Greenpeace is launching a major new campaign against the tuna industry, built around the massive deaths to other species caused by the way albacore tuna is caught:
Longlines are just that – long lines set by fishing vessels that stretch from buoy to buoy across the open ocean, sometimes for multiple miles at a stretch. Every few yards, a long lead ending in a baited hook dangles from the main line. When the ship circles back to reel in the longline and assess its catch, it contains far more than albacore tuna. This indiscriminate fishing method is one of the greatest killers of turtles (which get hooked nibbling on the bait, can’t return to the surface to breathe, and drown), albatross and other seabirds (which dive on the glinting hooks thinking that they’re fish and are subsequently snagged), and other non-targeted animals.
The total bycatch rate of this massively destructive operation is estimated to be somewhere just shy of 30% of the total take… that means nearly one third of the total global catch of the albacore fleet – thousands upon thousands of tons per year – is turtles, sharks, sea birds, and other casualties of the industry’s callousness and greed.
The idea that it is somehow more responsible to eat fish rather than other meat has little relation to reality. While it is true that fish have far less of a carbon footprint than beef, the fish industry is literally wiping out the entire ocean. Some of the problem is overfishing of species. But much of the problem is also the widespread extermination of large ocean life, including sharks, dolphins, turtles, and birds, through getting caught in the industrial technology used to give us cheap cans of tuna.
But it’s the ocean, and like everything else in the ocean that you can’t see from shore, it’s easy to forget about it.
This leads me to a side point–how did fish become not meat? Whether Catholics or quasi-vegetarians who occasionally eat fish, how did we make a distinction between the dead flesh of a land animal versus the dead flesh of an ocean animal? It makes absolutely no sense.
If you connect social and ecological values to eating meat and you still choose to eat meat, I argue strongly that fish is the least moral choice you can make.
Update: In comments, Greg asks me to articulate the last paragraph further. I argue that fish is the least moral meat you can eat because it is the last wild animals harvested for the food market on a massive scale. Eating fish today is not so different from eating passenger pigeon or bison in 1870. On top of that, the harvesting of fish results in unbelievable numbers of deaths from other animals. It is certainly possible to argue that because the carbon footprint of eating beef is so high, that the same thing results in a less direct way. Perhaps that is so. But I would definitely argue that eating fish is, at the very least, not a better choice than eating other animals.