Welcome Shifting Baselines!

We have a new scienceblog here, Shifting Baselines, authored by Jennifer Jaquet and associated with Randy Olson’s Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project. She has already opened up shop with an absolutely horrible, conflicting argument:
Should We Continue to Eat Seafood?

“But it tastes so good,” I whimper.

Al Gore slaps me to the floor and kicks me in the ribs a few times. “But it’s bad for overfished oceans!”

I don’t know what to do. I’d have fish or some nice marine invertebrate every night for dinner, but I have a different constraint: my wife and daughter are not fans. About the only time I have seafood is on those rare occasions I go out for dinner without the family, and since I’m not giving them up, I guess I’m effectively adopting Jennifer’s position and, if not giving it up absolutely, at least cutting back consumption greatly.


  1. jbark says

    “Seafood” isn’t really monolithic. There’s better and worse things from the ocean you can eat. Keep an eye on what fisheries are in good shape and which aren’t.

    Here’s one revolving list you can check for what’s doing okay at the moment:


    Swordfish and Chilean Sea Bass are the two biggies people should be avoiding at the moment I think. I’m sure there are others.

  2. says

    In disagreement with my screen name, which implies that I’d only like to eat ants and termites, etc, I too enjoy eating certain seafood, salmon, tuna, shrimp, and lobster (if I can afford it, which I can’t) especially. But as a friend once said, your loudest vote is with your wallet. If you want the seas to be protected, better lay off the seafood a bit, or limit yourself to sustainable fisheries. According to Jennifer’s sources, seafood consumption is way up in the past 100 years. Why would the government or industry be keen to change? They’ll only change when they notice a thinner wallet.

  3. says

    Get me a decent and affordable alternative source for ω-3 fatty acids, e.g. factory farmed krill, etc. and I’m all there. In the meantime, I’m still eating the product of sustainable fisheries whenever and wherever I can get it.

  4. says

    Get me a decent and affordable alternative source for ω-3 fatty acids, e.g. factory farmed krill, etc. and I’m all there. In the meantime, I’m still eating the product of sustainable fisheries whenever and wherever I can get it.

  5. Matt the heathen says

    I always get looked at funny when I tell people I don’t enjoy seafood. From now on, I’ll start claiming the moral high ground…

  6. Marcia says

    There being only one chance at life with no magical hereafter, why not choose to eat only those things without a central nervous system? It’s but one chance for them, too. I can get all the nourishment I need from non-sentient beings.

    “”But it tastes so good,” I whimper.”

    Isn’t that sort of like the enabling non-believer?

  7. says

    It’d be nice if Americans weren’t so addicted to fish fillets and steaks. If we could actually stomach the sight of fish heads, tails, fins, and bones on our plates then we wouldn’t be supporting the chicanery that results in rampant “mislabeling,” such as that famous example in New York wherein the majority of Manhattan’s high-end fish retailers sold Atlantic salmon as wild-caught Alaskan salmon to a Times reporter. We could make the identification issue considerably less problematic by buying whole fish–“the head, the tail, the whole damn thing,” as Captain Quint said–and boning up (heh heh) on our fish ID skills. It wouldn’t solve the “where and how did it get caught?” issue, but it’d be a start, not to mention a more grown-up way of dealing with seafood. I’m not talking about big pelagics, obviously, but there’s no good reason we can’t be buying whole cod, flounder, haddock, mackerel, etc. and cleaning them ourselves. Whole fish tastes better, too. And the cheeks are the best.
    As for the rampant dishonesty, from wholesalers all the way down to restaurants and WholeFoods, we need traceability. Otherwise any New York bistro can label its dredge-caught scallops as “diver scallops” and its trawl-caught cod as “line-caught Chatham cod.” Right now, if you catch someone selling you something that cannot possibly be what they say it is, they can easily blame it on their wholesaler, bad info, whatever. Nobody’s accountable. So everyone lies because it’s good for business.

  8. Crudely Wrott says

    Fish! Crustaceans! MMM-mmm-good! And so easily had, given the right conditions.

    Coturnix, I fondly remember the west coast of Florida, 1970s. Along the Intercoastal Waterway we would dip shrimp on the late outgoing tide. Two long poles; one with a lantern at the end, the other with a net. In an hour we could net several dozen of those sweet rascals as they entered our cone of light to feed on littler guys likewise attracted. Or near the Ringling Causeway, Sarasota. A stick with a stout string tying it to a pair of small (but rugged) hooks. On these hooks a bit of old meat. At low tide we walked out on the exposed rocks and dipped the meat into the dark pools in the stone and pulled out . . . Stone Crab! (Check the price at your next McSeafood. ) Ecologically sustainable since we removed one claw and returned the live crab to the water, as mandated by law.

