The largest human-caused disturbance to the biosphere

“The fishing industry is following directly in the footsteps of the livestock industries,
feeding primarily the rich at the expense of the planet, the animals, and the poor.”
John Robbins, The Food Revolution

Q: Is commercial fishing bad for the environment?
A: Many commercial fishing vessels practice bottom-trawling in order to catch sea animals who live near, on, or under the sea floor, such as flounder, cod, grouper, shrimp, and scallops. Scientists say that the destruction caused by bottom-trawling is similar to that caused by clear-cutting old forests, only on a far greater scale. For example, the area of seabed trawled each year is roughly the size of the 48 contiguous states: 150 times greater than the area of forest cut! Elliot Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, says, “Scientists find that bottom-trawling is the largest disturbance to the world’s sea floor and possibly the largest human-caused disturbance to the biosphere.”

It has come to my attention, through this vast channel of information we call the Internet, that the fishing industries are destroying the oceans, just as the livestock industries are polluting the land and air. Part of my mission as an anti-plasticarian and vegetarian is to work towards changing human behavior in how we think about food. We should not plunder the earth’s resources with no regard for sustainability just to feed our insatiable appetites.

What would I be like, if I never was exposed to a search engine? To a facebook or twitter feed? I would live based on what my community around me would teach. But luckily for us and for them, we can spread our opinions, findings, and stories far and wide.

As a vegetarian that eats seafood occasionally, I have gotten into the habit of saying ‘I don’t eat meat, but I eat seafood.’ I have always felt a little bad about it, knowing that somewhere, some documentary and collection of vegetarian / vegan blogs are condemning my actions.

Today I am waking up a little bit more and making the decision to no longer eat sea creatures. It’s a destructive practice in how the meat gets from ocean to boat to plate, and I won’t support it anymore. I will vote with my dollar, which is the most powerful vote I can cast.

Here’s what I stumbled onto that sparked the decision:

“Seafood is simply a socially acceptable form of bush meat”, according to Paul Watson, a founder of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “We condemn Africans for hunting monkeys and mammalian and bird species from the jungle, yet the developed world thinks nothing of hauling in magnificent wild creatures like swordfish, tuna, halibut, shark and salmon for our meals. The fact is that the global slaughter of marine wildlife is simply the largest massacre of wildlife on the planet.”

Commercial fishing is causing the collapse of the world’s fisheries, having likely passed “peak fish”, destroying marine ecosystems, heavily polluting our oceans, and, along with climate change, contributing to “dead zones”. In effect, we are clear cutting our underwater rainforests, including the coral reefs and mangroves that support a rich array of biodiversity, as well as providing coastal protection, leading to the endangerment and extinction of many species employing “the factory trawler’s wet version of a scorched-earth policy” (Curtis White). To catch wild fish, entire schools of fish are netted along with turtles, dolphins, whales, sharks, seals, birds, and others as “by-catch”, or “collateral damage”, leaving a destructive and deadly wake. In fact, over 1/5 (about 22%) of fish caught by U.S. commercial operations is “by-catch” (fish that is caught, but discarded), topping more than a million tons per year.

Aquaculture, or the factory farming of fish, is also massively eco-destructive, often leading to over-fishing of wild fish for feed, de-oxygenation of the water, disease amongst fish and other marine animals, and the (over)use of antibiotics, hormones, chemicals, and genetically-engineered additives.

Further, underwater “forests” of coral reefs and mangroves are being decimated by “rape-and-run” shrimp farming (exploiting and polluting coastal communities for 2 to 5 years before abandoning them), commercial overfishing and trawling, inefficient industrial shipping, and other fish-related mega-activities with no regard for the natural world, whether underwater or above.

Fish often contain mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium as well as toxic POPs, including PCBs, DDT, and dioxin, which can’t be removed from the fish and which bio-accumulate in consumers. “A major health hazard from eating fish flesh comes from humans causing polluted aquatic environments. Fish are repositories for the industrial and municipal wastes and the agricultural chemicals flushed into the world’s waters”, says Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. “Mercury, especially high in tuna and swordfish, can cause brain damage, especially in growing children. PCBs, dioxin, and pesticides (such as DDT) have been linked to cancers, nervous system disorders, fetal damage, and many other health problems. Removing fish from your meals eliminates half of all mercury exposure and reduces one’s intake of other toxins.” According to Dr. Steve Patch, co-director of the Environmental Quality Institute, University of North Carolina-Asheville, “We saw a direct relationship between people’s mercury levels and the amount of… fish people consumed”. Dioxin is one of the world’s most toxic chemicals and the EPA reports that about 95% of dioxin in humans comes from ingesting meat, dairy, and fish.

While fish often are said to contain high levels of protein and healthy fats and fatty acids (especially for the fish), this may not be the case and, in any event, there are easy alternatives for these nutrients, including olives, walnuts, flax, and hemp seeds. Additionally, fish, as with other animals, contain saturated fat and cholesterol, which are unhealthy. Further, fish do not contain any fiber, vitamins, anti-oxidants, or phytonutrients, all of which are exclusive to plant foods. A scientific review of studies about fish has shown that it is not necessarily a healthy food for humans. William Harris, M.D. determined that fish have seven times the protein that humans should intake and that fish protein contains high amounts of the amino acids methionine and cystine, which lead to calcium depletion and can cause osteoporosis.

It is understandable why some people go into denial, but it should be clear that fish—as with all other animals—feel pain, a phenomenon in animals needed for survival and success. Being caught on a hook is “like dentistry without novocaine, drilling into exposed nerves” (Dr. Tom Hopkins). Being pulled out of the water is like a person being held under water.

Vegetarians and vegans protect fish, other marine animals, coral reefs, and the incredible oceans they live in.

“The fishing industry is following directly in the footsteps of the livestock industries,
feeding primarily the rich at the expense of the planet, the animals, and the poor.”
John Robbins, The Food Revolution

“Now that the shallow fisheries are in serious decline, trawl nets fitted with wheels and rollers are dragging across the bottom of the deep oceans,
removing everything of any size.”
Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly

“Commercial fishing, aquaculture, and angling are environmentally catastrophic….
If you eat fish, you are supporting an industry that plunders our oceans with no regard for the horrible pain and suffering that fish and other marine animals endure
or for the diverse ocean ecosystem that is imperative to the survival of all underwater life.”


What, you don’t like getting boiled alive? Me either. Today I’m stopping my consumption of seafood, forever.

(unimaginative and possibly misdirected “boycott red lobster” image)

So, goodbye, Red Lobster…I tried your vegetable skewers and was not impressed.


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