Posted in Climate Action, recipe for a green life

The Devastation of Overfishing and the Major Problems with Aquaculture and Seafood

Photo by Abhijeet Soman on Unsplash

Starving marine life, and everything you need to know about sustainable seafood — if there is such a thing anymore…

CS Sherin, April 29, 2019

There are devastating impacts from overfishing and farmed fish upon wildlife and our marine ecosystems. As we look at these issues, keep in mind that overfishing and factory fish farms (aquaculture) make all the other problems even more stressful and devastating. Sadly, the beautiful ocean of this Earth has become an extremely stressful home for marine life.

While humans may not live in the ocean, our lives depend upon the ocean as well. If the ocean life cannot survive, we won’t be able to either. Seeing all life on the planet as connected and interdependent, as family, is the most accurate viewpoint, when it comes to seeking a healthy future for everyone.

Graphic fact sheet from Change Market’s “Until the seas dry up” April 2019 report: “Fish Laundering: Industrial Aquaculture’s Hidden Paradox”

The April 2019 report from Changing Markets on Aquaculture addresses many of the critical issues we now face. Their graphic above contains the following information:

  • the ocean is sick and severely depleted
  • overfishing, along with climate change, demand, and pollution (sound, plastic, chemicals, fabrics, waste) are destroying the ocean’s ecosystems
  • billions of wild fish and crustaceans are used to feed farmed seafood
  • aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector
  • overfishing takes food and livelihood away from the poor who are in countries without food security
  • the wild fish taken to create fish meal and fish oil (“forage fish”) are key to the food chain, including: plankton, fish, marine animals, and seabirds
  • the main forage fish within the food chain are: anchovy, sardine, herring, mackerel, and krill

Some carnivore species rely on just one species of food in order to survive, like the orca pod that is starving, in the NW Pacific, who depend on endangered Chinook salmon. It may seem strange, but it is really no different than the monarch caterpillar whose sole food source is milkweed (which is scarce due to heavy use of pesticides in the Midwest). Another example, breeding penguins rely on anchovies off the coast of South Africa. When the anchovies are not there, then babies cannot be born or are weak and may not survive. In South Africa, a ban was placed on catching “forage fish” like sardines and anchovies to help the endangered penguins. Evidence shows that bans like this help the penguins. Forage fish numbers can mean life or death for marine life.

The good news is: we can take steps to speak out against policies and practices that contribute to this kind of overwhelming devastation, and resulting starvation for marine life. It isn’t too late to take a stand with voice, choice, and actions. It is best to start at home, with our own lifestyle — and that goes hand in hand with political action. We can change our demand for food, while we support political and business leadership that upholds what is most ethical and sustainable.

Heartbreaking Impacts: Starving Marine Life

In just the past year or so, if you search the internet for news about overfishing and the impacts of aquaculture, you will find report after report about all kinds of wildlife that are starving to death, with little to no help on the way — like seabirds of all kinds, whales, orcas, dolphins, and sea lions:

These reports are not easy to read, yet it is important that we read them. If we turn away from the difficult news, just because we feel small and helpless about it, or too tender, we will not have the awareness that is necessary in order to make informed decisions. When we are aware of the problems we face, then we are able to respond to them more appropriately and effectively. And, certainly, people are becoming aware, and things are being done — but there is not enough momentum yet, and too much suffering is continuing.

Just this week, I wrote about the ethical issues involved with the Native American Lummi tribe’s call to feed the starving orcas in the bay of Seattle and Bellingham Washington. I do support their call to feed the orcas now. The fact is, aquaculture (factory fish farms) monopolize much of the food that would be in the ocean for our fellow living beings, like the orcas. We need to re-direct what is happening. There is a need to respond to starvation (whether they are human or birds, mammals or other sorts of living beings) by providing food.

Still, we are dealing with difficult problems. Feeding those who are starving leads to heart-breaking questions about a means for survival after the starvation is alleviated — because of other ongoing problems like pollution and ocean warming.

