Could a fish-free February help save the planet?

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Saving the world is generally depicted as the remit of cape-wearing superheroes or, at the very least, a dashing spy. Perhaps these stories are appealing because they relieve us ordinary folk of such a weighty responsibility. And perhaps, too, because they provide a recognisable narrative that seems to rhyme with so much of what defines Western culture. Unfortunately, when it comes to the very real challenges facing our planet today, such stories just won’t do. There will be no Captain Planet to put out the bushfires raging in Australia or to whisk up all of the plastic from the ocean and hurl it into outer space. 

The closest we could get to the superhero narrative would be a world leader or business tycoon willing to forsake personal interest for the good of the planet. As things stand, this seems even less plausible than the cape-wearing alternative. And even if such a leader existed, the effectiveness of his or her actions would still rely on the cooperation of many other interested parties. 

So, what will the story look like? Perhaps this is the wrong question. Ecological redemption may not be a story at all but, instead, a change in outlook. This idea or something like it underpins the activist campaigns that have come to define our highly interconnected world. Greta Thunberg’s school strike for the climate is the most famous of these but other more specific campaigns are popping up all over the place. 

Fish Free February (FFF) is the brainchild of marine biologist, underwater photographer and conservationist Simon Hillbourne. Inspired by the success of Veganuary but mindful of the tendency to focus on the meat and dairy industry,he has teamed up with the organisers of the Oceans Festival to launch the campaign. Their aim is to raise awareness of the huge stress that industrial fishing is placing on the ocean and to encourage the public to think carefully about the seafood they buy. For a long time, we have been encouraged to see the oceans as an inexhaustible supply – the idea that there will always be “plenty more fish in the sea” is so ubiquitous that it has become the go to phrase when we want to reassures someone that there’s better, or at least, more to come. Up until the 1950s there was some truth in the phrase but today it looks very questionable. Some familiar fish, like bluefin tuna, have been overfished for decades; most others are under severe stress. 

Overfishing is not the only problem caused by our appetite for seafood. As the FFF press release points out, a large proportion of the plastic in the ocean actually comes from discarded fishing equipment. And practices like bottom trawling threaten to destroy the very ecosystems that they are taking from.

So, this February, here’s what you can do:

  • Commit to eradicating seafood from your diet for 29 days and focus on plant-based, sustainable alternative ways of eating. 
  • Consciously reduce the amount of seafood in your diet to limit the degree of their personal impact. If continuing to consume seafood after February, people are encouraged to purchase items that are certified by an independent sustainable fishing moderator, such as the Marine Stewardship Council. People can also focus on trying to purchase seafood from small-scale, local and sustainable fisheries. 
  • Increase the discussion surrounding seafood and fishing practices, to increase the level of knowledge in public consciousness.
  • Ask questions about where the fish you are being sold or served came from. Holding retailers and restaurants responsible for the products they sell will put pressure on them to source seafood from sustainable fisheries.

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