One Fish, Two Fish, Eat Fish, Lose Fish?

by Tessa Rosenberry 

A purse seiner catching tons of mackerel in Chile.

A purse seiner catching tons of mackerel in Chile.

Johns Hopkins put out a research report not too long ago showing that nearly half (47%) of the U.S. seafood supply goes to waste. Some of that is from bycatch, distribution and retail operations, but the big chunk (almost 60%) is at the hands of consumers: a whopping 1.3 billion pounds of seafood is wasted by American seafood eaters every year - enough to fulfill recommended seafood consumption requirements for 10,000 American men.

Wasting all that fish (and crustaceans, cephalopods, etc.) is an issue, to say the least. Putting seafood to waste has a whole spread of negative impacts, like overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, coral reef bleaching, and global climate change. Considering the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is telling us to eat even more seafood, we have to be pretty darn careful with how much we’re buying and eating - or rather, not eating.

The study suggests various methods of reducing seafood waste throughout the production timeline - everything from limiting bycatch to labelling fish packaging with instructions for freezing. But the only suggestion they made for the consumption sector is to “Promote the idea of consuming parts of fish not commonly eaten in the U.S., such as soups from made from fish heads.”

A little meek, don’t you think? I mean yeah, making change at the consumer level is hard! There are no easy answers - if there were, the whole national seafood waste thing wouldn’t be a mostly-consumer issue.

That said, I like to think there are a few other options for change to be made at the consumer level. The first that comes to mind is to cut seafood out altogether and go for the total veg-head lifestyle (and still be just as healthy!). Not purchasing fish would certainly eliminate the risk of it being wasted. But in this context, that might be a little bit extreme for some people.

In lieu of vegetarianism, there are other options for education-driven change, like educating consumers on how to purchase seafood in appropriate (non-wasteful) portions, how to buy from responsibly-sourced (local, sustainable, small-scale, ethical) vendors, and how to maximize the consumptiveness (longevity, quality) of their seafood. This all comes from an increase in information about the dangers of the seafood industry and seafood waste - we need to keep doing these sorts of studies and putting them out in the mainstream in order to build a national conversation around the issue.

On an end note, as always, we at Return Recycling are all about the potential for individual change to spur systematic change. Even though behavior change is super important in building up a societal mindset around non-wastefulness, it has to be combined with top-down (governmental and corporate) action to enact large-scale, impactful, prompt, and lasting change. It’s always worth it to point out that individual Americans have a lot of sway not only as consumers, but as citizens - so in other words, go out and vote about fish! (The EU did it!)