The stark truth is that the starvation tragedies occurring worldwide are due to: loss of habitat, pollution (like plastics and chemicals), loss of food sources due to overfishing and farmed fisheries, ocean warming, and climate change. It would be foolish to think that none of this will affect us humans. What happens to wildlife and nature is surely happening to us as well. However, we can still act to change some parts of this. But first, let’s learn more about the issues of aquaculture and sustainable seafood.

The Problems Of Aquaculture

Farming fish is meant to take the stress off of the oceans, provide a way to supply more sustainable seafood, and give us healthier alternatives to other meats. Instead, farmed fish and aquaculture has not decreased the demand for wild seafood, nor has it decreased the stress on ocean wildlife and fishes.

Why is this? Fish farms need to feed their fish, and that requires huge amounts of wild fish to be taken from the ocean, slaughtered, and turned into feed. In addition, almost all fish farms are filled with wild fish at the start. On top of that, the way in which fish farms are managed is for profit and expansion, not conservation and healthy sustainability.

Beyond these problems with fish farming, aquaculture also contains the same dark side that all factory farms have, they are: huge, crowded, have dirty containment with runoff; tons of antibiotics and chemicals, genetic modification, and inhumane cruelty.

As is too often the case in the United States, Native American beliefs and practices are not respected or protected enough in these matters either. Salmon are sacred to Native Americans. Therefore, Native Americans wish to protect the wild salmon that are now endangered.

Another problem: fish that escape from the industrial fish farms cause chaos and damage the local ecosystem by way of pollution, non-native diseases, and competition. The factory farmed fish that are crowded in nets in the ocean, also cause great peril for marine life. The huge and unethical crowding of the “frankenfish” draws attention from hungry ocean life, who then get entangled in the nets.

In addition, overfishing also takes away the livelihood and food from poorer populations around the world, who are dealing with the effects of climate change, and loss of food sources and clean water.

All of this translates into a massive humanitarian and environmental crisis and disaster. Suffering among the most vulnerable will continue and increase, until major efforts are made to end the corruption, exploitation, and abuses that are going on in our country and world.

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

A solution that is proposed for the impacts of aquaculture overfishing to feed the fish in their farms, is to depend more on freshwater and plant-based food for the farmed fish.

Unfortunately, plant-based food for farmed fish and other farmed seafood is another empty solution. Fish farms that apply this method, most often depend on massive crops, which demand huge amounts of resources. According to Anthropocene magazine, “demand for freshwater went up by 63%, both land-use, and phosphorus use (for fertilizer) surged by over 80%”.

This translates into increased pollution and stress on freshwater and land resources and ecosystems, due to corporate farming practices. All in all, aquaculture, as it stands now, is not sustainable. Just as factory and corporate farming are not healthy, sustainable, or humane.

Whenever profit and quantity are prioritized over life and collective and environmental health, we will find disastrous results for life and future.

CS Sherin, author of “Recipe For A Green Life”

Many of the major producers of fish meal and fish feed for factory fish farms commit to transparency and sustainability in word only. There are no real disclosures or transparency about the amount of wild-caught fish that are taken, sourcing, or sustainability measures — if any.

Despite all of these serious problems, aquaculture (including fish, shrimp and mollusks) are booming. Yet, most of these harbor all of these dark and dangerous issues, which are threatening the survival of life on our planet.

Aquaculture Sources:

The Problems Of Sustainable Seafood

If we are going to eat seafood, we need to make sure that we are choosing seafood that is healthy and sustainable. With all the marine life dying and starving around the world, we have to really sit with the question: is seafood really ever sustainable anymore?

Let’s start with the big official certification for sustainability. Does the seafood have a certification in sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)? Then it must be sustainable and good, right? Certainly, it is an important marker. Yet, much like loopholes and other transparency issues that exist with organic certification, this seafood sustainability certification also has problems and challenges regarding transparency and accuracy of claims. The Pew Environment Group thinks it is misleading for the MSC certification to use the word “sustainable”.

