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IS IT ETHICAL TO EAT FISH FOR LENT?

Published: 
Monday, March 6, 2017

How about giving up fish for Lent? You may want to consider doing this after scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill disclosed on Ash Wednesday that 90 per cent of predatory reef fish are gone from Caribbean coral reefs due to overfishing.

We already know that the Caribbean has lost 80 per cent of reef cover in recent years.This adds to previous research, from 2003, that found that globally 90 per cent of big fish like tuna are missing from the ocean and warnings from scientists that planetary fish stocks will be depleted by 2050 at present rates of destruction.

Don’t put all the blame on local fishermen for being greedy if they charge $100 per pound of fish. That’s supply and demand.

The problem is that there is not enough fish left in the sea. Put the blame on too many people eating too few fish, the lack of fisheries management, gillnets, bottom trawling, mangrove and other habitat destruction, pollution, acidification and climate change.

Is it ethical or sensible to increase fish consumption for Lent, knowing that the oceans and her inhabitants are in terminal decline? I’m not religious but I understand fasting to be a mindful act that honours creation or existence, whatever that may be according to your own understanding.

Fasting is meant to be a positive and respectful act; participating in extinction is neither. Know as well that there is nothing in the Bible that says that a Christian must eat fish during Lent or fasting.

There are three basic choices about eating seafood, and this goes for during Lent but also for the rest of the year. We can continue to eat fish as we always have until there is none left in 2050, as predicted by science.

Just buy whatever is on sale without regard for species or sustainability. That’s the business as usual model.

We can follow the example of Sylvia Earle, a legendary oceanographer who has spent half a century trying to save the oceans. She makes the choice to eat no seafood whatsoever.

During her lifetime she has seen such a stark decline in fish that she cannot justify eating anything but seaweed from the ocean. This may be the only sane response from somebody who has seen the fish she studies decline by 9/10ths during her lifetime.

The problem with abstinence from seafood is that it takes away the ability to change human behaviour through market forces.

Humans may have great concern for the future of the planet but the single greatest influencer of human choices is: “How much money can I make?”

This is why, paradoxically, we may conclude that we have to eat fish in order for fish to survive.

This is the third option: we educate ourselves about seafood, learn about sustainability, eat selectively and reward fisherfolk who practice sustainable fishing by only purchasing fish from them. We can save our fisheries by giving fishers the incentive to fish sustainably.

The same scientists who found that Caribbean reef predators are down by 90 per cent also found that there are reefs, which they call supersites, that can support up to ten times as much fish if protected.

As mentioned before big fish are also down by 90 per cent in the ocean. A 2016 study by Dr Rainer Froese at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Oceanic Research found that in the EU fish catches could increase by 57 per cent if properly managed. So there you are, fisheries depletion and oceanic extinction can be turned around.

Here’s a possible project for Trinidad or Tobago: create a sustainable fishing community that will prove the economic benefit of proper fisheries management.

The first step should be to find a community that is willing to participate.

Give fishers rights to their fishing grounds and give them the means to enforce those rights.

This will allow fishers to benefit from their efforts and sacrifices. Fishers would have to use sustainable methods and only be allowed to fish approved species, quotas and sizes. This should be a transparent process. Attach to this community a sustainable seafood brand or shop where sustainably caught fish, a premium product, can be sold at premium prices to brand aware buyers who are willing to pay top dollar for the best food. Market it as the best fish that money can buy and wait for the iPhone effect.

In time fish stocks can recover, fishers can build assets through having rights to the natural resources they have learnt to manage.

The ocean—or at least the little bit of sea around T&T—can recover and the marine ecosystem can continue to sustain life on earth.

This is how we can make sure that there will be fish for Lent after 2050. What’s your choice?

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