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Michael Conathan has an interesting albeit somewhat overoptimistic look at the state of fisheries in 2011. Conathan notes a variety of pretty good news ranging from the implementation of catch limits in American fisheries to crackdowns on pirate fishing. Two points I found particularly worth noting.

First, limits on the menhaden harvest are notable because for the first time, a species is being protected because of the key role it plays in the ecosystem due to its status as food for larger species. While I’m skeptical of the long-term commitment of Americans to protect species at various points in the ecosystem, it’s still a move in the right direction.

Second, Conathan gives some tough talk on aquaculture, basically arguing that while fish farming may have problems, it’s the only solution if we want to keep eating fish.

Still, as I discussed in June, if we take domestic aquaculture off the table, our options for seafood become extremely unpalatable. Foreign farmed fish is filthier than anything we would ever allow here, our domestic wild fisheries are already stressed, and the environmental impacts of additional beef, chicken, and pork production make aquaculture look positively pristine.

Thinking we should eat more vegetables and less fish? Try selling vegetarianism as a wide-scale solution to Americans’ omnivorous ways and see how far you get. Especially with my 4-year-old. NOAA’s policy represents an excellent step toward a future that includes domestic, sustainable seafood.

Well, maybe that’s true. But I do see that fish-free day of reckoning happening in the next few decades and it will be ugly. And given that farmed fish like salmon eat a lot of other fish that continues the wild fish harvest, I’m not sure whether it is actually sustainable in the long-term, even if we ignore or attempt to mitigate the other environmental problems such as water quality and diseased fish.

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  • Downpuppy

    Based on personal experience – including dealing with a small vegetarian – I would have thought that meat consumption was already declining.

    Apparently not by 2002woud be useful. (in kg)

    ISO 2002 1992 1982 1972

    Canada CAN 108.1 96.5 98.2 97.7
    Greenland GRL 113.8 70.3 77.9 54.4
    United States USA 124.8 117.2 105.3 107.1

    Although it appears that 2004 was the peak, with a 5% decline by 2009 – http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodConsumption/FoodAvailspreadsheets.htm#mtpcc (red meat & Poultry, boneless equivalent, fell from 201.5 to 190.8 lbs/person) Fish never went much over 16lbs.

  • We could also eat carp, which are a pest here, but are the most important food fish in China and Europe.

    • LKS

      Carp are practically a staple for poor and working class Americans who live where they can fish for them.

      • That’s probably why prosperous Americans won’t eat them. A century ago they were a commercial fish in the US. Now they’re a trash fish and sometimes are eradicated from lakes and rivers at great expense.

        • The problem with carp, at least with a significant portion of the invasive fresh water species, is they are filter feeders.

          It’s hard to bait a hook with plankton.

          • Commercial fishermen don’t have to be sporting and usually use nets. But crap are an increasingly important sport fish. You have to know their tricks, just like any other fish.

        • Bill Murray

          growing up in South Dakota in the 70s, we made fun of (and some money selling to) the Nebraskans just across the river for their love of carp

      • markg

        I’d like to see some proof that carp is “practically a staple” food for any significant number of people in this country. It certainly isn’t in the upper midwest where I live. the prejudice against it extends to practically everybody except the odd contrarian with his special recipe.

        • DrDick

          A lot of African Americans eat it in Chicago today and it used to be pretty common in the immigrant communities, though I do not know about today. A lot of the Indians in Eastern Oklahoma eat it as well.

        • Probably more to the south. Even in Iowa I’ve met carp fishermen, so it isn’t that far south. Upper midwestern fishermen are so spoiled that they even grumble about northern pike.

          • DrDick

            In the actual South (at least the parts I am familiar with), carp is generally referred to as a n****r fish, meaning tat those are the only people who would eat it. Poor white trash eat them as well, but it is really low status food.

    • DrDick

      It was actually introduced into this country by European immigrants as a aquaculture food fish in the 10th century. It escaped from the ponds and later became naturalized.

      • DrDick

        Urk. That should be “in the 19th century”

        • Bill Murray

          I thought you had some new anthropological data you were sharing here first

          • Vikings, mate.

            • DrDick

              A few centuries too early for them as well.

              • Bill Murray

                more like decades. Leif Ericson was born ca.970

    • Mrs Tilton

      Can’t speak as to China, but as for Europe, WTF?! Yes, you can find carp sold here, and people do sometimes eat them (most often around Xmastide). But they are not held in high regard. At a guess people eat far more salmon, dorado (sorry; don’t know the name in English), herring, sardines/anchovies, hake and various sorts of flatfish.

      • Antonio Conselheiro

        Per Wiki, carp is a sport fish in England and W. Europe but carp has lost its popularity there. Probably the same dynamic as the US. It’s still a commercial fish in central and eastern Europe.

