Is it Okay to Eat Fish?

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Is it Okay to Eat Fish?

By, Jessica Beth Levine

“Do you want to go out for sushi tonight?” My friend asked.

“Of course I do,” I think. Raw fish is one of my favorite foods, paired with seaweed salad and some sake—mmmmmm. But lately, it’s harder to accept the invitation for sushi. The news is filled with facts and images of the harm commercial fishing habits do to the oceans. Can I eat sushi in good conscience as someone who cares about sustainable food?

To explore that question, I examined two articles, one on each side of the “should we eat fish” debate. First up, a Ted.com interview with long-time oceanographer and TED prize winner, Sylvia Earle.

Earle believes that the role of fish in the natural ecosystem far outweighs its value as food for humans. Most people have many food options in addition to marine life, so it is more important to leave fish in the ocean than to eat them. She believes the methods currently used in large-scale fishing operations are destructive and wasteful.

Additionally, she states that the most popular fish we eat occupy a high trophic level and are quite old compared to the age of terrestrial meat we eat. A still “young” tuna alive for 10 years has been eating other fish its whole life and has likely accumulated mercury and other toxins in the environment from its diet.

While improved agriculture in the future may provide a way for people to still eat fish, Earle believes only a system created with extreme care and rigorous restrictions is acceptable if we’re going to indulge in eating seafood.

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For an opposing view, I turned to a recent post titled “The Oceans are Not Running Out of Fish” by Daniel Ovando, a PhD student with the Sustainable Fisheries Group at UC Santa Barbara.

Ovando believes that there ARE ways to eat fish without destroying marine ecosystems. He dispels two persistent myths in sustainable fish media that (1) global fisheries will collapse by 2048 –which comes from a thought experiment based on old data— and (2) 90% of marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overexploited—it turns out the “exploited” has to do with the maximum amount of catchable fish over time and isn’t a terrible thing.

Through his research, Ovando analyzes previously unassessed fisheries around the world and provides them with data-collection tools so they can make better educated decisions about fishery management.

Ovando believes that marine ecosystems face serious threats and we need to improve fishery management to protect biodiversity in the ocean. More scientific data and government reforms are needed if we want to continue eating fish.

Both Earle and Ovando agree that we need reforms and systems in place to protect the oceans. If not, we’ll do irreparable damage. For Earle, that falls on the side of not eating fish. For Ovando, it means eating fish caught sustainably.

So who wins the argument? Guess I’ll agree to that sushi for now, as long as I can find out how it was caught.

Jessica Beth Levine blogs at about navigating food choices in Southern California with a focus on environmentally friendly, just, and sustainable food.

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