I didn’t like fish much as a child. I didn’t really like them to look at and I didn’t like them to eat. They seemed so alien in appearance, and too bony for consumption. That changed; one as my taste changed, and one with the experience of scuba diving. Fish still seem alien under the water, but in their natural habitat they also seem exciting, interesting, free, independent… not like the ones I remember, gasping gormlessly at the glass, during a visit to a aquarium when I was a child.
Perhaps it is these negative associations with fish that make us so more uninspired when it comes to empathising with their fate. Maybe it is also the fact that most of us are even more removed from the fish we eat than from the meat on our plate. Judith Jarvis Thompson wrote about a change she believed would take place in our approach to abortions if we could see babies through glass wombs. There has to be some truth in this: if we cannot see something, it is much easier not to care about it. Children who have not seen a cow are unlikely to become vegetarians, as people who do not know the huge, necessitous value of the stock of our oceans will not be easily moved to stop buying unsustainable fish. Maybe there is one other problem: that our concept of the sea is still one that claims ‘there are plenty more fish…’ In fact, someone said this to me recently, and I had to reply with ‘no, there are not’. As it happens, of course, his remark was analogous to human males, and, as the human population continues to rack up its numbers, it is true to say ‘there are plenty more humans in the world’, but the saying ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ is becoming nothing more than a barefaced lie.
In 2009 the film The End of the Line warned us that, if things carried on the way they were, we would have fished most big fish stocks to extinction by 2048, but last week the front page of the Independent warned us that things are far worse than this. I think that this is the first time I have seen the words ‘Mass Extinction’ in the subheading of a news paper, and it certainly seems likely that the mass extinction that is rolling to a start on land will be preceded by mass extinction in the ocean. Yet, most of us don’t seem to care about the oceans. It’s a worrying phenomenon but, possibly for one of the reasons listed above, (or just due to sheer ignorance/apathy/arrogance – take your pick), the threat of extinction in the seas just does not seem to get us stirring to arms, certainly not to the level of response the problem merits. Maybe it really is because we are so alienated, so removed from what goes on in the sea, that it seems disconnected from us. But it is not. The poised mass extinction in the seas is attributed back to human means: climate change, industrial fishing, toxins, nutrient run off from farming, floating land masses worth of tiny plastics – these are the things that have put the seas on the brink of mass extinction.
Soon, it seems, our connectedness with the oceans will be something we will no longer be able to deny. One billion people rely on fish as a food source. We are facing famines in regions of the world where food should be bountiful – by the sea. The oceans are also responsible for 50% of the oxygen we breathe in the atmosphere. If we complete our foolhardy missions to destroy huge parts of the seas’ ecosystems, our puny attempts to slow climate change will have been thwarted by our destruction of the world’s oceans. In short, we are on the brink of a catastrophe, and yet, we still seem to be ignoring it. It’s a message we need to get out fast, that needs to be spread from person to person, and its a topic I will be covering in more detail in the future: because the ocean hosts an oceans worth of ecological problems.
For now, if you haven’t watched The End of the Line film, I urge you to do so. Click here for the trailer. Greenpeace are hosting a petition to make 40% of the worlds oceans designated marine reserves which they would love you to sign. And, they also host a Red List of fish that are at high risk of being fished from unsustainable sources. Some of these problems are certainly not very easy to solve, but as consumers, we can send the message out that we do not want to eat fish that are are unsustainable.