Some critically endangered species, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) include: southern bluefin tuna, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. Some endangered species include: loggerhead, green, and olive ridley sea turtles, sawfishes, and blue whales. Whale sharks, humpback whales, grey nurse sharks and great white sharks are likely to go extinct if nothing changes. Close to being endangered: stellar sea lion, gaudalupe fur seals and California sea otters. Depleted species include: bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, fur seals, spotted dolphins, and beluga whales. The Marine Bio site explains that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) cannot give a complete picture of all species in peril. For example, barely any invertebrates are listed. Information for invertebrates is difficult to track. Source: Marinebio.org.

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

Is Our Seafood Sustainable Or Not?

When thinking about seafood and where to get it, consider the following first:

  • How is the fish or other sea life caught or farmed?
  • Is the species being overfished? Is the fish farm dirty, irresponsible, and/or contaminated?
  • Is the fish or other seafood’s food source (forage fish) being overfished?
  • Is there an issue of bycatch? Young fish, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, and mammals like whales, dolphins, threatened sharks, and porpoises are victims of bycatch. There are 250,000 endangered sea turtles victim to bycatch yearly.
  • Shrimp and tuna cause some of the biggest negative impacts of bycatch, and are in high demand in the US.
  • Long-line vs. pole and line fishing (low bycatch methods)
  • How much are fossil fuel driven practices a part of the supply of the seafood via ships, farm, and transport?
  • Consider the source carefully. For instance, some aquaculture is a type of monoculture (like shrimp farms in Thailand) that cause serious pollution and mangrove decimation.
  • While there is not a lot of research about the long-term impacts of pollution like radiation, crude oil, microfiber and micro-plastic pollution (and the persistent chemicals that are attached) — these are all issues worth keeping in mind.
Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash

Guides For More Sustainable Seafood Choices

And finally, here is a short list of guides to help you navigate finding sustainable seafood on a day-to-day basis.

These issues are too important not to talk about, explore, and act on. I hope this has been a helpful and motivating guide for you. If you know of more helpful resources related to this, or good news related to any of it, please do share in the comments.

Posted in Climate Action, News, recipe for a green life

Humans Responding: The Lummi Nation’s Compassionate Action

Transient orcas in the Pacific NW. Photo by Rennet Stow, 2009. CC

CS Sherin, April 27, 2019

Environmental news, like a lot of news, can be extremely painful to take in. I have a general rule that I don’t share potentially soul-crushing or viscerally painful news unless there is a way to take action to change the situation in some way — like a petition, call to action, or steps to change things. It is important to avoid battle fatigue, and to avoid feeling triggered, while also feeling helpless about a situation. However, I am going to break my rule for this story. Not that we can’t do anything in response to this story — we can. It just isn’t as simple or straightforward as a petition kind of action. I am compelled to share this because this story is important. It is about our ocean, ocean life, food, and the strength and importance of Indigenous communities. It is about the state of our humanity while we face and respond ethically, and in time, to tragic, hospice-like chain reactions that are occurring because of exploitation, excess consumerism, corruption, fossil fuels and climate change.

What I am sharing with you today contains dynamics that are viscerally painful to me. My heart and body literally ache, knowing this, and similar situations around the world are happening. Yet, within the facts and story, the action being taken by Indigenous humans (in general, and in this story specifically), is the best of what people are meant to be, and can be. While we cannot alleviate all the suffering upon the planet, we can afford time and energy for knowing about and supporting fellow humans who are bravely standing up for the voiceless (who are enduring lengthy suffering and death). We can find ways to do the same, joining Native Americans, and Indigenous around the world, in solidarity.

Orca whales of the Salish Sea (in the Seattle and Bellingham Washington and Vancouver, Canada region) are starving to death.

This has been going on for some time, and right now, it is the worst it has been. For the orcas, their forever home, the Salish Sea, has become a forced hospice room. Forced, because the whales are not sick. They are perfectly healthy. It is their home waters that are polluted, and it is their food source that is gone — greedily taken by over-fishing and excess consumption. Their mainstay, Chinook salmon, are endangered.

