Step Seven – Less Seafood In Your Belly

(whoops – I wrote this and then realized I had skipped Step Six!  I’ll do that one next, but in the meantime . . .)

I really wish that this step read something like this:

I am thrilled to announce that eating seafood is super sustainable, and we can all go stuff our bellies with shrimp and oysters while toasting the beautiful bountiful ocean!


Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Sadly, that’s not the truth.  This is really hard for me – I grew up on the Atlantic coast my whole life.  I breathed salt air, ate seafood like it would never end, and loved it.  When I came home from being away at school, the dish I asked my mom to make was shrimp.


To say it briefly, I’ll paraphrase from the November 2006 issue of Science – If current trends continue, the oceans will be essentially barren, with no chance of recovery, by 2048.  (That’s only 38 years folks!)

I’ve known, in a vague way, that things were not going well in the ocean for years.  As a teenage, I volunteered with my dad to spend a week on a tiny island off the coast off Georgia, walking the beach all night long to monitor and protect the endangered sea turtles who came there to lay their eggs.  I knew about mercury in tuna, and as much as I love tuna sushi, I cut back, and haven’t touched it since I got pregnant over three years ago.  Since moving to the inland Pioneer Valley, seafood has not been a big part of my diet, but it was still an occasional treat.  Sushi, smoked salmon, oysters on the half shell.

Then, I started learning more about what it really meant to eat seafood today.  I learned that a lot of “fishing” in the deep ocean is done with underwater bulldozers, that crush coral reefs, grab a bunch of sealife in their maws, and use only a fraction of what they catch.  Last February (while visiting family in Louisiana and chowing down on seafood, ironically), I read the article “All You Can Eat” by Jim Carrier in Orion (one of my favorite reads).  A few disturbing tidbits from that article:

“In the gold-rush days . . . shrimpers killed ten pounds of sea life for every pound of harvested shrimp—waste that reached one billion pounds a year in the Gulf. Once called “trash,” now called “by-catch,” this sea life included sea turtles driven to the brink of extinction, and juvenile red snapper, a good eating fish. Under environmental regulations requiring escape hatches in nets, the by-catch-to-shrimp ratio has been reduced to four-to-one . . .”

Most of the seafood, particularly shrimp, now sold in the US is imported, and comes from seafood “farms.”

“A shrimp farm is a saltwater feedlot. There can be as many as 170,000 shrimp larvae in a 1-acre pond that is 1 to 2 meters deep. So-called intensive ponds can yield 6,000 to 18,000 pounds of shrimp in that acre in 3 to 6 months. . .Because of this density, the waste they swim in, and their susceptibility to disease, most farmed shrimp are treated with antibiotics, only some of them legal in the U.S. A wide array of poisons is used to kill unwanted sea life and cleanse ponds for reuse, creating what Public Citizen calls a “chemical cocktail.” In random sampling of imported shrimp, health officials in the U.S., Japan, and the European Union have found chloramphenicol, a dangerous antibiotic banned in food.”

Out of all that imported seafood, “The Food and Drug Administration, responsible for imported food safety, samples less than 1 percent of the 1 billion pounds.”

What I’m saying here is that not only is our seafood addiction destroying the oceans (which are critical for healthy life of the entire planet), but the seafood we’re eating so much of is toxic. It’s a little hard to really wrap our minds around this, when we’re constantly being told about all those good omega-3s in salmon, and how lean and great fish is for us.  Fish 50 years ago that wasn’t drenched in heavy metals and raised in chemical soup, maybe.  Fish now?  No thank you.  Hence, Step 7: Eat Less Seafood.

Edited on Feb 22 to add: A reader sent in a link to this documentary, coming out in June:

6 Responses to “Step Seven – Less Seafood In Your Belly”

  1. 1

    You’ve convinced me. That wasn’t hard, was it?

  2. 2

    Just an FYI —
    Thankfully there are a few places like this, which just happens to be in Turners Falls, MA:

    Also, worthwhile to carry a list like this around, when dining out or shopping.
    (there are a few handy pdf’s along the side.)

  3. 3

    Waaah! I’ve already reduced my seafood intake but I miss it so. However, I would miss viable oceans far more.

  4. 4

    Well said, Jen.

  5. 5

    Thanks for sharing these, Bethany. The pocket guide can be very handy indeed.

  6. 6

    Woo hoo! :) Guess you won’t have to have that imagined conversation with Sylvia (or perhaps just a different conversation.)

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