Importance of Natural Resources

The four fish we’re overeating — and what to eat instead | Paul Greenberg


So when I was a kid … this was my team. (Laughter) I stunk at sports. I didn’t like to play them,
I didn’t like to watch them. So this is what I did. I went fishing. And for all of my growing up
I fished on the shores of Connecticut, and these are the creatures
that I saw on a regular basis. But after I grew up and went to college, and I came home in the early 90’s, this is what I found. My team had shrunk. It was like literally having
your roster devastated. And as I sort of looked into that, from a very personal
point of view as a fisherman, I started to kind of figure out, well, what was the rest of the world
thinking about it? First place I started to look
was fish markets. And when I went to fish markets, in spite of where I was — whether I was in North Carolina,
or Paris, or London, or wherever — I kept seeing this weirdly
repeating trope of four creatures, again and again — on the menus, on ice — shrimp, tuna, salmon and cod. And I thought this was pretty strange, and as I looked at it, I was wondering, did anyone else notice
this sort of shrinking of the market? Well, when I looked into it, I realized that people
didn’t look at it as their team. Ordinary people, the way they looked
at seafood was like this. It’s not an unusual human characteristic to reduce the natural world
down to very few elements. We did it before, 10,000 years ago,
when we came out of our caves. If you look at fire pits
from 10,000 years ago, you’ll see raccoons,
you’ll see, you know, wolves, you’ll see all kinds
of different creatures. But if you telescope to the age of —
you know, 2,000 years ago, you’ll see these four mammals: pigs, cows, sheep and goats. It’s true of birds, too. You look at the menus
in New York City restaurants 150 years ago, 200 years ago, you’ll see snipe, woodcock, grouse,
dozens of ducks, dozens of geese. But telescope ahead to the age
of modern animal husbandry, and you’ll see four: turkeys, ducks, chicken and geese. So it makes sense
that we’ve headed in this direction. But how have we headed in this direction? Well … first it’s a very, very new problem. This is the way we’ve been fishing
the oceans over the last 50 years. World War II was a tremendous incentive
to arm ourselves in a war against fish. All of the technology
that we perfected during World War II — sonar, lightweight polymers — all these things
were redirected towards fish. And so you see this tremendous buildup
in fishing capacity, quadrupling in the course of time, from the end of World War II
to the present time. And right now that means we’re taking between 80 and 90 million
metric tons out of the sea every year. That’s the equivalent
of the human weight of China taken out of the sea every year. And it’s no coincidence
that I use China as the example because China is now
the largest fishing nation in the world. Well, that’s only half the story. The other half of the story is this incredible boom
in fish farming and aquaculture, which is now, only
in the last year or two, starting to exceed the amount
of wild fish that we produce. So that if you add wild fish
and farmed fish together, you get the equivalent
of two Chinas created from the ocean each and every year. And again, it’s not a coincidence
that I use China as the example, because China, in addition
to being the biggest catcher of fish, is also the biggest farmer of fish. So let’s look though at the four choices
we are making right now. The first one — by far the most consumed seafood
in America and in much of the West, is shrimp. Shrimp in the wild —
as a wild product — is a terrible product. 5, 10, 15 pounds of wild fish
are regularly killed to bring one pound of shrimp
to the market. They’re also incredibly fuel inefficient
to bring to the market. In a recent study that was produced
out of Dalhousie University, it was found that dragging for shrimp is one of the most carbon-intensive
ways of fishing that you can find. So you can farm them, and people do farm them, and they farm them a lot
in this very area. Problem is … the place where you farm shrimp
is in these wild habitats — in mangrove forests. Now look at those lovely
roots coming down. Those are the things
that hold soil together, protect coasts, create habitats
for all sorts of young fish, young shrimp, all sorts of things
that are important to this environment. Well, this is what happens
to a lot of coastal mangrove forests. We’ve lost millions of acres
of coastal mangroves over the last 30 or 40 years. That rate of destruction has slowed, but we’re still
in a major mangrove deficit. The other thing that’s going on here is a phenomenon that the filmmaker
Mark Benjamin called “Grinding Nemo.” This phenomenon is very, very relevant to anything that you’ve ever seen
on a tropical reef. Because what’s going on right now, we have shrimp draggers
dragging for shrimp, catching a huge amount of bycatch, that bycatch in turn gets ground up
and turned into shrimp food. And sometimes, many of these vessels — manned by slaves — are catching these so-called “trash fish,” fish that we would love to see on a reef, grinding them up and turning them into shrimp feed — an ecosystem literally eating itself
and spitting out shrimp. The next most consumed seafood in America, and also throughout the West, is tuna. So tuna is this ultimate global fish. These huge management areas
have to be observed in order for tuna to be well managed. Our own management area, called a Regional Fisheries
Management Organization, is called ICCAT, the International Commission
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The great naturalist
Carl Safina once called it, “The International Conspiracy
to Catch all the Tunas.” Of course we’ve seen
incredible improvement in ICCAT in the last few years, there is total room for improvement, but it remains to be said
that tuna is a global fish, and to manage it,
we have to manage the globe. Well, we could also try to grow tuna but tuna is a spectacularly bad
animal for aquaculture. Many people don’t know this
but tuna are warm-blooded. They can heat their bodies 20 degrees
above ambient temperature, they can swim at over 40 miles an hour. So that pretty much eliminates all the advantages
of farming a fish, right? A farmed fish is — or a fish is cold-blooded,
it doesn’t move too much. That’s a great thing for growing protein. But if you’ve got
this crazy, wild creature that swims at 40 miles an hour
and heats its blood — not a great candidate for aquaculture. The next creature — most consumed seafood in America
and throughout the West — is salmon. Now salmon got its plundering, too, but it didn’t really necessarily
happen through fishing. This is my home state of Connecticut. Connecticut used to be home
to a lot of wild salmon. But if you look
at this map of Connecticut, every dot on that map is a dam. There are over 3,000 dams
in the state of Connecticut. I often say this is why people
in Connecticut are so uptight — (Laughter) If somebody could just
unblock Connecticut’s chi, I feel that we could have
an infinitely better world. But I made this particular comment at a convention once
of national parks officers, and this guy from North Carolina
sidled up to me, he says, “You know, you oughtn’t be so hard
on your Connecticut, cause we here in North Carolina,
