Article #13: Fishitarian Or Vegetarian? The Difference Might Be Fatal! by Bob Pinkus
A lot of people are becoming vegetarians these days. For a great many people the world food crisis provides sufficient motivation to change from carnivorous livestock-based diets to vegetarian diets. Some of those so motivated have contended that a diet which includes fish would be a smaller strain on the resources of the land to produce food for our planet's large human population. This statement overlooks the fact that fish use plankton of plant origin as a primary food at the low level of the food chain. A plankton cultivation system arising from a future technology would be a much more efficient method of producing food for earth's people than eating fish which are much higher on the food chain than plankton.
Plankton cultivation of course would require the development of a technology which did not remove this key planetary input from its role as an oxygen provider. Much of the world's oxygen is provided by plankton. A plankton cultivation system could be developed without too much effort if it became necessary. To date it is not. The produce of the land if eaten directly can today supply more than enough food for all of the planet's human inhabitants. We now have available about one acre of arable land per person on which to produce food for everyone now living. A vegetarian diet requires about half an acre per person; and half of that will provide a total vegetarian or "vegan" diet.
Jacques Cousteau has been quoted as saying that some 40% of the life in the seas has died in recent decades. Pollution has been a major factor in this devastation. So has so-called "overfishing" of the world's waters. To the fish which is caught, any fishing is "overfishing." The massive scale of modern fishing has led to a great increase over time in fish yields up until recent years. A few short years ago a decline in yields was noted even though fishing was being attempted on an even grander scale. Clearly the fish population is being decimated by fishing. Massive fish kills caused by pollution have also been reported in recent years around the world. Like other animals fish concentrate environmental pollutants the higher one goes up the food chain. Recently fishing the Hudson River was banned because of the presence of PolyChlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in fish at levels up to 350 parts per million. FDA surveys of grocery store foods in 1972 had shown PCBs to be present at levels up to 35 pans per million in fish. A 35 part per million level constitutes 7 times the level of PCBs which sterilized mink whose diets included Lake Michigan Coho Salmon. Lake Michigan residents were warned not to consume more salmon. The PCB dietary levels of the mink were determined to have been 5 parts per million. That level caused complete reproductive failure in the mink. The mink ranchers have since switched to other foods for the mink. The presence of 70 times the 5 part per million level in Hudson River fish was blamed on General Electric which had been dumping the industrial chemical in the river for years. Widely used in industry, PCBs have also entered the environment through the burning of containers in which they have been used.
PCBs are used in plasticizers, adhesives, sealants, transformers, and a wide variety of industrial applications. A 1973 study by scientists at the Davis Campus of the University of California reported that PCBs were the environmental derivative of DDT degrading in the environment. Recognition of PCBs in walruses, seals and polar bears at the Arctic Circle had prompted the research of the Davis scientists. The Arctic Circle is thousands of miles from the nearest industrial application of PCBs. DDT has been used worldwide. Spread by wind and water, DDT is estimated to be present in every human being. The Davis team reported that the interaction of time, about four years, and sunlight causes DDT to break down becoming PCBs. Half the American population is estimated to have measurable amounts of PCBs. Concentrated up the food chain via fish and other animal products, PCBs like other pollutants, reach the consumers of these products in high levels. Fish kills caused by PCBs have been reported around the world. PCBs at low levels have also caused mutations in plankton.
A sampling of massive fish kills from various sources of pollution in recent years would paint a picture somewhat like this:
June 1968, 100,000 fish in the Stanislaus River in California including carp, catfish, sturgeon, striped bass, sunfish, shad, smallmouth black bass, hardheads, blue-gills are found dead in the river. The California State Fish and Game Department calls the fish kill the result of pollution.
August 12, 1968, a number called significant by the Virginia State Water Control Board is reported in fish killed in the James River because of toxic human-made chemicals introduced into the water.
August 29, 1968, 1,000 small fish of different species are found dead in Accabonac Harbor at Riverhead, Long Island, New York.
The New York State Bureau of Marine Fisheries calls pesticide spraying the cause of the fish kill.
Scuba divers off Sea Bright, New Jersey, in the spring of 1969, report a graveyard of crustaceans and fish at depths of less than 100 feet. Cunner, black sea bass, ocean pout, rock crabs, tautog, lobsters, mussels are among those found dead. Great migrations of fish and crustaceans away from the region are reported by other divers. A low level of dissolved oxygen in the water is estimated to be the cause of death.
The Rhine River in West Germany and Holland in June of 1969 is the site of a fish kill of perhaps 40 million fish. Endosulfan, a chlorinated cyclic hydrocarbon marketed by the Hoechst chemical firm as Thiodan, is the cause of the kill.
May 5, 1970: 349,000 plus fish die in Missouri's Crooked Creek after a large quantity of toxic material is dumped into the water. Clordane and Malathion in Xylene is blamed for the kill. Ninety percent of the dead fish are orange throat divers and minnows. All other aquatic life in the stream is killed for a distance of two miles from the dumping. Snakes, turtles, tadpoles, crayfish and large numbers of frogs are among those killed.
