Thursday, January 22, 2009

Should I stop eating sushi?

From my green advice column on Outside magazine's web site:

Okay, so 90 percent of the world's large fish are gone, says Sylvia Earle. Do I need to stop eating sushi? Santa Fe, New Mexico

That's a great question. At this rate, you really have two options. A) Keep savoring every last morsel of tuna in each maguro roll, and eventually watch the planet’s big fish disappear. Or B) Stop eating tuna altogether and still eventually watch the planet’s big fish disappear.

A famed marine biologist and former chief scientist for NOAA, Sylvia Earle is no alarmist—it's her facts that are alarming. Since the rise of commercial fisheries in the 1950s, stocks of large predatory fish have dropped 90 percent. Overfishing is rampant, and it's largely driven by the luxury food market and government subsidies, she points out.

Don't believe her? Then follow the money. According to a recent UN and World Bank report, the world's commercial fisheries are now losing $50 billion a year because they have to spend so much more capital to find what little is left of the oceans' vanishing fish stocks. The Japanese government gives out nearly $3 billion a year to its floundering fishing fleet, the EU gives about $1.7 billion, and the US gives $1 billion.

Earle has stopped eating fish, but neither she nor you can change the world by turning down sushi. Instead, you should follow her lead by mobilizing, enhancing awareness of the problem, and becoming politically active in the solution. (This advice could really be applied to any facet of environmentalism.) Unless governments like ours become more aggressive in tackling the problem sustainably—and do it soon—big fish will vanish, and our tax dollars will have subsidized the commercial fishing industry to its own demise.