Fishy connections: to fish or not to fish still seems to be the question

3 11 2011

The NYT op-ed by Ray Hilborn (April 14th, 2011) raised a a vigorous debate on the Seamonster blog. The op-ed argued that the global fisheries collapse was considerably overstated; and using the US as an example argued that US fisheries are healthy and that people should return to eating fish. Interestingly Hilborn argues that opting for fish would reduce human’s impacts on the environment because the alternative is ecologically costly meat.

Famous fisheries scientists and marine/coastal ecologists argued against the op-ed. Main arguments included:

– Data on global fisheries is scarce and we do not exactly know if non-US fisheries are healthy (a fact that is raised in the original article that Ray Hilborn was part of in Science)

– Healthy means different things in different realm (so what is healthy for a fisheries scientists may not be the same as an ecosystem ecologist or for humans using the ecosystem)

– Externalities and politics of scale: having healthy/sustainable fisheries in the US does not translate into being able to eat fish in the US because most of the fish is imported. As a consequence the ecological costs of fish consumption are borne elsewhere and thus the health of the proximate environment is not really relevant.

– Allison argued that we understand more and more links between fisheries, aquaculture and environment but much remains unknown about livelihoods dynamics, esp. in the developping world. He applauds the linkages between fisheries and food systems but these are not as simple as portrayed in the op-ed.

The debate was fascinating and of great relevance to my own work. Sociologically it is interesting to see however that people that engaged in the blog are mostly established men scientists. Few contributions were made by women, social scientists or even scientists from non-developed countries. In view of the importance of issues of food security, livelihoods and their linkages to fisheries, this oversight is regrettable.  Eating is a political and ecological act. As such it should be analyzed accross broader disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) spaces. So thank you Seamonster for starting the debate, let us dive in.