I’d like to think of sea turtles as my spirit animal. I got a tattoo of one when I was going to be a sophomore in college, when I was devoted to not eating land animals, but still ate fish.
I knew that every year, the fishing industry is responsible for killing approximately “3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales,” from reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, but I pushed these facts out of my mind. I was trying to adjust to my rather newfound views that animals are not ours to raise for food, but my defense mechanisms justified my eating “wild caught” fish because at least they lived a good life.
The fact that “the average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard as by-catch,” and that research scientists at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia compare our interactions with fish to “wars of extermination” (Foer, 33 & 49), created a moral dilemma for me. I wanted to believe that eating fish from the ocean was OK, and it was easy to believe the lies that fish weren’t that intelligent, that they didn’t feel pain. It was too heartbreaking to imagine the animals I already cared so deeply about – sea turtles, whales, dolphins – dying as a result of the sushi on my plate. So, for the next two years I tried my hardest to forget about that fact, and justify my taste for seafood by convincing myself that animals live happy lives in the sea, so fishing for them is really just a part of the circle of life, and that I needed my omega-3s, or whatever nutrients the fishing industry says you must eat fish for. It’s been two years since I last ate fish, and thanks to a variety of vegetables, oils, nuts, legumes, fruits, seeds, and nutritional yeast, I get all the nutrients my body needs to thrive without consuming an ounce of seafood.
The sea creatures who get tangled in fishing nets or hooked by long fishing lines and die as a result of fisherman trying to catch other fish are known as “by-catch”, and, as stated in Eating Animals, “roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year.” According to Oceana, nine fisheries in the United States “injure and kill thousands of protected and endangered species every year.” PETA’s website echoes Foer’s research that “145 species—other than tuna—are regularly killed while tuna are being fished. Some of this bycatch also includes hammerhead sharks, common seahorses, puffer fish, orcas, and green turtles, to name just a few.”
I could only deny the facts for so long. The truth always catches up to you. So for the next two years, I cut down on my fish intake until finally, I swore it off for good. The plain fact is that the fishing industry kills hundreds of billions of animals every year, and, according to PETA’s website, “90 percent of large fish populations have been exterminated because of the enormous numbers of animals caught.” National Geographic has reported that our oceans could be depleted of fish by 2048. For the number of humans that “love” the ocean and its various beings, it’s incongruent when those same people start chowing down on fish.
Looking back, I am disappointed in myself for not giving up fish sooner. As someone who can stay in the ocean all day long, someone who has always considered the ocean my peaceful, happy place, I’m mad that I tried denying the facts, all for my taste buds and convenience.
Still, hope is not lost. According to National Geographic‘s interview with Boris Worm, an assistant professor of marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, “Areas managed for improved biodiversity can and do recover … Where we [protect marine areas] around the world—from the tropics to temperate ecosystems—we see an increase in species diversity and productivity and stability and economic revenue from those ecosystems.” The future of our oceans really is in human hands, and I will never contribute to the unsustainable demand for seafood again. I will devote the rest of my life to raising awareness for animals’ rights, because too much depends on it.
All animals want to avoid suffering. All animals want to live. All animals should have a right to their own life.
If you love seafood, try Sophie’s Kitchen! She makes delicious gourmet vegan seafood. You can also try Gardein’s fishless filets –they’re one of my favorites—or their crabless cakes! If you love sushi as much as I do, give vegetable rolls a try! Sweet potato, avocado, tofu, and asparagus rolls are delicious, nourishing, and energizing.
The commercial fishing industry is cruel to the animals, fisherman, and wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. Humans were gifted with the ability to know better—so let’s start doing better. Remember these wise words: FISH ARE FRIENDS NOT FOOD =]
“Commercial Fishing: How Fish Get From the High Seas to Your Supermarket.” PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 0ADAD, http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/commercial-fishing/.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. Little, Brown & Company, 2013.
“Responsible Fishing: Reducing Bycatch.” Oceana, Oceana, 0ADAD, oceana.org/our-campaigns/bycatch/campaign.
Roach, John. “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 2 Nov. 2006, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061102-seafood-threat.html.