24 March 2008

fish: eating safe, eating good - habitat and sustainability

This guest blog is part two of a 5-part series about the benefits of dangers of eating fish, and how to consume it responsibly. Janet Watkins is a freelance writer living and blogging from the Midwest at www.insidewords.blogspot.com.
Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Wading along the river, sand squishing between our toes my siblings and I were completely captivated by the life we found along the shoreline. Like marine biologists, we studied the activity that swam near the shoreline, following silver minnows that wiggled between the rocks and pebbles. Our parents, sat close by keeping an eye on their fishing lines and us.

“Hey, Lou looks like you got one!” my uncle shouted. Dad moved quickly lifting the rod from its rest. We chanted, “Daddy caught a fish! Daddy caught a fish,” and watched as he spun the reel and pulled on the rod until the end of the line finally emerged from the water. Hanging from the hook a beautiful silver bass wiggled wildly. Dad caught several of them that day.

Later, as we feasted on cornmeal coated fried silver bass served with home fries and coleslaw; we had little concern or knowledge about the health of the fish from the river. But, by the early 1960s the environmental quality of the Great Lakes basin had deteriorated. Today, fish consumption advisories are commonplace for nearly all of the world’s waters.


Habitat Damage
The Great Lakes is the world’s largest freshwater source containing 90% of the U.S. surface drinking water. A vibrant ecosystem, fish, migratory waterfowl, human and wildlife benefit from this vast watershed, but excessive runoff, over fishing, and toxic substances threatens its vitality. Did you know that it could take hundreds of years to recycle and restore fragile ecosystems like the Great Lakes? The ocean floor needs centuries to grow back! But, “trawl fleets,” to keep up with our hungry demand for fish, dredge the sea-floor plundering coral reef, habitats, and seaweed with unintentional side effects and severe consequences for marine life. It may be the single most damage done to the marine environment by man. Many restaurants and stores list fishing methods and, there is an increasing call to make this information more widely available. Habitat-friendly methods: hook-and-line fishing, long-lining and trap fishing. Ask the method by which the fish were caught when ordering your favorite from the menu or the market.

American consumers boycott of tuna had a tremendous impact on the fishing industry, in an effort to protest and protect the toll on dolphins and other by-catch – animals caught unintentionally by fishing gear. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization one in four animals caught as by-catch dies. Tons of dead fish are thrown out. Dolphins, sea turtles, seals, whales and seabirds are regularly caught, and accidentally killed.

Over fishing happens when the rate of catching fish exceeds the rate at which they can reproduce. Simple and to the point, fish that were once plentiful become depleted, fishing fleets move on to new species, and over fish them to extinction. Slow-growing types like orange roughy and Chilean sea bass are particularly at risk. Check out Hooked – Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht for a dramatic global fish true whodunit story about the pursuit of Chilean Sea Bass in the icy waters of the Antarctica. It will cause you to think twice about what you order your next meal out.

Controlled cultivation of fish or “fish farms” has given rise to what is known as aquaculture. Not a panacea, but an effort to change current problematic fishing methods, the aquaculture industry now produces one-third of the seafood we eat. But, even this approach has side effects. Fish farms can pose a threat to the environment, too.

Farm shellfish
Oysters and most clams and mollusks are farm raised. And, these farms are kind to the environment – yippee! – indeed, they improve water quality (mollusks work as filters). Shellfish require non-polluted water to grow in; therefore these farms are often diligently involved in clean water initiative.

Farm salmon
Eating farm raised salmon – not a good choice. Over crowded net pens become polluted and fish become diseased. Pollution and disease spread to wild fish, antibiotics used leak into the water. Salmon escaping the pens can overtake wild habitats, and the fishmeal used as feed is often made with fish that contain toxins. Bummer! If you must buy farm raised salmon, look for markets that sell organic salmon sourced from the North Atlantic, off the coasts of Ireland, Nova Scotia and Scotland with European organic certification such as the Soil Association a British based agency.

Coming up: Mercury, Pollutants, Contaminants - Oh my!

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