Let’s get REAL on Sustainable Seafood

Let’s get REAL on SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD

I am tired of being politically correct and holding my tongue about sustainable seafood.  So today, I unleash it on us Americans.  I speak to Americans because we lead the way and because the world does follow our lead….at least for the moment.  And you might say, “but what about the Japanese, look what they’re doing, or the Taiwanese, or whomever……” and you’d be right.  But we must clean up our own backyard first.  WE must be the Sea Change.  The subject??

Sustainable Seafood.

Americans are a leader in the demise of sea life worldwide

I’m not talking about the “harvesting of” here, no this blog isn’t about overfishing, this is about over CONSUMING.   This is about Americans being outraged at movies like “The Cove” and slamming SE Asia for their fishing practices – which is well deserved – and lamenting the loss of fish stock….while they are chowing down on a shrimp cocktail and having a three course meal at Red Lobster.

Let me rag on shrimp for a moment, one of my favorite subjects.  Yes, shrimp trawling has the highest rate of incidental catch of non-target species. In 1997, the FAO documented the estimated bycatch and discard levels from shrimp fisheries around the world. They found discard rates (bycatch to catch ratios) as high as 20:1 with a world average of 5.7:1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bycatch). In the first half of 2009 alone, the US imported 236,076 tonnes of shrimp.  Think about how much sea life was destroyed to catch that shrimp.  And aquaculture which was supposed to be the ecological panacea to overfishing?  Give me a break!  The majority of shrimp farms are an environmental disaster area and could probably qualify as a Superfund site but only after they manage to put a lot of locals out of work.

The answer?  STOP EATING IT, PERIOD. No ifs, ands or buts.

If you care about the health of our Ocean, stop eating it to death!

I love scuba diving; those who know me know that it is the driving force in my life and my passion for the ocean is boundless.  The diving community is my family but here is the truth.  Dive resorts, live aboard dive boats and divers often aren’t any better.

Every dive trip I lead, I hear the divers talking about diving in various parts of the world. “Yes, the diving is good in “fill in the blank” but there’s nothing big left there.”  This has become a mantra in dive destination reviews.  “The commercial fishing boats have been here; damn the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thai, Malaysians and Vietnamese.”

Well, who do you think these nations are SELLING all this fish to?????  Americans eat over 80% imported shrimp mainly from Thailand and total imported fish and fish products mainly come from Canada, Thailand and China.  Our consumption is a driving force in the seafood industry folks – we are one of the largest consumer nations of seafood in the world.  Wake up!

The Diving Community MUST Lead the Way in Sustainable Fisheries.

As divers, we are duty bound to educate those who haven’t seen the amazing world down there.  As divers…we should be LEADING THE WAY in ocean conservation because we’re the first people to see the change.  We should be the FIRST to stop eating seafood.

Yet, I continue to attend dive trade shows where my colleagues are raving about the seafood restaurants they ate at or divers who dig in to fish dinners when they travel.  If WE, as the stewards of the ocean, are not taking a stand, who will?

Global Dive Expeditions, asks all live aboard boats we charter and all resorts we charter to either remove all seafood or at the least all seafood that is being harvested unsustainably from their menus during the course of our stay – following the guidelines of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.  And we’ve gotten push back on that from dive resorts before.  Believe it.  They didn’t want to “dilute the guest experience.”  We’ll when there aren’t any more fish to look at on a reef, I’d say that’s a pretty lousy “guest experience.”  And we are starting to see this happen more and more on reefs that we’ve dived on for the past two decades.

I once was floored when some of our own guests slipped down the road for dinner because they wanted to eat shrimp and then came and apologized….apologized to whom???  Me?  How about apologizing to future divers who will have such a shifted base line on our coral reefs that seeing any fish over six inches becomes a treat…. How about apologizing to your kids and their generation who are the ones getting royally screwed on this deal?

We Must Have an Impact, We Choose Where

Being a living organism on this planet means we will have an impact on our environment.  We must, personally, decide where and how big that impact will be.  We can also choose to practice living sustainably or not.  I personally do not eat anything that comes from the ocean.  With the majority of the world – especially the poorer, 3rd world – obtaining it’s protein from the sea, I have chosen not to make my impact there.  It’s not a self-righteous comment, it’s a choice.  I believe that as a diver, as someone who makes my living from the ocean, it is the duty I have to the planet.  You have to make your own choice.  But remember, when you order that grouper sandwich for lunch on your tropical island vacation, you just became part of the problem.

One Person at a Time- Lesson from Jane Goodall

Here’s a story about one of my heroes, Jane Goodall.  Most of you know Jane through her work in Tanzania with chimpanzees.  What you may not know is that Jane is also a tireless supporter of sustainable food.  During a talk one day, Ridlon explained that he was working hard to explain the benefits of sustainable seafood and instill good practices in people, but how can he make a difference when he can’t even convince his own mother to stop eating unsustainably harvested shrimp?  Jane offered and DID write a personal letter to Ridlon’s mother.  To Jane, it begins at a grassroots level, one person at a time and it begins at home with each of us.

Am I Unpatriotic?

I was recently branded as being unpatriotic for pointing out the above facts and accused of America bashing.  To that I only have one thing to say: Grow Up.  This is a country that has always kept it real by being self critical in an open way.  Its one of the things that makes us the greatest country in the world – because we’re willing to call ourselves on our own stuff.

How can YOU make a Difference in sustaining fisheries?

The average American is currently consuming over 15lbs of seafood annually.  Doesn’t sound like much until you multiply it by the population of our country which is now 308 million.  Imagine what a difference we could make if everyone just cut their consumption by half?  Here is what you can do:

STOP eating seafood.

Stop Eating Seafood


If you haven’t seen reason enough to stop gobbling up our ocean, consider these options:

  1. Cut your consumption in half
  2. Eat ONLY from the list of sustainable fisheries as put forth by the Seafood Watch Program
  3. Email 10 wallet size Seafood Watch Guides, available in PDF format, to your friends
  4. Encourage others and especially divers to make a choice to slow the gutting of our ocean resources.

One of the main reasons most people give for eating seafood are the health benefits – the seas be damned.  Watch for an upcoming blog on why choosing fish in some cases is NOT the best option for your health.

Do you eat seafood?  What do you think about it.

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5 Responses to Let’s get REAL on Sustainable Seafood

  1. admin May 10, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    Kevin,

    I think we should pursue ALL avenues at the same time, yes, improved aquaculture is important

    But for developed nations? It’s really not that difficult to simply make other choices. Sylvia Earle, our nation’s leading scientist and supporter of the ocean has said no to seafood. It really can be done. It’s simply a matter of choice through having the knowledge.

    Thanks for your input. It definitely can be a touchy subject!

  2. Kevin May 10, 2010 at 1:55 am #

    I do get your point but the fact is that asking people to stop consumption of seafood (shrimp included) is extremely unrealistic.. I think we should pursue other avenues like improving aquaculture technology so that we can satisfy demand in a sustainable way.

  3. Kandie Vactor May 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Carin — I couldn’t agree with you more. Going by a Red Lobster restaurant makes me ill. I have not eaten seafood since I started diving, and I try to instill that same respect of our oceans to my Scuba diving students and clients. You have given me more ideas on what I can do to minimize our impact of the ocean — the world’s last best hope for a healthy future. Thanks for the straight talk! Keep it coming!

    • admin May 4, 2010 at 9:39 am #

      Thanks Kandie for your thoughts and support! Tomorrow I’ll talk about all the “health” benefits of eating seafood, like mercury, plastic, and other contaminants!

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