Shoulda Asked Sheila: the fishy issue



Sheila McCrindle and Kate Aley

Shoulda Asked Sheila, Number 2

The burning food issues of the day chopped up, hashed over and served back hot and satisfying.

By Sheila McCrindle and Kate Aley

Kate asked: Sheila, how on earth are we supposed to know what is ethical and sustainable when it comes to buying fish? Once it seemed that farming fish was going to be the answer to depleted ocean stocks, but now it seems aquaculture is actually a sign of the impending apocalypse…

Sheila replied: I know, oh how I miss shrimp. The issues around farmed fish are many. Salmon especially gets a bad rap for containing lots of antibiotics, spreading parasites to wild fish and generally being grown in disgusting habitat conditions.

K: So what about buying wild fish?

S: Wild fish stocks are becoming scarcer world-wide and there is the terrible waste of fish and many other sea creatures – known as “by-catch” - are caught and killed in the huge nets but will never be eaten.

K: I hear those immense ‘siene’ nets drag along the bottom of the ocean so thoroughly they are destroying habitat as well…

S: Indeed, yes. The big ships with their big nets, catching as much as possible as quickly as possible, do an awful lot of damage. There is also the issue of slave labour on fishing boats. People can be sold to a boat which may not return to port for months or years. The reports of conditions on these ships for the workers are beyond appalling.

K: So, we should boycott eating any kind of fish then?

S: Well, it is very grim. But, here for your inspiration, is a marvelous TED talk by the extremely charming Dan Barber about how he fell in love with a fish – actually two fish. It is worth the 18 minutes to hear him make a plea for a food system based on ecology and restoring resources and which produces food which actually tastes good.

K: So, what is an ordinary person who would like a bit of fish in their diet to do?

S: Luckily, there is an organization called Sea Choice. On their website you can find more information than you would have believed possible about buying ethical and sustainable fish. Regrettably, they do not label or certify seafood products – that would make our lives too easy - but they do provide a list of sustainability labels which we should all be looking for at the fish counter.

K: And what about the people who catch their own?

S: I really don’t know anything about personal fishing except that I think it is very well regulated by provincial authorities as far as I know. And there are fish consumption guides for people who eat what they catch. So good on them.

Take away message: Educate yourself, read the labels and eat with care.