we got 35,000 dams.” So it’s a national epidemic,
it’s an international epidemic. And there are dams everywhere, and these are precisely the things that stop wild salmon
from reaching their spawning grounds. So as a result,
we’ve turned to aquaculture, and salmon is one the most successful,
at least from a numbers point of view. When they first started farming salmon, it could take as many
as six pounds of wild fish to make a single pound of salmon. The industry has, to its credit,
greatly improved. They’ve gotten it below two to one, although it’s a little bit of a cheat because if you look at the way
aquaculture feed is produced, they’re measuring pellets — pounds of pellets per pound of salmon. Those pellets are in turn reduced fish. So the actual — what’s called the FIFO,
the fish in and the fish out — kind of hard to say. But in any case, credit to the industry, it has lowered the amount of fish
per pound of salmon. Problem is we’ve also gone crazy with the amount of salmon
that we’re producing. Aquaculture is the fastest growing
food system on the planet. It’s growing at something
like seven percent per year. And so even though
we’re doing less per fish to bring it to the market, we’re still killing
a lot of these little fish. And it’s not just fish
that we’re feeding fish to, we’re also feeding fish
to chickens and pigs. So we’ve got chickens
and they’re eating fish, but weirdly, we also have fish
that are eating chickens. Because the byproducts of chickens —
feathers, blood, bone — get ground up and fed to fish. So I often wonder, is there a fish that ate
a chicken that ate a fish? It’s sort of a reworking
of the chicken and egg thing. Anyway — (Laughter) All together, though,
it results in a terrible mess. What you’re talking about is something between 20 and 30 million
metric tons of wild creatures that are taken from the ocean
and used and ground up. That’s the equivalent
of a third of a China, or of an entire United States of humans that’s taken out of the sea
each and every year. The last of the four
is a kind of amorphous thing. It’s what the industry calls “whitefish.” There are many fish that get cycled
into this whitefish thing but the way to kind of tell
the story, I think, is through that classic piece
of American culinary innovation, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. So the Filet-O-Fish sandwich
actually started as halibut. And it started because
a local franchise owner found that when he served
his McDonald’s on Friday, nobody came. Because it was a Catholic
community, they needed fish. So he went to Ray Kroc and he said, “I’m going to bring you a fish sandwich,
going to be made out of halibut.” Ray Kroc said, “I don’t think
it’s going to work. I want to do a Hula Burger, and there’s going to be
a slice of pineapple on a bun. But let’s do this, let’s have a bet. Whosever sandwich sells more,
that will be the winning sandwich.” Well, it’s kind of sad for the ocean
that the Hula Burger didn’t win. So he made his halibut sandwich. Unfortunately though,
the sandwich came in at 30 cents. Ray wanted the sandwich
to come in at 25 cents, so he turned to Atlantic cod. We all know what happened to
Atlantic cod in New England. So now the Filet-O-Fish sandwich
is made out of Alaska pollock, it’s the largest fin fish fishery
in the United States, 2 to 3 billion pounds of fish
taken out of the sea every single year. If we go through the pollock, the next choice is probably
going to be tilapia. Tilapia is one of those fish
nobody ever heard of 20 years ago. It’s actually a very efficient converter
of plant protein into animal protein, and it’s been a godsend
to the third world. It’s actually a tremendously
sustainable solution, it goes from an egg
to an adult in nine months. The problem is that when you
look about the West, it doesn’t do what the West
wants it to do. It really doesn’t have what’s called
an oily fish profile. It doesn’t have the EPA and DHA omega-3s that we all think are going
to make us live forever. So what do we do? I mean, first of all,
what about this poor fish, the clupeids? The fish that represent a huge part
of that 20 to 30 million metric tons. Well, one possibility
that a lot of conservationists have raised is could we eat them? Could we eat them directly
instead of feeding them to salmon? There are arguments for it. They are tremendously fuel efficient
to bring to market, a fraction of the fuel cost
of say, shrimp, and at the very top
of the carbon efficiency scale. They also are omega-3 rich,
a great source for EPA and DHA. So that is a potential. And if we were to go down that route
what I would say is, instead of paying a few bucks a pound —
or a few bucks a ton, really — and making it into aquafeed, could we halve the catch
and double the price for the fishermen and make that our way
of treating these particular fish? Other possibility though,
which is much more interesting, is looking at bivalves,
particularly mussels. Now, mussels are very high in EPA and DHA,
they’re similar to canned tuna. They’re also extremely fuel efficient. To bring a pound of mussels to market is about a thirtieth of the carbon
as required to bring beef to market. They require no forage fish, they actually get their omega-3s
by filtering the water of microalgae. In fact, that’s where omega-3s come from,
they don’t come from fish. Microalgae make the omega-3s,
they’re only bioconcentrated in fish. Mussels and other bivalves do tremendous amounts of water filtration. A single mussel can filter
dozens of gallons every single day. And this is incredibly important
when we look at the world. Right now, nitrification,
overuse of phosphates in our waterways are causing tremendous algal blooms. Over 400 new dead zones
have been created in the last 20 years, tremendous sources of marine life death. We also could look at not a fish at all. We could look at a vegetable. We could look at seaweed, the kelps, all these different varieties of things
that can be high in omega-3s, can be high in proteins, tremendously good things. They filter the water
just like mussels do. And weirdly enough, it turns out that you
can actually feed this to cows. Now, I’m not a big fan of cattle. But if you wanted to keep growing cattle in a time and place
where water resources are limited, you’re growing seaweed in the water,
you don’t have to water it — major consideration. And the last fish is a question mark. We have the ability
to create aquacultured fish that creates a net gain
of marine protein for us. This creature would have to be vegetarian, it would have to be fast growing, it would have to be adaptable
to a changing climate and it would have to have
that oily fish profile, that EPA, DHA, omega-3
fatty acid profile that we’re looking for. This exists kind of on paper. I have been reporting
on these subjects for 15 years. Every time I do a new story,
somebody tells me, “We can do all that. We can do it.
We’ve figured it all out. We can produce a fish that’s a net gain of marine protein
and has omega-3s.” Great. It doesn’t seem to be getting scaled up. It is time to scale this up. If we do, 30 million metric tons of seafood,
a third of the world catch, stays in the water. So I guess what I’m saying is
this is what we’ve been going with. We tend to go with our appetites
rather than our minds. But if we went with this,
or some configuration of it, we might have a little more of this. Thank you. (Applause)