Levi Pulkkinen, at The Guardian, reported about this today: in the last ten years the orca population has gone from 200 to 75, the current pod is starving, orca babies are not surviving birth, and those that do are not surviving into adulthood. The ocean was once teeming with Chinook salmon, and now the salmon are endangered. Organizations like the NOAA and Washington state fishery officials are just now beginning to work together to establish salmon in the water, so as to save the remaining orcas.

While that is a little bit of good news that the organizations of the region are acting to do something finally, that is not the amazing part of the news in the article from The Guardian.

The amazing news is that the Lummi Nation (the Native American tribe of that region in Washington state) has made a formal commitment to the orcas of the Salish Sea by way of ceremony. A salmon was released into the water, as a message to the orcas that the Lummi Nation and the orcas are family, and that the Lummi Nation will not abandon or ignore the orcas in their time of suffering and need.

The fish slipped to the orca was both a prayer and a signal to the starving whales that the tribe would not sit back and watch them vanish.

Levi Pulkkinen, “A pod of orcas is starving to death. A tribe has a radical plan to feed them”

I recommend reading the article for the entire account regarding the Lummi Nation and the orcas.

The Lummi are not the only ones sending messages. The orca have been too. Last summer an orca, whose baby had died hours after birth, carried the baby for 17 days. The way that she carried her deceased orca baby was to hold the baby above water, in order for humans to see this. Her pod left her, and she stayed there for weeks, showing humans that what they are doing, and not doing, is wrong. According to Pulkkinen’s article, the Lummi Nation agrees that the orca mother was sending a message.

It is a message they understand very well, and they want to respond to it. The Lummi tribe is calling for a mass movement to actively begin feeding the dying orcas. The orcas have always been a part of the region. The Lummi Nation is seeking immediate action to alleviate their suffering, and to stop the needless extinction.

It seems that the NOAA is not quite supportive of saving the pod’s life in this way, citing that the feeding approach is not sustainable. Other local scientists are evidently divided as to whether to support the Lummi Nation’s call to action or not. One thing that is clear, this is literally life or death for the orca pod at this point.

When it comes down to it, it is not logical to allow a group of beings to starve to death when there are sources of food available that can save lives. Yet, it is not a simple ethical issue. If feeding the orcas prolongs their lives, but they don’t have a healthy enough environment to sustain their lives, death is still imminent at some point. Or, maybe it isn’t. What if a solution can be found by the time the feedings are no longer sustainable? What if a solution comes, but no action was taken, and the orcas all starve and die. Then, we didn’t do enough.

What must we do in emergencies? For any being? We must do the atypical things. We must improvise. We must come together as family. It is a heartbreaking reality we find ourselves facing these days.

The Lummi Nation is acting like First Responders and emergency room care providers. They are trying to get the emergency supplies and actions together, in order to alleviate the emergency situation. This is logical, appropriate, and needed action for the current situation. The NOAA is looking at long-term sustainability, which is also a valid and needed perspective, but it is not as helpful in the emergency room. And otherwise healthy patients dealing with an emergency, a crisis, don’t belong in a hospice, they belong in the emergency room. In the emergency room we have to stop the bleeding, and do the emergency patching. After that, long-term management can be put in place, gradually.

These two objectives, emergency triage and long-term approaches, do not need to be in conflict with one another.

The NOAA needs to give the Native Americans of the region room to do what is right, based on relationships that are older than this United States nation. Then, the NOAA can follow-up with long-term strategies and networking. This is one of the many ways that our systems need to radically change, in order to adapt and mitigate the disasters that are before us because of climate change, consumerism, and all the rest.

“The greater society has to decide whether they’re going to help or not.”

Bill James, Lummi Nation hereditary Chief

It may seem a small act of ceremony, and unlikely movement for the orcas, that the Lummi people are performing currently, but really, it is the most powerful and best kinds of actions we humans can take. It is a major act of courage and active compassion for family and life. It is action based on compassion and solidarity, which is stronger than anything — no matter how bleak things are. Even in the midst of grief and their own severe challenges, the Lummi Nation have a voice, and it is strong. This is the strength, fire, and heart we must act with, and take with us everywhere.