        This whole issue isn’t really about how hard it is to get fish, it’s about how hard it is to get the most-prized, most expensive fish. It’s pretty much the same story as rhinocerus horn — the free-market luxury economy is powerful enough to drive any species to extinction.

      • Antonio Conselheiro

        Wiki again: Izaak Walton said about carp in The Compleat Angler, “The Carp is the queen of rivers; a stately, a good, and a very subtle fish; that was not at first bred, nor hath been long in England, but is now naturalised.”

        Styles change.

      • The dorado is known here as Atlantic mahi-mahi or dolphin fish.

    • JoyfulA

      Some years back, I was considering buying a fresh fish and produce store in far northeast Philadelphia. In the back room was a large wooden tub crowded with carp swimming around. Supposedly, customers wanted to see the carp live and flopping around before they bought. Why, I don’t know. Everything else in the store was dead.

      No, I didn’t buy the store. Or the carp, which was explained to me as “like big goldfish.”

  • Barry Freed

    Especially with my 4-year-old.

    That’s an unusual 4-year old that likes fish. At least IME.

    • Malaclypse

      Mine liked fish at that age, but not as much as she liked spinach.

      • Hogan

        I thought for a long time that I didn’t like fish. Later I learned that I just didn’t like the way my mother cooked it.

        • DrDick

          Heh. I was in my 20s before I realized that meat was not gray and that vegetables had texture.

      • DrDick

        I loved fish at 4 and learned to fish at 5.

        • My grandnephew started fishing when he was 3 and started fishing with an actual hook when he was 4.

          • DrDick

            My mother would not let me around hooks until I was 5 (she knew me too well). When I was 5, she let her father show me how to fish with a cane pole and worms in his stock pond.

    • Mudge

      My son liked fish when he was young, maybe even younger than 4, as long as you called every type flounder and let him put ketchup on it.

  • joel hanes

    The problem is not too few fish.

    The problem is too many people for a small planet.

    Support Planned Parenthood.

    • Alan Tomlinson

      If you prefer that lens, the problem is too many first world denizens. Americans overconsume, when compared to Indians, by between three and four orders of magnitude.


      Alan Tomlinson

  • What about goat and sheep? I grew kind of tired of mutton when I was living in Central Asia, but goat is quite tasty. You can raise goats just about anywhere. Also I never had any trouble eating fish caught or raised outside the US. Maybe Americans just think foreign farmed fish is less clean?

    • djw

      As far as ecological impact, I believe lamb is even worse than beef. Goat is substantially better than lamb and beef in environmental terms, but I’m not sure if it’s any better than pork/chicken (there’s a huge gap between beef and pork, IIRC).

      (The above is a hazy recollection of Something I Read Somewhere Once, and as such could be quite incorrect)

      • DrDick

        Sheep crop grass closer to the ground than cattle and thus are more injurious to the environment when it is overgrazed. Overgrazing by sheep is credited with deforesting much of Spain and turning it into desert. I am not sure about the impact of goats, but they are browsers rather than grazers and eat a much wider array of plants (ranchers in Oklahoma and Texas run goats in among their cattle to keep down the growth of brush).

  • Otto, this is a global problem. All the world’s fisheries are being destroyed. And the link does say that foreign aquaculture is dirtier than ours.

    I doubt that there were ever enough fish, at any human population level, to make it possible to substitute fish for meat worldwide. Fish is just a taste preference that everyone can’t have.

    • Well since most Americans don’t like fish than that is fine. But, in West Africa fish is much cheaper than chicken or other sources of animal protein. One reason is that fish is raised domestically whereas even a lot of chicken is imported, mostly from Holland. Another reason is that it is just cheaper to raise a fish than a cow. The only readily available sources of animal protein here are goat, chicken, and fish. Maybe Americans can switch to goat which is not mentioned in the OP since fish is allegedly not an option?

      • It’s kind of odd how goat has such limited appeal in America. I suspect that might have something to do with its reputation as a consumer of garbage (not completely true, but not as far off the mark as we’d like to admit, I think.)

        I’ve had goat in Jamaica, Bermuda, and other island nations. It’s really quite tasty, if a bit tougher than, say, lamb.

        • If it is cooked right it is not tough. I eat goat a couple times a week. About half the time it is really tender. The other half it is tougher. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any way to figure out when the dining halls will be serving tender vs. tough goat.

  • As I said, Americans could switch to domestic fresh-water carp. When people talk about “fish” they mean a limited number of tasty species.

    • Steamed carp in brown sauce with scallions is very tasty. You should be able to get it at any decent Chinese cafe.

  • If land animals were harvested the way fish are, and bycatch of (say beef) included dead dogs and cats, you can bet your damn ass we’d find better ways of farming.

    Similar thinking needs to go into fishing. Trawlers and long-lines are insufficiently protective of unintended catch like turtles and sharks. The way we fish is not unlike leaving pointed sticks at random points in a forest or jungle, then checking every week to see if something’s been caught. It’s ludicrous.

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