A visit From the Ocean Doctor is better than a visit to your medical doctor. First there is no undressing and donning a questionable paper outfit designed, presumably, on the set of Star Trek. This week, Dr. David Guggenheim aka “The Ocean Doctor” came to visit us at Miami U to tell us about the state of the world’s ocean, its coral reefs, and the other animal life there. Although the presentations were interesting and visually stunning, the report was not good. For instance, less than 5% of the coral reefs are expected to remain by 2030 at our current rate of pollution, destruction, and oceanic warming. Coral supports an estimated 25% of the ocean’s diversity and they are some of the oldest living species on the planet at 4000 years.
Of all the risks to corals and to oceans, the one that disturbs me the most, and which also seems the easiest fix, is the high environmental cost of fishing. Watching some of the footage of oceanic habitat destroyed by trawling and the inevitable consequence of by-catch in the fishing industry, I wondered if it was ethical to eat fish at all in this world with 7 billion hungry humans. On principle, it seems conceivable that we should be able to eat fish raised or caught in a sustainable way. And aquaculture could potentially alleviate some of the environmental and ethical concerns. (Whole Foods apparently has good labeling on their fish.) However, unless you go out and catch your own fish for dinner from a stream or lake, you do not have good assurance that this fish was collected in a way that takes into account sustainability and humane practices. (Of course, fishing with rod and reel also drives stocking fish into rivers and lakes, which is environmentally problematic in its own way. Dinner has become rather complicated.) Until we have better practices that do not result in significant by-catch and environmental degradation, the most environmentally responsible decision may be to stick with your greens and beans and let the oceanic habitats recover. The Ocean Doctor did not discourage eating fish, but like a visit with my regular doctor, I left my meeting with him with the feeling that I needed to reevaluate some of my choices.