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Why I Refuse to Eat Seafood: The Truth about Industrial Fishing

One of my core memories was a moment of complete solitude and tranquility, in the cool water off the coast of Mexico. I was laying atop my turquoise surfboard, only a few shades lighter than the water beneath it. Waiting for a wave to come, I placed my hand in the saltwater and closed my eyes. I was alone, but I could feel the waves almost speaking to me.

From a very young age, I have always been infatuated with the ocean. The maverick waves, the biodiverse creatures, and the mystery of the depths. I convinced myself I was a mermaid, or at least a blue whale, in a past life. I was fascinated by the sea and I knew that one day I wanted to live on the beach and swim in the saltwater every day.

    As I got older, I learned more about climate change, plastic pollution, and endangered sea animals. This turned my image of the ocean from a beautiful, perfect place to a place that needed saving -- and fast. I devoted my life to educating myself on what I could do to repay the ocean for all of the joy it had given me; my mission was to save it.

When I was 16, I went fully vegan. I made the connection in my brain that I couldn’t ethically say that I loved animals while simultaneously eating them. At this point, I haven’t touched seafood in over five years.

    My main desire was to end the suffering of all fish and crustaceans, but I did not have a strong argument when people asked why I didn’t eat salmon other than, “I love all animals and I don’t want to eat them”. The issue with this is that many people don’t consider tuna or lobster as living animals that deserve life, oftentimes they are just thought of as food. I understood this mindset, in a way, and I didn’t know what else to say.  Today, I would tell them to watch the documentary, Seaspiracy.

    The more I learn about the dark secrets of the fishing industry, the more I want to scream into the sky or broadcast myself on a world-wide news channel. I want everyone to know what their seafood is doing to our planet. 

    Bycatch is the accidental catching of marine species that are not necessarily targeted. For example, if a net is released with the intention of catching a big group of tuna, there can be other sea animals that get entangled in the net as well. Bycatching is actually a horrifying result of industrial fishing that causes the death of approximately 50 million sharks, 300,000 dolphins and whales, and 250,000 sea turtles every year. People love dolphins and turtles, and I’m sure they would be shocked to know that the tuna on their plate caused a death sentence to their favorite marine animal.

    Eco-labels, greenwashing, and the misconceptions of green consumerism are very harmful. Tuna cans labeled “dolphin-safe!” are actually not dolphin safe at all. A tuna fishing vessel was caught slaughtering 45 dolphins in order to catch eight tunas. This particular vessel was working for “dolphin-safe” canned tuna. Killing 45 dolphins doesn’t sound very dolphin-safe to me. Apparently, these fishing vessels are not regulated and captains often lie about the way in which the tuna is caught. There is no way of actually assuring that the dolphins are safe in practice. This is all a marketing ploy to get people to think they’re buying something ethical, which is heavily disturbing to think about. 

    Speaking of marketing, remember the “save the turtles” campaign a few years ago that promoted the world-wide ban of plastic straws? I am absolutely in favor of the reduction of single-use plastic whenever possible, but what these campaigns don’t tell you is that plastic straws only take up 0.03% of the ocean’s plastic pollution. The vast majority of plastic pollution in the ocean is fishing nets and gear. This is even more detrimental to sea life because these things are designed to kill. Please, continue to use your metal straws and reusable water bottles. I will, too. But, turtles aren’t being mass-murdered by plastic straws. They are getting caught in polluted nets and falling victim to bycatch. Six out of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered. Many ocean protection organizations are affiliated with fishing companies and refuse to speak out against seafood consumption or the degradation of ocean biodiversity with the pollution of fishing nets. Industrial fishing is killing the sea turtles, and no one wants consumers to know this.

    Without our sea turtles, without our whales, without our sharks or dolphins or even our tuna and seaplants, the ocean cannot survive. Every link in the food chain is vital for the health of the ocean. For example, dolphins and whales fertilize phytoplankton, which absorbs carbon dioxide and generates up to 85% of the oxygen we breathe. Marine plants can store up to twenty times more carbon per acre than forests on land. 3.9 billion acres of seafloor is deforested every year due to fishing. 

    Approximately 5 million fish are killed every single minute, adding up to 2.7 trillion per year. Scientists estimate that if fishing trends continue at the rate they’re going now, we could see empty oceans by 2048. Sealife is crucial for holding on to carbon and preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. If the ocean dies, so does human life. 

    When it comes to saving the planet, the first thing we have to do is protect the ocean. And the only way to fully protect it is to just leave it alone. There is no such thing as sustainable industrial fishing -- that’s just another marketing ploy. Because of the rapid rate of human activity harming our oceans, there just aren’t enough fish to justify sustainable industrial fishing. (Please note: I’m not talking about coastal towns or indiginous people; I’m talking about the mass commercialized fishing industry). 

    Due to ocean pollution, there are plenty of harmful substances ending up in fish such as mercury. This is unhealthy for people to consume. The health benefits of fish, such as omega-3 fatty acids, is found in algae; fish are essentially the “middle man”. Humans do not need to consume fish on an industrial level. The only way to save our oceans, and thus our planet, is to stop consuming fish on the level we are today. 

    Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and National Geographic explorer (and my personal hero), states, “respect what we’ve got,” and “protect what remains”. 

Source: All facts and statistics come from the Netflix documentary: Seaspiracy

Sophie is a senior at The University of Tampa. She is a writing major with minors in sustainability, english, and sociology. When she's not on a camping trip or swimming at the beach, she enjoys doing yoga, eating vegan food, and hiking with her dog. You can find her on instagram @sophie.cavanaugh.
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