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Live Blue - Protect Our Oceans

Posted Oct 31 2011 7:43pm
photo by Joel Paschal

I have been reading the book, Oceana by Ted Danson.  The subtitle is Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.  Mr. Danson (Yes, the same Ted Danson who played a womanizing bar owner in the sitcom, Cheers.) has been working to solve ocean issues for the past 25 years.  His passion for protecting the oceans began in 1984 when he was walking on the beach with his two young daughters and they came upon a sign that said “Beach Closed - Water Polluted.”  He did not know how to explain this to his girls so he began to look for answers.

In 2001, he helped start a large international group that focuses on ocean issues, Oceana.  This year he authored the book, Oceana.  The book is full of useful information about ocean pollution, global warming, important people who study the oceans, and fishing practices.  My favorite part at the end of each chapter is a summary of what you can do.

The state of our oceans is not good.  The oceans are in a state of crisis right now and it is time to do something about it.  What we decide to do will determine whether the earth’s marine ecosystems collapse or whether they heal and become productive again.  This is vitally important to billions of people around the world who depend on the ocean for food and livelihood.  Mr. Danson is optimistic about the fate of the oceans and my hope hangs on this for I am not so optimistic.  

To help you readers out there (and myself), I plan to blog about this book once a month for several months.   I live in Indiana which is a landlocked state but that does not mean it is not important to me.  The health of the entire earth depends on the health of the oceans.  I once lived in the Caribbean and feel a deep respect and passion for the ocean.  I hope you buy the book and read it for yourself.

The first topic I will cover is seafood.  When we say seafood, we are thinking about food for us humans.  When you shop for seafood, it can be confusing what to eat and what not to eat.  We are warned not to eat some fish because of mercury contamination , we are warned not to eat some farmed fish , and we are told to avoid some types of fish that are overfished.  Frankly, it can be really confusing, plus when I go shopping I can’t remember which types to buy or not buy.  Keep reading - this book offers help.

There are two main ways to fish the oceans: small scale fishermen who fish from a small boat or a fleet of small boats and industrial fisheries who use factory trawlers.   What are the differences?  Here are some facts from Oceana that illustrate how each type works:
  1. Small scale fisheries employ 25 times the number of people, use 1/4 the fuel, and discard far less sea life.
  2. Nine of the ten species that are most commonly fished are on the verge of collapse, mostly due to overfishing by trawling in industrial fishing.
  3. The fishing industry’s overall catch has declined by 1/2 million tons per year since 1988.
  4. If we continue like this, seafood populations will be wiped out by the 2nd half of this century.
What seafood will we eat if there are not enough fish to catch?  Jellyfish.  Overfishing takes away their competition and they are extremely hardy. Some cultures already eat jellyfish.  In fact once I ate jellyfish (I accidentally ordered them because of a language barrier.).  Believe me, they are not a good substitute for shrimp or Mahi mahi.  When a fishery is depleted of fish, a jellyfish bloom may occur, where there are so many jellyfish that fishing nets are clogged by them.  Jellyfish blooms are not uncommon anymore.

What is trawling?  This is the method of fishing that large factory fishing ships use.  It involves dragging huge nets across the seafloor, catching or clear cutting everything in its path. Much of what is caught is discarded.  This is called bycatch.  One estimate is that as many as 16 pounds of marine life is destroyed for every pound of fish that is kept.  Up to 10 pounds of marine life is thrown away for every pound of shrimp caught.

What can you do?  Eat sustainably caught seafood.  When you are at the fish counter, how can you know if a type of fish is caught by trawling or whether or a fish is endangered because of over fishing?  Visit www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx and learn about the free app, Seafood Watch, available from the Android Market or the App Store.  You can also get a pocket Seafood Watch guide .

I downloaded this app onto my iphone and took it shopping right away.  It really was helpful.  For example, I picked up some fish called Swai.  I had never heard of it so I looked it up. It is River catfish or Striped catfish and is imported and farmed.  It was labeled as “Good Alternative”.  Chunk light canned tuna was on sale, though I have never known if canned tuna is a good choice.  I looked up “tuna” and found that this type of tuna should be avoided unless it is labeled troll- or pole-caught. 
You might be shocked to know that two popular fishes are so overfished that you should not eat them at all - orange roughy and red snapper.

Other things you can do (according to Oceana):
  • Send a letter to President Obama to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles .
  • Don’t eat shark fin soup. Several states such as California have banned shark finning. 
  • Support marine-protected areas and marine conservations organizations.
  • Contact your US senators and representatives to support ending overfishing and ensure that the deadlines to rebuild overfished stocks are met.
  • Organize a screening of The End of the Line .
  • Do not eat bluefin tuna.  Before the popularity of sushi, this fish cost pennies per pound and was made into cat food.  Now it is so overfished that you should not eat it.
  • Do your part to educate your favorite restaurants and fish counters.
  • Support Oceana’s efforts to curb global fishing subsidies .  “You show me a polluter and I’ll show you a subsidy.”  Robert Kennedy Jr.
Reading Oceana was overwhelming to me.  I had no idea that the oceans were in such bad shape, even though, I read and write about the plastic debris in our oceans.  This is an issue that everyone needs to pay attention to.  We must reverse the damage we humans have done to the oceans in order to insure that future generations have this vital food source and this beautiful ecosystem to enjoy.  Please get a copy of Oceana and begin living blue. 
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