The Benefits of Knowing Where Your Fish Comes From

Director of Strategic Initiatives George Leonard prepares his famous honey-glazed wild salmon.

I can’t wait for summer. Not for the warm beaches and suntan, but because of the barbecue. I’m not much of a chef, but I’m real good over a charcoal fire.

One of my favorite meals is honey-glazed wild salmon. And for the first time in four years, we’ll have a commercial salmon season this summer here in California. This means I’ll be able to support our local fishermen by deliberately purchasing sustainably caught, wild California salmon at many local markets.

These fish will be clearly labeled as to where they come from and how they were caught so there’s little risk that I’ll be buying a fish I don’t want – but that may soon change. For the last 18 months, the FDA has debated whether to approve the first ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption. That animal turns out to be a fish. And not just any fish. It would be a genetically-engineered version of farmed Atlantic salmon and it is likely to be sold alongside wild California salmon.

The FDA says it’s unlikely to require the fish be labeled as “genetically engineered”, meaning consumers would have little way to know if they are buying GE salmon.  From concerns over environmental impacts, product safety and healthfulness to ethical or religious concerns, or dietary restrictions, people should have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies.

At Ocean Conservancy, we believe consumers have a fundamental right to know how their food is produced. We’ve supported mandatory requirements to label GE fish since this fish fight hit the stage in September 2010. The potential approval of GE salmon has created a firestorm of controversy, from the halls of Congress to the fishing communities on the west coast.

Congress held a hearing last fall (view my testimony here) and federal and state legislation has been introduced to mandate labeling of GE fish. At the same time, a grassroots effort hatched to pressure FDA to label all foods that contain GE ingredients.  Want to learn more? Click here to see our Infographic.

I’m going to keep my eye out for clearly labeled, wild California salmon this summer.  Being able to enjoy this gift from the sea is just one of the benefits of knowing where your fish comes from.

10 comments
Creatures
Creatures

Dear George,

 

I was just steered to this 3-minute video: http://youtu.be/ObNSqa14QNU

 

After watching it, I am more troubled than ever at this blog's use of the term "your fish" to describe sea life.

 

Good sir, how could you not see the "fundamental conflict" between your decision to "enjoy [fishes] as a food source" and the total collapse of the oceans, as depicted in this film?

 

What makes you think that everyone's efforts to "conserve fish in the ocean" will accomplish anything other than make 8 billion humans believe, as they have for at least 2,000 years (the film says 1,000, I think), that they are entitled to "their" fishes?

 

How can your mind not be disturbed and your heart not be torn by the violence inflicted relentlessly on these sentient, sapient creatures, who have done humans no harm?  

 

No offense is meant, but for goodness sake, this is *not* about you or me or the commercial fisherman or the sport fisherman (a friend calls them fish-hunters). It is about the fish themselves. And their right to live peacefully in their God-given habitat.

 

The tale is only about us in the sense that we are failing them -- and thus ourselves -- miserably.

 

Albert Schweitzer's "reverence for life" comes to mind. No surprise that his most notable, oft-quoted, observation is: "Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."  

 

It's time for Ocean Conservancy to get serious and recognize that true conservation cannot be so timid. It must be radical (from the roots). It's time to give up the obstinate, selfish belief that fishes and other forms of ocean life belong to us. They belong to their Maker. Yes, we land mammals can enjoy them: by leaving them alone. By watching them from behind our scuba gear goggles. Or how about from transparent submarines? Now wouldn't that be an incredible tourist industry! 

gleonard
gleonard

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments. The fact that many of you have made the choice of vegetarianism underscores why this issue is so important: Food choice is ultimately all about having choices. Being able to exercise those choices requires food to be labeled accurately and truthfully.

 

As you know, there is much debate about how to eat ethically and the comments posted here are no exception. But I don’t see a fundamental conflict in both working to conserve fish in the ocean and ensuring that we can enjoy them as a food source. Indeed – with a few exceptions – seafood is generally heart healthy and part of a low fat diet and we don’t have to give that up to ensure there are still fish in the sea. We do need to ensure fishing is environmentally responsible and that we align our consumption patterns with what nature can provide. Oftentimes, when a species like wild California salmon is available in limited quantities or only at special times of the year, then we don’t take it for granted and we better appreciate where it comes from.

 

I’ve had a number of questions about my so-called “famous honey glaze”.  Should you like to give it a try, here is the secret: Melt together 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1/3 cup high quality honey, 1/3 cup brown sugar, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes.  Cover your salmon fillets with the cooled mixture for a couple hours and then grill.  Just be careful that you don’t transfer too much of the marinade to the grill with the fish or it will flame up! Enjoy.

lizardmarsh
lizardmarsh

I agree with those comments of Creatures and others that speak to leaving the fish alone. Plants provide for humans' nutrition. The oceans and streams have been highly polluted by poor human practices so even if consumption of fish were a good thing for humans, how can consumers abide that a multitude of pollutants - from chemicals, garbage, sewage, industrial runoff, and perhaps from nuclear disasters - are in the fish, and therefore incorporated into the humans who eat fish!? Why poison yourselves any more than necessary (http://www.pbs.org/tradesecrets/problem/problem.html)? The FDA - which is paid by vegan as well as carnivore taxpayers - should not further aggravate the overfishing, gluttony, cruelty problem with genetically engineered fish. By the way, fish grow on trees  (http://www.scmbc.net/treesgrowfish.htm ) and I emphasize preservation, restoration, and kindness to trees as well!

