Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Fish Or No Fish: Reflections On ‘The Cove’ And Sustainable Fishing

Earth Eats' Yvonne Maffei reflects on Academy Award-winning documentary 'The Cove' and how to respond to the ethically fraught issues around sustainable fishing

Two dolphins

Photo: dolphinpix

The inclusion of dolphin meat in the Japanese food system, and the reluctance of the people of Taiji to discontinue this yearly practice of dolphin slaughter are highly political issues in Japan.

We’re often told by nutritionists, doctors, and even our government to eat fish in order to stay healthy. We’re also told not to eat some fish because they are approaching extinction or are so full of toxic mercury or other dangerous and life-threatening carcinogens.

The EPA tells us,

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.

So if one is adventurous and brave enough to go out and buy fish for consumption, yet still wants to eat responsibly, what is one to do?

Mercury Levels

For me, it’s hard enough when shopping to remember my eco-friendly bags, let alone pull out my grocery list and the list of ‘Eco-Best’, ‘Eco-Ok’ and ‘Eco-Worst’ fish that I should consider substituting into my already-planned menu for the in-laws who will arrive for dinner in less than three hours.

The EPA tells us not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. They also say that five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Don’t eat albacore tuna, they say, because it is higher in mercury than it’s cheaper counterpart you can find with the word ‘chicken’ as part of its label.

This is a lot of work.

Personally, I admit to being semi-lax about my fish choices in the not-so recent past. I’m a home chef. I develop recipes. I test recipes. I write about food every day. Can I really be consumed with every single issue related to organic, free-range, eco-friendly, fair-trade, and more? Doing so would tamper with creativity and infringe just a bit on my recipe-testing agenda.

And Then Came The Cove

The Cove is an Academy Award-winning documentary about the horrifying and merciless slaughter of dolphins in the Taiji area of Japan. I watched the film in absolute horror — sometimes through hands over my eyes — and saw something worse, something bloodier and more brutal than any fictional horror movie could ever do to my consciousness.

Watch: The Cove (Trailer)

I’d seen the previews of the bright red water in the cove where dolphins were killed. I just never realized that what I would learn in the documentary and all its extra clips would be far more horrifying than I could have imagined.

A summary here would never do justice to the intricate detail and plethora of information available in The Cove, however, for those who haven’t yet or won’t ever see it, these are just a few things to know.

Plight Of The Dolphins

Many dolphins suffer terribly at death, while in life their glorious aquatic bodies are filled with mercury. Toxic mercury falls into our oceans from coal-burning plants around the globe, leaving dolphins and other large mammals some of the most dangerous types of fish for us to eat.

Then why hunt them? This was my question asked through tears as I watched the dolphins of Taiji so gracefully accept their fate. If humans are not dependant upon this meat for survival, then why is this being done?

The Japanese government says it’s not about food or famine or even politics; it’s about “pest control”, that dolphins eat too many fish in the ocean.

Feeding Dolphin Meat To Children

The government of Japan proceeds to give away dolphin meat, for free, to schoolchildren. The meat is also placed on supermarket shelves masked as other types of fish, while mercury levels in the meat remain dangerously high, according to the research presented in The Cove.

Buy: The Cove (DVD, 2009)

The inclusion of dolphin meat in the Japanese food system, and the reluctance of the people of Taiji to discontinue this yearly practice of dolphin slaughter are highly political issues in Japan. What strikes me is that these issues seem to have such a domino effect of one negative following right after the other.

A Piece Of The Puzzle

It’s not an issue where our fingers should be pointed solely at Japan or their people; the money-making desire for dolphins and killer whales at theme parks and resorts around the globe drive the demand for catching ‘the best’ dolphins so we can take our kids on a one-day outing in the summer and watch them jump in the air at a live show.

Knowledge is powerful, and it gives one a certain responsibility to action, particularly in this case. The dolphin massacre at Taiji is just one piece of the puzzle surrounding the future of our global resources, our food system, our health, our planet’s ecology — basically, our everything.

Who is responsible to take action? Governments? Advocacy groups? Consumers?

The film left me thinking…about how to stop the madness on a global level and on the home front. I don’t know what exactly to do yet, but I know staying informed is one way to figure it out.

Will you?

Yvonne Maffei

Yvonne Maffei is a culinary educator and the founder and Editor of My Halal Kitchen, a halal food and cooking blog showcasing culinary tips and healthy halal recipes. She is also a regular contributor for Indiana Public Media's Muslim Voices project.

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