December 18, 1970: millions of fish wash ashore dead off the Peruvian coast of Pisco. A thick layer of dead fish 15 feet wide is formed stretching nearly two miles. Flounders, "cabrillas" rays, "corvinillas," ayanques, and "pintadillas" are among those killed. Toxic sewage is a suspected cause of the kill.
May 30, 1971: Large numbers of dying fish drift ashore between Jubail and Ras Tanura on the Saudi Arabian Persian Gulf. Hamoor, black sbaitee, and angel fish are among those killed. Large mature adults weighing from one to 10 pounds with some up to 20 pounds are the principal victims of the kill. A large octopus and a large barracuda are also found killed. The cause of the kill is not discovered to date. All of the fish have grossly inflated air-bladders. The network of blood vessels in the airbladder's dorsal wall is enormously distended and filled with blood. All the fish have empty stomachs but were fat and seemed normal.
August 5, 1971: Lees River, Massachusetts is the site of a fish kill involving nine species of marine fish and two species of invertebrates. Over one million juvenile menhaden are killed. Lesser numbers of weakfish, cunner, American eel, tautog, oyster toad fish, white perch, silver-side and mummichog also die. Half a million prawns are killed. A depressed level of dissolved oxygen is blamed on industrial and commercial discharges. Excessive nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia are found.
Metropolitan New York: Fish "caught" off the New York gap, the site of sewage dumping for large parts of the Metropolitan area, are being brought on board ship decks and breaking up on the decks. As a result the fish are being sold fillet rather than whole. The situation continues to date.
Clearly the dangers involved in eating fish ought to be reason enough to be truly vegetarian. The tragic case of the many Japanese children born deformed because polluted fish were eaten by the parents (of the Minamata, Japan children) is one which may be repeated more often as people continue to eat animals from the sea. Mercury is blamed for pollution of the fish in that case.
The fact that PCBs have been found to produce cancer as well as sterility, disfigurement, liver problems, and other horrors, ought to prompt officials to ban fish containing PCBs under the provisions of the Delaney Amendment. The Delaney clause states that chemicals found to cause cancer cannot be present in foods. If PCBs cannot be removed from "foods," those containing PCBs should be banned from human consumption.
What of the ethical side of the question? Dolphins face extinction because modern tuna fishing catches and kills large numbers of them each year. We should be concerned about the tuna also. Each tuna is a living creature with a right to live. To a fish being caught the concept of "endangered species" is immediately reduced to one of "endangered individual." Can we relate as well to fish as we do to land animals? As vegetarians we can see that land animals move, breathe, feel, think, live. Do we not also realize that fish do all of this too? Perhaps a few days in a so-called "seafood" restaurant might convince one that the bodies of the fish being consumed are indeed bodies of once living, breathing, thinking, feeling animals who happened to live in water. In Taiwan live puppies are found in cages as one enters a restaurant. One can then select the dog to be killed for one's meal. The "chow dog" of old China is the original reason why chow mein has its name. In America and elsewhere in the world one can find live lobsters similarly displayed ready for murder, in the midst of restaurants. Aren't both acts equally horrible?
We can look too, to the meaning of the word "vegetarian;" it is derived from the Latin vegetas—full of life! Clearly if we fill our bodies with the bodies of murdered fish we are full of death instead of life.
Fishitarian or vegetarian, which will it be? The choice belongs to us. The victims cannot vote. In a sense though we are all victims of the fish-eating habit whether we eat fish ourselves or others do. The continued fishing of the world's waters may result in a disturbance of the already fragile eco-system of the waterlife of earth.
That fish and plankton are interdependent ought to be clear. Fish feed on plankton. Fish wastes and decayed fish become a basis for plankton nourishment. There is a symbiotic system among plants and animals in water just as there is on land. Plankton produce oxygen which is used by all life on earth. With increasing fishing removing fish from the waters of the world plankton may become a vanishing species. Without plankton earth would be deprived of vast amounts of oxygen. Without that oxygen it is likely that planetary extinction for all forms of life would follow. The continued plunder of earth's waterways for fish is senseless and dangerous. Whether we remove animals at the top of the ocean food chain like whales or animals near the bottom of the food chain like krill which are a fish type of plankton, we are dangerously jeopardizing the planet's ecosystem. Krill has been looked upon by some as a potential new food for people. Hundreds of millions of tons of krill may soon be "harvested" annually for human consumption. That these fish plankton are interlocked with plant plankton which produce oxygen should be clear. Removing them may endanger the continued existence of the plant plankton they have interplay with.
Even those who do not consume fish directly may be consuming them indirectly. Fish are now a major source of animal feed in America and other parts of the world. The use of animals and animal products as food actually involves the indirect consumption of many fish. Fish oils are also often used as a source of the Vitamin D added to milk. Some dairies use irradiated ergosterol, also called viosterol, as a vegetarian source of Vitamin D, but switch to fish oils as price dictates.
Conscience then dictates abstinence from animals and animal products in one's diet. As a first step in one's vegetarianism the elimination of all flesh as food is a good move. Fish, like other animals, belong in their native environment and not in our stomachs. As we are what we eat, if we do not eat corpses we are less likely to become corpses quickly ourselves.
Fishitarian or Vegetarian? Hopefully a wise choice to be vegetarian will be made by all of us.
Home > Lesson 32 - Why We Should Not Eat Meat
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