skmarienau
skmarienau

I heartily agree with Creature's posts. With all we are learning about animals; their feelings, their lives, etc., it makes the idea that they are ours to deal with as we see fit more and more wrong. Anyone ever watched, "Finding Nemo," which came out a few years ago? Well, there is a scene in this movie where a fishing net snares a school of terrified fish and they do everything they can to escape. I am sure that any ocean creature would react in the exact same way. No one wants to die. The fact that we kill billions of animals every year to satisify our stomachs turns mine. Mr. Leonard is a director of Ocean Conservancy. Let him practice what he preaches. Marine life is being decimated by over fishing, pollution and human carelessness. Leave the oceans' inhabitants alone. Stop thinking with your stomachs. There are wonderful alternatives to meat, fish and fowl and if you take the time to care and learn, you will discover that you can have a wonderful, varied, fulfilling diet that doesn't involve cruelty and death.

Creatures
Creatures

One way to know what (or "who") we put in our bodies is to not eat fish at all!

 

Why not let these lovely creatures, our fellow-beings, roam the seas in peace?

 

Why not let ocean-dwelling carnivores have the food they need, instead of stealing their sustenance from them?

 

Why not stop manipulating animals -- treating them disrespectfully, as if they are inanimate objects or mere physical resources like trees?

 

Researchers today are proving indisputably that fish are sentient, like humans. These scientists are showing us, if we would but pay attention, that fish think and feel (both pain and pleasure, both emotionally and physically), and that they, just like other animals, form close bonds with their fish friends. So why deprive them of their freedom -- their lives -- to suit our selfish appetite for flesh? 

 

I disagree with calvalshrk that "we are what we eat." We are what we think and how we treat others! It's neither wise or humane to continue practicing ancient traditions and customs and habits that are not only not necessary for our survival but that are, in fact, endangering the survival of our planet. 

 

My question is: why are environmentalists, including marine biologists, not practicing truly sustainable living, by overcoming carnism and adopting a plant-sourced diet? Taking the lives of our neighbors is no way to thrive. 

SCWaterman
SCWaterman

Great article that brings up a dear subject to many coastal Californians. Fresh salmon in the summer is tradition and luxury. This season has been great in the Monterey Bay, with huge numbers of fish available (my 9-yr old son caught a 15 lber!). We all need to keep in mind that the pressures on these fish are incredible -- from the ocean to inland streams. We all need to stay alert on water issues in California and carefully evaluate measures that increase stream flows and open up spawning habitat. 

calvalshrk
calvalshrk

We are moving up to Monterey in a month and are very excited to enjoy some of that fresh Pacific Salmon ourselves. As to the GE labeling, I feel it is unethical to think people don't have a right to know what's in their food. We are what we eat, after all.

Creatures
Creatures

 @lizardmarsh The treesgrowfish link is fascinating. Thanks for sharing that. Also, I admire your planetmanners.net photos, which can be arranged in all manner of interesting ways to get across the message about animal misuse/abuse. The message, of course, is highly disturbing, especially the description of the poor vivisected goats. I had read a tamer version of that story elsewhere.

 

As pertains to the subject of this blog, I would point out that those who catch-and-release or catch-and-kill fish perpetrate some of the same violence on them that the US Coast Guard did on the tortured goats.  

Creatures
Creatures

Above, I didn't mean to minimize the importance of trees to all earth's inhabitants, human and other-than-human. I was simply trying to point out that flora are not animate or sentient, whereas fauna are. Of course an abundance of trees are needed in the "thrive" equation -- as owls and orangutans, squirrels and sloths, koalas and kangaroos (yes, there are tree kangas!) can attest!  

beaelliott
beaelliott

 @SCWaterman Hello - I used to go out to the deeper seas off the coasts of Florida to hunt fishes so I can surely attest that there is great "pressures" on them.  Especially when they struggle to remove themselves from the line that is attached to a hook that is attached to their sensitive bodies. The things I remember about "catching" fishes will haunt me forever. I just don't understand how I could have been so callous to give no consideration to them. What had they done to harm me?

 

The fuel, the boat, the equipment and time it took to "make a meal" from their bodies could have bought weeks worth of healthy plant based nutrition instead- All without the violence, bloodshed and the negative impact to the environment. 

 

On the more "practical" end I can say that during 20 years of observing the waters... Every year we had to go out further, stay longer and came back with less victims. Even before I understood fish sentience and their right to be left alone I knew about the dwindling and depleted oceans. Unchecked gluttony is what I know fish hunting as now. Surely there are more sustainable and compassionate ways to feed ourselves and leave the poor fishes out of our wants.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The band joins this growing movement at a key time.  Californians will get a chance this November to vote on whether they have a fundamental right to know whether the foods they buy have been genetically engineered. Proposition 37 is supported by a broad array of food safety organizations, organic farmers, medical professionals, chefs, celebrities, and food retailers and other businesses. At Ocean Conservancy, we are especially worried that the first genetically engineered animal – an engineered version of farmed Atlantic salmon – may soon enter the food supply and not be labeled so consumers can tell.  You can learn more about our efforts by reading some of my earlier blog posts. [...]