Ted Danson, Sylvia Earle, and Seafood

On a recent Delta flight I found an article in Sky Magazine. It was about environmentalism overall, but a few pages in particular dealt with the oceans.

One section was about American actor Ted Danson’s foray into activism. His page mostly focused on eating sustainable seafood and avoiding seafood with high mercury levels (like swordfish, which no one should ever eat). However, I found myself drawn towards the portion of the article about Dr. Sylvia Earle.

I’ve never heard of Sylivia Earle, but the article says she is referred to by her friends and colleagues as “Her Deepness”—an accolade that caught my attention. Dr. Earle is considered one of the world’s foremost oceans expert, with over 7,000 hours logged underwater in 50+ years of research and exploration.

She also focuses on sustainable fishing, but brings up the issue of the true cost of seafood. She notes that we’ve consumed something like 90 percent of animals like tuna, marlins, and sharks, but with nothing to show for it; we haven’t been feeding millions of starving Africans. Shrimp used to be a delicacy, a rare treat. Now, no menu is complete without it on the menu.

Dr. Earle says the prices we pay for food are not an accurate reflection of their true cost. For instance, orange roughy can live to be 200 years old, yet we can buy it in the local marks for $8.99 US a pound. These low costs demanded by the market are not indicative of the real cost to the ecosystem.

What do we do about it? One recommended approach is to only eat sustainable seafood by keeping up-to-date on the appropriate lists maintained by independent organizations. Dr. Earle has another suggestion: write a letter to someone who makes decisions in Washington or your community.

I’ve heard this a million times, and have become quite jaded to the suggestion. She adds something interesting, though. In her words, “When I served as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), staff would say, ‘Well, why don’t people tell us what they think? We only hear from vested interests—like commercial fisherman—who want to maintain their commercial rights.’ If people would express their concerns, policymakers will respond.”

I like to believe it works that way, but I just don’t know. I’m curious what all of you out there think. Is it as simple as that?


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