I love the beach. The whole ocean, really—but especially the more gentle seas, like the Caribbean. It’s my happy place. And I’ve often said I feel as though I might have been a ship captain in a past life, although I’m not even a sailor in this one. As y’all know, I spend most of this life walking on and talking about the land, soil, farms, gardens, and how we can protect the earth.
The truth is I picked up Oceana to read for business reasons. First, Rodale Inc. published it. And second, I was about to host a party for its author, Ted Danson (yes that Ted Danson), and I felt the responsibility to do my homework. But I’m so very, very glad I read it, and I hope you read it, too. You’ll never look at the ocean and its alleged “bounty” on your plate the same way again.
So many of his stories about the horrific overfishing and waste of the fishing industry, the corruption caused by government subsidies around the world, the toxic chemical pollution caused by fish-farming (aquaculture), made me realize that “as above, so below.” Our attitudes about food and soil are compounded by our attitude toward what’s happening underwater—perhaps even worse, since we can easily pretend it’s not happening.
And the crime of our ignorant and affluent Western culture is that we will be the last people in the world to see it. The “illusion of abundance” we see in our supermarkets every time we shop is abundance stolen from the poor people of the world, and has destroyed the livelihoods of small fisherman and their families. So it is no surprise that they immigrate to our countries, in search of our entitled affluence.
Here are five key statistics from the book, the ones that shocked me most:
1. Since 1988, commercial fishing’s catch has declined by 500,000 tons PER YEAR.
2. For every pound of shrimp caught, 10 pounds of other marine life are killed and thrown away.
3. In 2000, the world’s fisheries had burned 13 billion gallons of fuel to catch 80 million tons of fish. And it’s only gotten worse in the years since (see #2).
4. The world’s factory-farmed pigs and chickens consume twice the amount of seafood in one year that the Japanese people consume as a nation, and SIX times the amount we Americans eat (and those animals weren’t even meant to eat fish).
5. A lot of fish is “faked.” You can’t be sure that the snapper is really snapper, or the more expensive wild-caught really is wild-caught.
It’s not just overfishing that is the problem, but oil pollution from drilling, acidification of the water caused by too much CO2, toxic chemical runoff from farming, plastic waste (also made from oil), and the end of coral reefs in our lifetime. It became clear to me as I read his book that we have to think differently about how we eat and shop, and about seafood and fish in general. It’s precious! We should enjoy it as such. Know its origins, either by catching it ourselves or buying it from a local fisherman, and only eat it thoughtfully and sparingly. Yes, fish is healthy, but organic vegetables are even healthier!
And this spring break or summer, as you enjoy the beach, try to think about what lies beneath. Pick up a trash bag stuck in a tree and fill it with beach trash. And read Oceana. It will make you truly appreciate the ancient power and beauty of our oceans—and why it’s up to us to restore their bounty.
In the meantime, for a list of safe (for you and for the planet) seafood to eat, go to www.montereybayaquarium.org.