Guest post by Ben Eagle
End of the Line (2009). Empty Oceans, Empty Nets (2002). Farming the Seas (2004). Sharkwater (2006). Sharkwater Extinction (2018). Blackfish (2013). Troubled Waters (2015). The Empty Ocean (Island Press, 2004). Four Fish (Penguin, 2010). The End of the Line (The New Press, 2004). For many years now film makers and authors have widely publicised a narrative that the oceans and their inhabitants are increasingly threatened by a range of factors from ocean acidification and climate change to over fishing. It has become fairly common knowledge that we are facing a ticking time bomb when it comes to fish stocks and the health of the oceans. At the same time our appetite for consuming fish and increasing demand doesn’t seem to be wavering.
In the UK fish and chips remains a standard part of food culture. Almost half a billion people in Africa and south east Asia are reliant on fish to fulfil their protein requirements. The global human population is now well over 7.5 billion people and food demand is therefore increasing all of the time. Fish are the final ‘wild’ food group that we consume in large numbers, and yet, arguably, we could be the final generation to do so. We are eating more fish now than ever before. Indeed, people are, on average, consuming four times as much as we did in 1950. Increasingly efficient means of fishing, including trawling, have led to vast swathes of ocean being completely devoid of fish, including in the Mediterranean.
This isn’t a good picture and yet it’s one that, every day, we do our best as a species to add to. As readers of Hannah’s blog you will of course be aware of the situation. The challenge comes in facing up to what we know and acting on that knowledge in a personal way, as well as spreading that message to others and encouraging them to take action. Action is always far more difficult than reading, writing, speaking or thinking about something. However, it is the doing that always makes a difference.
People have labels in life. For those who fish it one of a fisherman (or fisher). One of mine is a farmer. My focus is on the land however, not the oceans. Farming faces a massive range of sustainability issues moving forwards and it is a big enough challenge to focus on this. However, as somebody who eats fish (although I’ll admit I eat a lot less than I did in the passt) I realise that I know pitifully little about the fishing industry. At a conference earlier this year I met a policy advisor who is working on Common Fisheries Policy reforms at a European Level. This conversation opened my eyes to the problems faced in Europe, let alone the rest of the world, and I was stunned at how naïve I was when it came to the stories and the realities behind fish and ocean health.
When Hannah and I spoke earlier in the year about doing some blog collaboration in 2019 my mind first turned to coasts. This is something of which I have some direct experience and a direct stake in. My farm on the Essex coast, on the east coast of England, has around 3 miles of sea wall standing between the farmland and the North Sea. We also own about 350 acres of salt marsh and beaches which protect the intertidal habitat situated to the west. On a daily basis I experience the plastics problem, and I face, in the long run, the issue of sea level rise. Ocean health however, and the health of fish stocks, is, I think, another matter, and I have come to realise just how poor my knowledge of this is.
This post therefore is a public means of my acknowledging my poor standards of knowledge, relatively speaking, and to date my laziness at doing what I can myself to help the health of the oceans. Before one can act properly one has to understand the situation and so I am going to make 2019 a personal mission to improve my understanding of how fishing and the fishing industry really works. If I continue to eat fish I want to be in the knowledge that I am doing so in sustainable a means as possible. I am happy in the meat choices I make. I want to be the same when it comes to fish choices. If you want to join me in this journey I would love to hear from you. Please visit my website thinkingcountry.com and you can find my contact details on there. I usually find that motivation is much easier when you do something as a group, so this would certainly help.
Ben Eagle is a farmer and writer from the Essex Coast. He blogs at thinkingcountry.com, presents the Meet the Farmers podcast and has previously written for The Guardian, Earth Island Journal and The Countryman, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram @benjy_eagle.