Monday 17 March 2008

Big Fish but not so Small Fry

Australians love their seafood. Well I thought we did.

There is nothing better than a plump and juicy oyster or a pan fired King George whiting or a whole barramundi roasted on hot coals. Fish is healthy, fresh and tasty, right?

When I went to pick up some fish from the markets today I overheard someone talking about the GLOBAL FISH CRISIS. What global fish crisis? Have I been asleep? I haven't seen this in the popular press anywhere. Did I miss it between wars and political escapades?

Apparently, three quarters of the world's oceans are over-exploited by industrialized fishing; that is, over-fished or fished to within an inch of their life. Also, in another chilling indictment of our effect upon the planet, mercury from industrial run-off has entered the seafood chain. Fish don't excrete the mercury - when big fish eat little fish they absorb the mercury, and so on up the food chain - so the bigger the fish the more mercury they contain. Fish with high mercury levels include shark (flake), swordfish (broadbill), marlin, ray, gemfish, ling, catfish, orange roughy (sea perch) and southern blue fin tuna.

Ninety percent of big predatory fish - the Mercedes and BMWs of the deeps - are already lost. That's bluefin tuna, swordfish, marlin, sharks. Gone. Scientists have been trying to tell us this for a while now, but not many of us have been listening. I confess. I haven't been. Other folks in beanies and dreadlocks have been banging the drum, too, with hardly much more success.

The blue planet is one small, fragile vessel sailing about the galaxy. Most of what keeps us going is water. Seventy percent of our Earth's surface is water. Seven tenths of our own bodies are water. Our fates as individuals, as families and, as a species, are dependent on the state of those waters. In our bodies, in the sky we breathe, the rivers we drink, the seas that feed us. Our waters.

The fact is that over-fishing is not something we can entirely blame on someone else, some greedy corporations, lazy politician or fatcat bureaucrats. All those people are integral to the problem, of course, but central to it is our own appetite, our fads and our expectations.

Fishing fleets supply a market. Us. What we choose to buy in the fishmongers will dictate what they will order tomorrow from their suppliers. What we refuse to buy en masse they can't sell. And markets love an unwavering demand for their products.

So, if someone informs me, in good faith, with good information, that species like - say orange roughy or flake or bluefin tuna - are in desperate trouble worldwide, and I continue to buy them at the fishmongers, what does that say about me? It says that am I helping to sustain the demand and helping to legitimise the trade in threatened species. It means that I am placing my own appetite and whims above the well being of the world that sustains me.

I will only buy sustainable alternatives, whether at the fishmongers or at a restaurant. When groups of us - families, associations, caterers, and clubs - make these sorts of choices, we can make an impact on the market. And when we talk about these issues with our friends and colleagues we can grow the change.

Often, we don't always realise just how powerful our individual behaviour is. We are not powerless. That's an easy cop out. We have the gift of consciousness about lots of things in life. Don't feel weighed down by this responsibility - celebrate it! And don't forget to enjoy some sustainable fish while you are at it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments.