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Useful And Fantastic: A Waste Of Fish

Val Yule demands more thought and responsibility in the ways we harvest the oceans' limited numbers of fish.

‘As many herrings as live in the sea’ used to mean unimaginable numbers. Anyone reading Rudyard Killing’s Captains Courageous’ about the fishing boats on the banks off Newfoundland, bouncing on sea that was more codfish than water, so that the boats just hauled them in, would never guess that in fifty years the cod would be scarce, and now are very rare. The great Bank breeds no more.

Most of our waste of fish could be prevented.

Are you a seafood lover? Researchers warn in the journal Science that 90 per cent of present-day marine fish, crustaceans, shellfish and other currently eaten species of seafood could vanish within 50 years. But the study's lead author, Canadian fisheries researcher Boris Worm, thinks countries will correct the present overfishing, the economic mismanagement and the environmental degradation before that happens. Really?

These are things we should stop, at the very least: -

As children, we took everything out of the rock pools at our beach, and now all that are left in them are a few anemones, in only thirty years. We took tiddlers, bait, crabs, sea-horses, baby fish of all sorts – and if we had only known, we could have left most of them in there, instead of to die in bottles on windowsills. Then our grandchildren could have the same pleasure we had, finding the creatures in the pools – but leaving them there.

Phillip Gosse in 1860 wrote a book about the rock pools of Britain. He later regretted it, because within a generation the pools were plundered by people who had only discovered through him what a wealth of life was in them. Every child now took a net as well as a bucket and spade to the seaside.

Boats going out fishing today trawl hundreds of hooks on lines hundreds of metres long, and they trawl the breeding grounds on the sea-bottom, destroying them, and their nets catch everything from birds to dolphins. For every fish that is eaten by a human being, a thousand by-catch die, even if thrown back.

Some kill fish for the sake of one small part – Northern Europeans killed whales for the ambergris, before they killed them to make corsets and fill lamps, and now some countries kill whales for almost everything. The trade in sharkfins kills the whole shark.

One awful sort of waste is big-game fishing, which today thinks it is doing its part in fish conservation if the fish are thrown back, mouths torn and exhausted from the fight for life. Big-game fishing is big business – the boats alone can cost hundreds of thousand of dollars. Surely people can have their fun and a reason for going out in boats, that tremendous adventure, without hooking big game – what can take its place? Catching jellyfish, which are replacing fish in so many parts of the world?

When I was a child down by Port Phillip Bay in Victoria we used to take a rowboat out for a day’s fishing. We used to eat everything we caught except what we used for bait. We would have a good catch of all sorts of fish in an hour. But there have been too many people chasing the fish. There are half the variety and a quarter the catch.

Today we do not wantonly catch the fish on coral banks, we scuba dive and take photographs of ourselves playing with them. But the seas where the coral thrive are being polluted from the shores of the continents, from run-off from town and farms.

So much of the fish that are caught are wastefully used, from the tons of fish that make fertiliser, and the tons of fish that make fish-meal for farmed fish or farmed animals, to the tons of fish that don’t get sold in your fish-shop. Fishmeal is wasteful because it takes tons of fishmeal to make one ton of farmed fish or one ton of meal. Surely we could find a way to use these fish directly, instead of feeding them to this second layer of the food chain.

We are trying to make up for the shortages of prime fish in the seas by fish-farming, with all the problems that accumulate from them of the wastes and the diseases that than spread to the sea and the wild fish.

We try to cut down on our land-animal protein by eating fish, so terrifically nourishing. But there are so many of us! And very soon we will have 3 billion more of us. Surely we could have only two children per family (one per person as a reproductive right), and eat more vegetables and fruit while going carefully on all the fish we eat – and waste.

The fish industry contains a tremendous amount of waste – all the by-catch that is disposed of because it is not used; all the remains of fish thrown out after filleting; all the waste of fish that is not sold at the wharf, the wholesalers; the retailers and the fried-fish shops; and all the waste that the ultimate buyers allow themselves – the fish they do not cook in time, and the parts people leave on their plates.

Let no fish be wasted! Let all we catch be used. Let all else run free, to enjoy its life, and to breed, even to be eaten by other fish, so we can have fish to catch in the future.

Let us enjoy scuba diving, and going out in boats to watch the fish. Let us take photos of the rock pools.

Let us explore the possibilities today of growing our own fish in ponds and moats, as used to be done in the past. What fun! What fresh fish!

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