floor is the underwater equivalent of clear-cutting. It is like bulldozing entire communities and it is wasteful. For example, shrimp trawlers kill up to 20 pounds of non-target marine life for every pound of shrimp plucked from the trawling net. The creatures trapped inside the nets are dragged upward, along with rocks, coral and other fragments of ocean habitat. They experience rapid decompression, causing vital organs to rupture. This bycatch, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and numerous other species, is commonly tossed overboard.
Long-lining uses one or more main lines from which dangle short branch lines with hooks at the ends. Lines can be as long as 75 miles and hold hundreds or thousands of baited hooks, set at varying depths depending on target species. In addition, other animals are hooked. This industry is notorious for the deaths of millions of birds, dolphins, sharks and turtles, all of which (along with the fish) can be dragged behind a boat for hours or days.
Gill-netting uses huge floating nets with mesh, sized to snare the target species. Targeted fish become trapped by their gills and nets are often left unmonitored for long periods so trapped fish can slowly suffocate.
Purse-seining also employs a large net like a purse with a giant drawstring rope that is hauled to the surface. Dolphins are commonly trapped and can drown. Fish are often still alive and conscious when they’re pulled on deck to be gutted.
Fortunately, those who like the flavour of seafood can still enjoy it without supporting environmental damage and cruelty. Products similar to breaded filets and crab cakes are now made from pea or soy protein and the textures and flavours are good. Examples include Sophie’s Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets, Toona and crab cakes and Gardein’s Golden Fishless Filet, available at www.vegan supply.ca (250 East Pender St. in Vancouver). Whole Foods and Choices carry Gardein’s Fishless Filets. And you can get DHA (in supplement form) from the same source that fish use to get their DHA: microalgae. Just Google “Vegan DHA.”
September 29, 7:15: A presentation by Nic Waller about aquatic animals and what options we have. A shared evening of snacks and great company. Check out www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/242482062/
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com