06 March 2013

Why I don’t eat fish

Renee Leeuwner

Simple answer – I don’t like eating my colleagues!

Jokes aside, I’ve never been a great fish eater. On occasion I would stop at the fish ‘n chips shop, or perhaps have some tuna salad or my favourite sushi.

In 2009 I met Charles Clover, author of End of the Line, a hard-hitting book and movie, about the impacts of over-fishing. He asked the question: where have all the fish gone? His answer was simple: we’ve eaten them all. I have not eaten fish since. I’ve even given up my beloved sushi.

The Economist called the movie “the inconvenient truth about the impact of overfishing on the world’s oceans”. Scientists predict that by 2048, should we continue fishing the way we are, our over-fishing problems will be something of the past. Simply because there won’t be any fish left for us to catch.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t eat fish. Interestingly, in a quick survey of my colleagues, two people stated this as the exact same reason why they don’t eat fish. The book and movie have certainly made an impact.

Mislabelling is another reason why I don’t eat fish. A 2009 South African study found that of the 178 fish fillets tested, almost half were mislabelled (Von der Heyden et al, 2009). A further study in 2012 (Cawthorn et al, 2012) showed that 10 (9%) of the 108 samples taken from wholesaler and 43 (31%) of the 140 samples from retailers were mislabelled.

Mislabelling is a serious problem. Not only does it have environmental impacts, it also has social, economic and health implications.

I am not a fish expert. I can tell quite a few apart when they are alive and swimming, but filleted, grilled, baked or battered, I would not be able to tell a dorado from a white steenbras. This might make me a simple pleb when it comes to eating fish, but it also makes me a cautious pleb.

Considering the number of fish species currently facing over-fishing and extinction, I just cannot take the chance. I might be overly cautious, but I am pretty sure that I am not the only one who won’t eat cheetah or rhino or, heaven forbid, African penguin if it were on the menu. What makes fish any different?

When you do buy fish, be on the lookout for the Marine Stewardship Council MSC certification. Products with this certification, like I&J hake, can be traced back to its source.

When you order fish in a restaurant, check the SASSI listing by smsing the name to 079 499 8795 or download the pocket guide at www.wwfsassi.co.za. Or if you have a BlackBerry smartphone, you can download a handy little SASSI app.

According to our Consumer Protection Act, you are entitled to know exactly what you are being served. So, restaurants and retailers should be able to provide you with basic information like species name, and where and how it was caught.

So, this pleb will continue her “no-fish” policy, because that is what I choose to do. What you choose to do is up to you. Did I mention that I also don’t eat prawns? Not? OK, don’t get me started on prawns and by-catch – we’ll need whole week’s worth of blog posts just for that!

Read more: Fish-Free Fridays

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