    And my, my, how tasty! Fresh! Natural! And best of all the quiet, deep down satisfaction of feeding one’s self and others for next to nothing and having a great time doing it. Also rewarding was how popular we were when we showed up with buckets of the stuff shouting, “The food is here, ya’ll get some beer.”

  9. Crudely Wrott says

    I meant to compliment you on your taste for fresh fish, Cortunix. I’d like to suggest small Brook Trout caught in a beaver pond somewhere in the Wind River mountains of Wyoming. At about seven to eight thousand feet elevation. Buddy, they will melt in your mouth. And stick to your ribs.

  10. kurage says

    What about fish farms?

    valhar2000: I’m not an expert, but I am under the impression that fish farming is often just as bad, if not worse, than “regular” fishing. On the one hand, wild stocks aren’t depleted, but on the other hand, the densely concentrated and artificially fed farm fish pollute a great deal. Plus, there’s the risk that they’ll transmit diseases or parasites to the wild population.

    Time did a general overview of the issue a few years back:

    Shrimp farming, in particular, is a screaming disaster – it’s one of the leading causes of mangrove deforestation.

  11. tinosoli says

    Ocean Boy (FL) and Harlingen (TX) farm shrimp without destroying mangroves or other marine habitats. If you want to buy farmed shrimp without supporting mangrove deforestation, look for stuff from the U.S. Ocean Boy actually does mangrove restoration in FL.

    As for fish farming, the best scenario is closed containment in which there’s no risk of fish getting out and spreading altered genes or diseases, or pollution spewing into natural habitats. Tilapia and catfish are farmed in ponds, and there promising new new projects for farming barramundi and cobia. Some farmers are looking into using feed that isn’t composed of so much herring and other fish. Right now it’s just stupid how much energy and fish needs to go into the feed of farmed salmon.

  12. says

    Being a native of southern/coastal Maine, my response to someone actually suggesting that I stop eating seafood would be simple confusion. Just goes to show that even in the modern internet and mass communication age, geographic origin and residence matters.

  13. murcielago says

    Although I know that my own non-consumption doesn’t really make a difference, I think it’s a useful exercise for myself at least, because it’s an exercise in not copping out.

    Regardless of actual issues of proportional economy, I will fully cop to being a human being in a society of human beings and thus not in entirely rational discourse at all times. If I, claiming economies of scale, consume some luxury good whose production is unacceptable to me, I am disavowing a principle, whether or not the economical equations work out to me making some contribution. It reduces both my feeling of internal consistency and my efficacy as an advocate of not overfishing/clean humane farming/what you will.

    And yes, animal products are unnecessary and therefore luxury goods — whether you want to accuse me of irrational asceticism or not, it remains a fact that plenty of people remain healthy on vegetarian diets, which means meat is a luxury good. It’s just a question of what is important to you. For myself, I’ve decided to go with “feels good” over “tastes good”.

  14. windy says

    If you are skilled enough to catch your own dinner, you can eat it. And I prefer fresh-water fish anyway.

    Exactly. Why does it always have to be seafood? :)

    I’d recommend ice-fishing, but I guess the season is just about over, even in Minnesota?

  15. pbg says

    “I don’t know what to do. I’d have fish or some nice marine invertebrate every night for dinner”… OOC, Dr. Myers: keeping in mind their intelligence, do you eat octopus?

  16. Wilfred says

    If you want those omega-3 fatty-acids, eat flax-seed oil. Furthermore the fishing fleets consume large amounts of oil, they go out for miles and fish deep. So if you don’t eat fish, you will also help with global warming and peak oil. :-)

  17. Steve LaBonne says

    And if you avoid omega-3 FA’s entirely you’ll probably drop dead sooner, thereby consuming less energy during your lifetime. ;)

  18. Justin Moretti says

    One of my favourite childhood dishes (and still a favourite today) was calamari, and pickled octopus salad isn’t bad either.

    Embrace the tentacled sea-life before it embraces you!

  19. MpM says

    OK… Let me see if I have this right.
    * Fresh caught fish is depleting the oceans.
    * Farmed fish is a pollution hazard.
    * PETA wouldn’t be happy with me switching to penned animals.
    * But if we all go Vegan, they will have to cut down more rain forest for crop cultivation.

    Hmmm… I need a food source that has everything the body needs, yet still improves the environment… and I need to do this because there are just too many damn people, and we CONTINUE to mindlessly breed, further exhausting environmental resources.

    I know there is a simple solution to this problem, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Well, just give it time. I am sure our government will come up with the answer real soon.

  20. empty says

    If you want those omega-3 fatty-acids, eat flax-seed oil.

    the problem is, flax only has 18-carbon omega-3 fatty acids, and our brains really need EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3)] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)]. Even if you eat flax, humans cannot elongate the carbon chains to convert to the longer more beneficial types.
    Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids all start in the food chain in algae, and are bioaccumulated.