Fish are the world’s last wild food, and a severely threatened one at that. We need to sustain our ocean and freshwater stocks and species, not just for nutritional and economic reasons but moral ones. That isn’t going to happen unless we start doing things differently. A story in Sunday’s Gazette, about a growing number of chefs around the country creating dishes using obscure “trash” fish, gave reason for encouragement.
Fish is an excellent source of protein and people love to eat it, which means there’s great demand. So much that the most popular kinds, such as salmon, bass, cod and tuna, have been overfished and are in decline.
Aquaculture is considered the great hope for sustaining these species and feeding the world, and already more than half of all the fish consumed is produced this way.
But there are many problems associated with fish farming. One of the biggest is that it focuses on the popular kinds rather than what are the easiest and most efficient to grow. Another, related, problem is that it relies so heavily on using small fish to feed the ones being grown, with the amount needed exceeding the yield in terms of pounds.
There’s also the problem of excrement from the farmed fish polluting the oceans and estuaries in which they are grown. And of those that escape their confines endangering wild fish populations with disease and a weakened gene pool.
Even if all these problems could be overcome, do we really want a world in which there are no wild fish? A world in which an angler can’t catch a big one, in which a commercial fisherman can't go out in his boat and make a living?
The answer to sustainability, to saving threatened species and making them abundant again, lies in diversity. Manage not just different species, but entire ecosystems. Don’t just take the fish that people demand, take what the oceans supply. That’s what those chefs are doing, as they serve up things like sea slugs, scorpion fish and roasted fish heads. And customers are enthusiastic, they say.
It’s like taking pressure off the overused High Peaks by getting people to climb lower, lesser-known but still beautiful ones. There are plenty of mountains in the Adirondacks, and fish in the sea.