The Lummi Nation are also sending a message to all of us with their words and actions. What will we do? How will we respond?

Posted in Climate Action, recipe for a green life

Earth Day Is Every Day

Take Action For Earth Day At The Bottom Of This Article

Photo by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

CS Sherin, April 22, 2019

Earth Day is today, yet Earth Day needs to be every day. Not one day can be found where we don’t need the Earth. There isn’t a day that we don’t need clean, safe, accessible air, water, and food. Even so, because of the disastrous effects that consumerism, waste, fossil fuels, corporate agriculture, exploitation, and materialistic financial wealth have upon the environment — we set this special kind of day aside — in order to raise awareness and take action.

At its best, Earth Day actions include: taking political action via calling and petitioning our representatives and hopeful representatives, and advocating for the varying urgent needs related to environmental health, sustainability, and climate change. Earth Day is also an opportunity to plan for or begin to plant native trees, plants, and an organic garden for self and/or others, to re-commit to the actions required in our personal lives for sustainability, and invite others to join in. It can be an opportunity to celebrate with meaningful actions and networking that stimulate new inspiration and energy to act.

Yet, too often, this day becomes a superficial tool for commercial interests, both large and small, that greenwash the day for personal gain. Earth Day events too often include: unsustainable waste, single-use plastics, and commercial gimmicks, rather than sincere investment in and commitment to a sustainable, environmental business model, policies, and ongoing actions. Some Earth Day events may contribute to pollution and waste more than they build on sustainable actions, like networking, outreach, activism, and education.

It could be more productive to organize and participate in protests and demonstrations for Earth Day, instead of making it a carnival-like event for profit and advertising.

It can be a day to push for bigger actions and ongoing commitment from big players. Earth Day can be a day for divestment movements, and for asking local venues to stop with the chemicals on the grass and single-use plastics — and to begin (and continue) addressing crucial local issues related to water, air, food, habitats, and climate action.

As climate change is already happening, there are many populations in the US and around the world in emergency situations, who are suffering and displaced because of it.

We need to have started on the radical system change required to mitigate this disaster 10 years ago. We are behind. In addition, the current Republican administration is undermining everything we need to change, in unimaginable corrupt and truly damaging ways.

Dealing with these kinds of harrowing dynamics, and the need for long-term resistance, can lead to emotional and mental exhaustion. It also can lead to anger at celebratory days, like Earth Day, that too often fail to live up to what they are intended to be.

At the same time, it is important to celebrate and appreciate what is good, and what we have left, to protect and restore.

If someone we love is seriously ill, and it is also that loved one’s birthday, it is still a day to celebrate. But, we don’t celebrate by engaging in activities that could get the loved one more sick. We certainly don’t try to profit from their situation and needs. The celebration needs to include plans that care for that loved one’s health for that day, and with their long-term needs in mind as well. Caring for our Earth is no different.

And, just like long-term caregivers, it is important that we take down-time, in order to recharge ourselves, so that we can productively face all of the day-to-day challenges. In states of emergency, there is not this luxury, but in the scope of worldwide populations, those who can, must stop and recharge in order to be more effective for the long haul.

Yes, it is important that we make time to spend time in nature, in order to appreciate and connect with what we are standing up for. Yet, we need to, at least, spend time in nature in a way that causes no harm. And hopefully, we spend time in nature in a way that can contribute to educating, helping, restoring, and preserving health and balance in nature and the ecosystems around us.

The ordinary natural world is miraculous, wondrous, and beautiful. We owe our daily lives to the goodness of this planet. This is what sacred means…it is a valuing and awareness of goodness. Currently, we face a crisis in which too many leaders have forsaken the sacredness of life for profit, power, and greed. If we are going to celebrate and promote Earth day, may it be for Earth day every day, and for preserving the innate sacredness of life over all else in a way that is inclusive, honest, and kind.

If you would like to take a special action to celebrate Earth Day this year, I recommend joining me in signing the petition to the current administration for the Native Americans at Pine Ridge Reservation who are in a state of emergency and displaced by massive flooding. Follow this link to act now.