Get Stuffed 

Empty oceans, empty dinner plates

Eating our way toward sustainable seafood

In a single year at the port in Honolulu, 60,857 shark carcasses were off-loaded from fishing boats. All but 1 per cent of them had been killed for their fins. Once these were sliced off and sold to shark fin soup makers, the sharks’ bodies – that would be about 60,250 of them – were ground up for dog food.

Fifty years ago off the coast of Baja, California, divers could pick from about 4,000 abalone per acre. That number today is one per acre.

Throughout North America today, restaurant patrons still blithely order "Chilean sea bass", a mild-flavoured fish formerly known as the Patagonian toothfish that was renamed in a marketing debacle which transformed it from trash fish to gourmet sensation to endangered species in only 20 years. If current fishing rates continue, it will be extinct in five years.

Such depressing scenarios you’ll find at length in Richard Ellis’s book, The Empty Oceans, Plundering the World’s Marine Life . It really makes you wonder. We all know better than bringing home a little trinket box carved from an African elephant tusk. We cheered when Carmanah Valley was set aside. Heck, we even know better than driving SUVs – and maybe this last analogy squeaks in a little too close for comfort. For when it comes to fish, we similarly seem to suffer from some kind of deluded colonial mentality, in this case that the oceans are teaming with endless bounty. If we only could lower a basket over the side of a boat, surely hundreds of dinner entrées would jump right in.

What a delusion that calm sea surface provides.

Just say no to snapper

The reality is that 90 per cent of the world’s large fish – including tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, skate and flounder – are gone – gone to over-fishing, gone to bycatch, gone to pollution, gone to dog food.

Maybe you don’t eat shark fin soup, or even own a dog. Either way, none of us has good reason to sit, in our SUVs or elsewhere, and feel smug about our fish stocks or the way we consume them in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently our most shameful example of marine mismanagement is B.C.’s rockfish family, which includes red snapper.

"Rockfish live to be 100 years old. They are the marine equivalent of old growth ecosystems," says Keith Symington, marine program co-ordinator for the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada. "So if you can imagine one of those satellite images Sierra Club and others put out about the loss of ancient temperate rainforest, it would picture just 5 per cent of their (rockfish) biomass remaining in the Strait of Georgia.

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