The world marine vertebrate population declined by 49% between 1970 and 2012. Right now, 1,081 types of fish worldwide are listed as threatened or endangered by the World Conservation Union. Although we could point fingers at major corporations or fisheries which use unsustainable methods, we, regular people, are the ones to blame. We affect the health of our oceans by what we choose to eat and these major corporations would not exist without our input.
Do you like tuna? It is one of the numerous species that humans have led to the verge of extinction. Bluefin tuna is prized by Japanese sushi lovers but is also distributed as canned food worldwide. In the 2000’s Thai exports increased by 119%, similar to Ecuador and Spain. According to recent research, bluefin tuna suffered a catastrophic decline in stocks (more than 96%) in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Despite this, markets for tuna continue to increase. The reason for this is that the public is unaware of the damage and many people are convinced that eating fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. Contrary to popular beliefs, removing fish from your diet improves your health. A study conducted in 2013 by Marine’s Biodiversity Research Institute found that 84% of all fish contain toxins, such as unsafe levels of mercury. Flax seeds or hemp seeds are healthy, vegan and a much safer source of omega-3.
Each of the 70 percent of the world’s fish species that are fully exploited or depleted has its own story. But let’s focus on the octopus – one of the most extraordinary and beautiful inhabitants of our oceans. Scientists have found that octopuses are capable of navigating their way through mazes, solving problems quickly and remembering these solutions, at least for the short term. The female sacrifices herself by defending her nest of offspring without leaving to eat, dying immediately following the process. Octopuses have personalities, a mix of three traces – activity, reactivity, and avoidance. Students around the globe are researching them and testing their intelligence, yet we can still find them at the local supermarket, and in Japan, they are often consumed with their arms sliced and eaten why still squirming. Why is it that we can cry our eyes out over a stranded dog or cat, but consider slowly dismembering a live, intelligent sea creature on our plate an attraction? Is it because of our lack of knowledge about sea life, or because of their supposed lack of the “cute factor”?
Lastly, you may think that “one person changing their food preferences still won’t make a difference”. The truth is, it will. For instance, an individual who chooses to take on a vegetarian diet can save over 225 fish and 151 shellfish a year. For every pound of shrimp sold and consumed, more than twenty pounds of other sea creatures are caught and killed in the process. Innocent victims include fish that have no commercial value, seabirds, turtles and marine mammals that many people would shudder at the thought of eating, such as the dolphin. Mass media fails to draw attention to this issue. In fact, Food Network has even posted an “article” via snapchat last week, in which they mentioned that most Americans do not eat enough shrimp and advised young people to include larger amounts of seafood in their diet. Bearing in mind that the app has over 100 million daily active users, this is truly devastating.
In conclusion, the global depletion of marine species is alarmingly growing, and we are the ones at fault. Eating fish is neither beneficial for our health, nor for the environment. As the legendary marine biologist and explorer, Sylvia Plath, said: “It is a choice. Ask yourself, once you know how important these creatures are, why? The oxygen that replenishes every breath you take comes from an ocean that is filled with life. It has developed over hundreds of millions of years. It has taken only a few decades [for humans] to disrupt and break those connections. The children of today will be really cross with us if we fail to act on what we know now.” Fortunately, now that we are aware, there is still hope for us to save the world, starting from ourselves.