I love the beach. The whole ocean, really—but especially the more gentle seas, like the Caribbean. It’s my happy place. And I’ve often said I feel as though I might have been a ship captain in a past life, although I’m not even a sailor in this one. As y’all know, I spend most of this life walking on and talking about the land, soil, farms, gardens, and how we can protect the earth.
The truth is I picked up Oceana to read for business reasons. First, Rodale Inc. published it. And second, I was about to host a party for its author, Ted Danson (yes that Ted Danson), and I felt the responsibility to do my homework. But I’m so very, very glad I read it, and I hope you read it, too. You’ll never look at the ocean and its alleged “bounty” on your plate the same way again.
So many of his stories about the horrific overfishing and waste of the fishing industry, the corruption caused by government subsidies around the world, the toxic chemical pollution caused by fish-farming (aquaculture), made me realize that “as above, so below.” Our attitudes about food and soil are compounded by our attitude toward what’s happening underwater—perhaps even worse, since we can easily pretend it’s not happening.
And the crime of our ignorant and affluent Western culture is that we will be the last people in the world to see it. The “illusion of abundance” we see in our supermarkets every time we shop is abundance stolen from the poor people of the world, and has destroyed the livelihoods of small fisherman and their families. So it is no surprise that they immigrate to our countries, in search of our entitled affluence.
Here are five key statistics from the book, the ones that shocked me most:
1. Since 1988, commercial fishing’s catch has declined by 500,000 tons PER YEAR.
2. For every pound of shrimp caught, 10 pounds of other marine life are killed and thrown away.
3. In 2000, the world’s fisheries had burned 13 billion gallons of fuel to catch 80 million tons of fish. And it’s only gotten worse in the years since (see #2).
4. The world’s factory-farmed pigs and chickens consume twice the amount of seafood in one year that the Japanese people consume as a nation, and SIX times the amount we Americans eat (and those animals weren’t even meant to eat fish).
5. A lot of fish is “faked.” You can’t be sure that the snapper is really snapper, or the more expensive wild-caught really is wild-caught.
It’s not just overfishing that is the problem, but oil pollution from drilling, acidification of the water caused by too much CO2, toxic chemical runoff from farming, plastic waste (also made from oil), and the end of coral reefs in our lifetime. It became clear to me as I read his book that we have to think differently about how we eat and shop, and about seafood and fish in general. It’s precious! We should enjoy it as such. Know its origins, either by catching it ourselves or buying it from a local fisherman, and only eat it thoughtfully and sparingly. Yes, fish is healthy, but organic vegetables are even healthier!
And this spring break or summer, as you enjoy the beach, try to think about what lies beneath. Pick up a trash bag stuck in a tree and fill it with beach trash. And read Oceana. It will make you truly appreciate the ancient power and beauty of our oceans—and why it’s up to us to restore their bounty.
My next blog post will list 10 totally surprising things you can do to restore the oceans, no matter where you live.
In the meantime, for a list of safe (for you and for the planet) seafood to eat, go to www.montereybayaquarium.org . And be sure to check out Ocean Week, happening this week on Rodale.com, where you can enter to win a free, autographed copy of Oceana! Today you can see some beautiful images from the book, and tomorrow will feature an interview with Ted Danson. And Ted will be visiting my kitchen, right here, on Thursday!
Hi Maria…I love the beach also and cannot wait for two of my RVing trips planned for this summer. One to Delaware and the other to Ocean City, MD. I also plan on reading Oceana while relaxing on the beach. After watching a livestream segment of Ted Danson’s talk at Rodale last week, I was inspired to help in some way. I decided that I would purchase 100 re-usable bags from the Giant grocery store and distribute them to my friends and neighbors. I included a letter in each bag that gave a brief description of Ted’s book, it’s importance and how we can all help protect our oceans and the environment. I asked everyone to use the re-usable bag instead of plastic bags, and also encouraged them to read Ted’s book. The fact that sea turtles think a floating bag is a jellyfish, eat it and then die made me very angry and sad. Thank you for giving Rodale employees the opportunity to learn about Ted and his book.
Your sister gave me a copy last week at our leadership dev. class. I can’t wait to read. Heather does such a good job with the students. I admire your persistence in maintaining an interesting and informative blog.
I love the beach too. It is my perfect retreat. I am taking my boys to North Carolina in two weeks and now I know what I will be reading. How sad, the general disrespect we have for our general surroundings.
Heather, Good for you. How inspiring. We do our best to not use plastic bags.
I bought some supposedly wildcaught whole red snapper on this past Saturday. I was wondering exactly what waters they came from and how they were caught. They were beautiful and very fresh. I seldom eat fish, but after seeing a cooking program on Mediterranean foods, I decided to try this Greek fish recipe. It was really good and nutritious, the way it was prepared. I thought after tasting it that I would vow to put more fish into my diet. Now after reading this blog, well, I’ll continue to eat fish three times a month as I normally do, instead of the 6 to 8 times that I was going to increase it to. Anyway, fish is expensive, so I’ll be saving a few dollars and increase my veggie intake, not that I don’t already eat many veggies, I do. You are correct. I have always wondered whether or not these fish that are supposed to be wildcaught, actually are!! I never eat anything labeled farm raised, so…………
Thanks for keeping us seafood consumers on the right path and saving the creatures of the sea. I am a water lover. I am a Cancerian. No place, beside the mountains, make me feel more at home and at peace, then being near, on, or in the water.
If all the problems we are having with the world’s oceans and seas aren’t enough, now this nuclear disaster in Japan has worsened the situation. We cannot win. If it’s not one thing, ’tis another.
Thanks for continuing to keep us informed.
it’s heartbreaking & disturbing to see what we’re doing to our oceans & it’s inhabitants.
20-30 years ago, industrial fishing vessels perfected the pollock harvest by instantly freezing the fish & storing them in hulls & were able to increase the catch by ten folds. Previously, this was impossible, as the fish would spoil quickly.
A few years later, the Inuit Eskimos of Alaska approached the local “white leaders”, carrying seal skins. When held up to the sun, the Eskimos demonstrated that the sunlight could be seen through the seals skins. This was never seen by the Eskimos ever, & it greatly alarmed them. What they concluded was that the increased harvest was taking the food away from the wildlife & they were malnourished, and the seals unable to build the fat layers they needed to thrive. This greatly worried the Eskimos, because, they stated, “without seals, we will not survive”. This story did not include a response from the “leaders’, and as we can see- the decimation of the fish continues -the Eskimos warnings ignored.
You might find it interesting to read my book, “Deserted Ocean,” because it chronicles 1000 years of fishing in the North Atlantic. It attempts to define the “pristine” ocean, as opposed to NMFS which seems to think history began in 1950, at least in determining how much the fish biomass is reduced.
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