Reader Comments

  1. TED, I really didn't appreciate the links all over the screen as he was finalising his pitch. It creates a sense of ignoring what he has to say, which is very important.

  2. A vegan lifestyle is the most sustainable and conscious lifestyle. If you want to have an impact, ''think with your mind, not your appetite''.

  3. besides the wasting of uneaten-food, how about not eating animals? I hear him talking about destroying woods and the ecosystem and I'm just thinking to myself: aren't the fish part of the system too?

  4. I pretty much no longer eat animals, but I occasionally eat sea food. Lately, I have been thinking of no longer eating fish either…this talk came at a good time. Thank you.

  5. Why don't we focus on the issues that are of direct importance, instead of polar bears, fish and other endangered species.

  6. Coming from a hot and dry country like Australia that is surrounded by the ocean the seaweed idea sounds good. Now all we need is to find a way to transport the seaweed at a cost that it is viable to inland farmers.

  7. I wish he would've mentioned about eating asian carp and/or other invasive species that are also destroying the ecosystems in fresh and salt bodies of water. Overall though, a great and very informative video.

  8. an idea worth spreading on ted talks? that's become so rare…. looking forward to more, you've gotten my hopes back up.

  9. The solution is to go VEGAN! It's the best diet for the environment, obviously for the animals and for your health as well.

