6 shocking facts about seafood production

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CC BY 2.0 Mrs. Gemstone

Gone are the peaceful afternoons of waiting for a fish to bite the line. The seafood industry is a vicious and brutal one, both for animals and humans. Farmed fish are subjected to terrible lives, wild fish are caught unfairly and mindlessly, and all face inhumane deaths. Even humans are enslaved to put cheap shrimp on your dinner table. Here are just a few reasons why you should think twice about eating fish, or go out and catch it yourself.

1. Fishing vessels are essentially war ships

Fishing vessels are now outfitted with radar, echo sounders that were once used to locate enemy submarines, satellite-based GPS, navy-developed electronic navigation systems, and satellite-generated images of ocean temperatures used to identify schools of fish. The fish don’t stand a chance.

2. The amount of bycatch is horrifying

“Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.” -- Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

For every pound of shrimp on your dinner table, 26 pounds of other sea animals were killed and tossed back into the sea. ‘Bycatch’ refers to all the additional creatures that are caught in the highly inefficient methods for harvesting seafood. Shrimp trawling is pretty much the worst, throwing 80 to 90 percent of its extra catch overboard in order to get to the shrimp. While shrimp makes up only 2 percent of the global seafood market by weight, its harvest is responsible for 33 percent of global bycatch.

3. If you buy shrimp from Thailand, you support slave labour

A recent report in the Guardian reveals the shocking extent of slave labour used in Thai shrimp production. Men are bought, sold, and kept on fishing vessels for months on end. There are reports of 20-hour shifts, beatings, torture, execution-style killings, and enforced methamphetamines to keep going. These vessels produce fishmeal, made from ground-up ‘trash’, infant, or inedible fish, which are then used to feed farmed prawns and shrimp. These are then sold in mainstream supermarkets, including Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour, and Costco.

4. Tuna are caught using very controversial “Floating Aggregate Devices”

Paul Greenberg writes for Civil Eats that, because tuna live out in open water, they are attracted to any large floating objects. Fishing vessels have learned to capitalize on this interest, and toss FADs into the water to draw tuna from far away. This “skews the dynamic of the ocean” by making them such easy prey.

5. Farmed or wild? Neither is any good

Farmed fish are subjected to foul water conditions, crowding to the point of cannibalization, nutritional deficiencies, and abundant sea lice. There are no legal requirements for the humane slaughter of fish. Wild fish are caught by long-lines (which can be as long as 75 miles), which can kill far more than their target species; trawling, which is the equivalent of clearcutting the rainforest (see bycatch above); and purse seines, which rope in entire schools of fish, while tangling and ripping apart fish in the process.

6. The seahorse population has decreased 50% in 5 years

Seahorses are an indicator species, representative of the general health of the underwater world, but their estimated population has been cut in half over the past five years alone. Seahorses get caught up in trawling nets. Each year 150 million seahorses are caught for traditional Chinese medicine treatments, where they are sold, dried, for US $600-3,000 per kilogram. Another 1 million are caught and dried for ornaments and trinkets. Many (1 million per year) are caught for the aquarium trade, despite their low rates of survival – less than 0.1% survive the first 6 weeks, before learning how to eat frozen food.

Tags: Fish | Fishing | Oceans

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