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The fight for seafood

We’ve said it many times in different posts and forewords to recipes: we love seafood! We adore everything coming from the sea – fish, clams, mussels, oysters, shrimps, prawns, lobsters, crayfish, crabs… you name it! And I often catch myself wondering: “Can I live on fish only?” The answer is, definitely yes. However the other question is will there be enough fish and seafood out there so I can enjoy it all my life?

The catch of the day - Aegean islands

Photo by Antonia Kostova for sharemykitchen.com

I realize that we are not the only ones who are developing a taste for seafood, and in fact there are millions of people like me. World’s appetite for seafood has boomed in recent years and today the worldwide consumption of fish is 147 million tonnes per annum, I was amazed to learn. To be frank I could not fully comprehend what stays behind this colossal figure before reading that the amount of annual consumption was just about 20 million tonnes per year, some 40 years ago.

So where does the skyrocketing demand come from? It’s Europe and U.S. mainly, so far, where the relative prosperity and growing awareness of the health benefits of eating omega-3 rich fish, has boosted consumption of what is for the main part of the rest of the world, a luxury.

In Europe (where we live), the traditional diet includes lot’s of fish for thousands of years – because of geographical, cultural and even religious reasons. In fact Europeans eat four times more fish than people in India (around 20kg of fish per person per year, compared to 5kg the average Indian eats per year).

However, all that is about to change, as emerging middle class of India (and not only) develops taste and budget for seafood. Predictions are than in the next 20 years or so there will be more than 500 million middle class people in India alone, which is more than there are people in U.S.  If they only double the amount of fish and seafood they eat, where is it going to come from? Westerners have eaten most of the fish already…

A study commissioned by the University of York in the U.K. concludes that most fish populations have shrunk by 70-95% depending on fishes, compared to the level they would be at if there were no commercial fishing.

What makes matters worse is that there are certain types of fish that enjoy popularity and eating habits of the western societies put pressure on fishermen to catch only the most marketable fish. For example, in Britain, from where my observations are the most comprehensive, cod and haddock have been always the white fish of choice. And they are consumed in huge quantities: I made a small research and it turns out that Britons eat around 250 million fish-and-chips meals per year! All together just 10 species are popular in the U.K., and prawns, salmon, tuna, cod and haddock make three-quarters of the overall seafood consumption.

Why Pollack, gurnard, pouting, mackerel and mussels, which are much more sustainable, are not consumed? My opinion is that is simply because they are not in fashion, considered to be of a “second quality” and a little more difficult to prepare and cook.

Freshly caught sea fish

Photo by Jeliazko Kolev Jeliazkov for sharemykitchen.com

Another example is the Black Sea, on the cost of which we currently live. You would think that fresh fish and seafood should be freely available all year round, plus it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. And it’s exactly the opposite! There is almost no fish in The Black Sea, especially during the summer, when it’s a high season and the demand is far greater than supply, and prices of fresh fish are… you better don’t ask. This is the last week of August and mussels in the two neighboring mussel farms have finished – no more mussels until the early summer of next year.

What do we do reverse the declining fish stocks?

Few of the steps everyone can take in an attempt to reverse the damage before it’s too late and keep fish on the menu for future generations are to shift few of the existing trends. Eat local fish as much as possible, including everything that “catch of the day” provides, especially if it’s caught in the conventional way, without the use of voracious technology. Large trawlers equipped with sophisticated technology and nets with a gaping maw one mile in perimeter, extending a third of a mile astern, capable of catching 700-800 tonnes of fish in one haul, are largely accountable for the depletion of the seas and oceans.

Also, don’t buy illegal fish from the black market: it’s either from surplus catch exceeding the quota or accidental bycatch (netting species other than targeted) or, what’s very sad, small fish – juveniles caught and deprived of the chance to breed.

While supply is declining global demand is rising and appears to be insatiable. This makes me wonder if my daughter will be lucky enough to know the taste of fresh wild fish when she reaches my age, and not just the taste of farmed tilapia, cod and salmon.  I really hope.

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