From deforestation to the ceaseless burning of fossil fuels to factory farm runoff, human activity is pushing our planet to the brink. Over the years, I’ve always found it fascinating to hear people talk about the environment as if it’s some ethereal thing out there instead of the very home we and billions of animals need to live.
And while the human population has exploded in recent decades, wildlife has been decimated. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost half its wildlife in the last 40 years due to pollution, habitat destruction, and ruthless hunting.
But it’s our oceans, and those who live there, that face the most dire threat of all.
The sad truth is that humans treat Earth’s oceans as nothing more than a garbage dump. Each year, we empty 8 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean. That is the equivalent of unloading the contents of one garbage truck every single minute.
Now, it’s true that some of this plastic is from single-use items like straws, water bottles, etc. But a recent survey found that a vast amount of the ocean’s plastic debris is actually from discarded fishing nets. In fact, scientists working with the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup estimated that 46 percent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch— an area three times the size of France— is from fishing nets.
To anyone reading this who doesn’t understand how that can be possible, Google “trawling” and prepare to be shocked. The reality is that commercial fishing is literally annihilating our oceans. To be clear, when I say “fishing,” I’m not talking about lone fishermen with rods and reels, I’m talking about fishing nets that span miles, catching and dredging everything in their wake. Commercial fishing kills so many sea animals a year it’s impossible to put a number on it. Some estimates put the death toll in the trillions. These nets kill indiscriminately, too – not just fish, but dolphins, sea turtles, seals, and anyone else who lives in the ocean.
The plastic left behind by these massive nets continues to kill once the fishermen are long gone. The Ocean Cleanup reports plastic claims the lives of more than 1,000,000 sea birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.
The situation is so catastrophic that scientists warn we could see fishless oceans by 2048.
Though this devastation is overwhelming to contemplate, we can take personal steps to help save our oceans. Reducing our individual plastic use is great – but we must stop eating fish. Period. If we want to save fish, we need to stop killing them. And if we want to stop plastic from being dumped in the sea, we need to stop funding the commercial fishing industry that treats our ocean like actual trash.
I grew up in a seaside town so I understand how much people love to eat fish and seafood. Trust me when I say the vegan options out there that mimic the taste and texture of fish are seriously amazing. Companies like Ocean Hugger, Gardein, and Good Catch are making plant-based seafood alternatives that will blow you away. And there are incredible vegan sea-inspired recipes online that are remarkable too.
In terms of any health benefits people think they get from eating fish, you should know that pound for pound, fish can have as much cholesterol as meat. And because of all the pollution in our oceans, fish can also contain toxins such as mercury, PCBs, and, yes, plastic. You wanna eat that? No, you don’t. It’s much better to just get your protein, omega-3s, and DHA from healthy plant sources.
Refuse straws, say no to plastic bags, bring a reusable water bottle to work – but for heaven’s sake, if you want to help save our oceans, stop eating fish.
Main image: Noel Guevara/Greenpeace