As a 20-year resident of LA, I subscribe to Los Angeles Magazine. I mostly read it to learn about local things going on in my city and to stay up-to-date on the hometown movers and shakers.
This month, however, I was quite stunned to see the cover. Instead of the usual celebrity portrait or cityscape, I was greeted by the stark image of a lifeless fish accompanied by the headline “Fish Are F**ked.” Definitely not the usual content for Los Angeles Magazine.
The harrowing but also hopeful piece by Rene Chun dives headlong into the desperate plight faded by fish and it made my jaw drop multiple times. As an activist, I’m constantly following animal news and I was still shook. I wanted to share the most startling facts and statistics uncovered by Chun because they illustrate just how perilous the situation is for marine wildlife – and also new technologies that have the potential to help. If you can get your hands on the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, I highly recommend reading this article.
The Terrible Awful
1. A 2018 University of British Columbia Study found that out of 825 commercially exploited species of fish, 60 percent (499 species) are today not just at risk of extinction, but at extremely high risk due to overfishing and the effects of climate change.
2. The 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that of the million species identified for extinction in the next 30 years, fish will suffer the biggest losses due to ocean heat waves, acidification, overfishing, and rapid expansion of dead zones.
3. Wild stocks of Pacific bluefin tuna have plummeted by 96 percent since the preindustrial era. Though several environmental groups have petitioned to have Pacific bluefin protected under the Endangered Species Act, those requests have been denied.
4. The global catch for wild seafood is between 80 and 90 metric tons each year. That is the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population of China.
5. Due to dwindling fish populations, McDonald’s has had to change the species of fish from which it makes its famed Filet-O-Fish six times since the sandwich was introduced in 1963. It’s gone from halibut to cod to haddock to New Zealand hoki to Atlantic pollock to Alaskan pollock.
6. More than half of all fish consumed by humans now come from fish factory farms where growth hormones, antibiotics, vaccines, anthelmintics, and artificial dyes (salmon who are farmed have gray flesh, so they dye it pink) are commonly used.
7. Farmed fish contain 20.5 percent more saturated fat, 20 percent less protein, and eight times more PCBs than wild caught. They also contain high levels of mercury and dioxins from herbicides.
8. Fish bred on farms are fed a diet of unseemly things like GMO yeast, chicken fat, chicken feathers, and even chicken litter (feces).
While the facts presented above are truly alarming, Chun profiles several startups pioneering lab-grown fish that may stem the tide. Dubbed Cellular Aquaculture™ – yes, one of the companies actually trademarked this – this new technology works by taking a small sample of fish cells and culturing them to create fish meat outside of the animal. It’s basically “clean meat” but with fish.
BlueNalu, the company with the trademark, has truly ambitious plans to culture every single species of marine life currently eaten by people. Other newly formed companies like Finless Foods and Wild Type are focusing on single species like bluefin and salmon.
Though the process of creating clean fish is currently prohibitively expensive, all companies say they can bring costs down and plan to have products to market in mere five years.
Other companies like Good Catch and Gardein have already debuted impressive plant-based fish products. In addition, Impossible Foods, whose Impossible Burger took the culinary world by storm, has revealed they are working on plant-based fish as well.
Main image: Andrés Martínez Soto