  10. orrrr… we can just eat BUGS. easier to grow and easier to process into a shelf stable product.
    basically everyone could grow part of their food supply also kickstarter.com/projects/1468268424/l-I-v-I-n-hive

  11. Its a great logical idea; it wont happen, though. The same type of logic for switching to insect protein intake failed, despite it making so much sense. Fact is, people dont want to change…ever. Humans only change when we have no other choice.

    Not saying I dont agree with this video, I just dont have that much faith in humanity.

  12. Very interesting. I have no issue with us moving to the plant life, but leave mollusks out of it. They're smarter than they get credit for. Also, bio-engineered food is a disaster. They may feed the masses now, but the cost comes with health issues down the line. (See bio engineered corn, being fed to livestock and how it in turn is effecting our families)

  13. One thing he fails to mention is that the Chinese, although they are the largest fisher, they don't necessarily eat the same fish that we do. Carp is likely the most popular fish.

    We still should reduce the amount we fish though.

  14. The world just needs to go vegan for fucks sake. We're not cats with an obligation to eat meat or die…were actually healthier without it, saves the planets environment & the added bonus of knowing we're not the biggest destructive species to have ever lived

  15. This is good! And it's very important! Thank you.

    But better solution is to stop this madness! It is something we all can do ourselves. We don't have to kill and eat (and waste!) the creatures. That is not our right to do. It doesn't make sense, it's really sad and destructive.
    Go vegan for the creatures, the environment and for health. <3

  16. just a random thought …. if eating flesh is not so great for the environment and eco system, then why not just not eat it? It is not as though there is a vast amount of non-flesh based food out there.

  17. I will go for it. I love mussels and seaweed. Take into account that mussel's shells have a great use. For instance, the highest populated island in the world is the Archipielago of San Bernardo in Colombia. Their residents have been expanding this island by eating tons of mussels and using the shells as soil filler. Basically, this is a mussel-made island! you can use these mussel shells for gardening and other stuff to replace pebbles.

  18. Well they taste the best, soooo… You know what they say: "Survival of the least palatable." 😀

    Great talk! Very informative.

  19. Education is Key. Societies with a high level of education and standards of living don't have a food crisis, associated with population. Look at the numbers yourself. Today, only the poor and uneducated are breeding. We needlessly scoop up the oceans fish to feed these poor dependent masses for short term profits. Instead we should be educating them to conserve and produce there own food like Paul said. I know many of you, after watch these kinds of vids, are just seething with self loathing hatred and dark nihilist thoughts. You hope for quick brutal solutions to this crisis at the expensive of morality.  We need not ever go down the road of population/resource control. That's admitting to complete failure to act responsibly.

  20. Vegan retards are attacking. Modern farming can't be called "healthy" in any way, since it involves lots of clearly not healthy things, like pesticides and some fertilizers and etc. Humanity can't beat the world hunger today, using all the recources in a retarded manner wasting them and under using them, and you want all the people to turn vegan? Are you out of your mind? You arrogant vegan fucks have absolutely no clue about how farming works, you can't even count.

  21. Humans changing their diets for healthy alternatives? Insanity, will never happen. It's these crazy ideas that are stopping us from making real change in this world.

  22. So what should I eat instead? Unless I want to scrap zebra mussels off rocks (illegal and impractical) I don't see a lot of things I can do here TODAY. I thought maybe the ground up fish in imitation crab might be brought up as a possible mystery fish (though be nice if they stopped adding starch, MSG and sugar to it). If we are going to scale up the "better choices" then we need to know to BUY and EAT them, when possible. If I go to the local Asian Market, which fish would be a better choice than the 4 mentioned? Like mention of the slavery with shrimp, but would hate to support other bad behavior unwittingly.

  23. or we could just go vegan, which will not only help our oceans, but our planet, environment, our health and obesity crisis and of course the BILLIONS of animals ewe needlessly slaughter each year. watch cowspiracy and wake up people.

  24. PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE OUR PETITION TO CLOSE OFF THE HIGH SEAS TO COMMERCIAL INDUSTRIAL FISHING. https://www.change.org/p/government-close-fisheries-to-industrial-fishing-by-creation-of-global-high-seas-marine-preserve

  25. I think if we were to also explore culinary alternatives, we'll be able to bring up the value of other fishes. Coming from Malaysia, Telapia cooked fresh and steamed is pretty awesome. The problem is, our 'third world countries' are learning to eat and value more and more popular fishes too.

  26. Why most westerner never eat fresh water fish (except for salmon and catfish)? I came from a river town in China, we eat fresh water shrimp, fish (like carp, perch etc.) and shellfish. They are mostly farmed, produced locally, insanely fresh (we don't eat dead fish or shrimp, don't even talk about the frozen ones) and most people prefer fresh water produce than seafood. They carry a natural sweetness and umami.

  27. I bet all those rich douchebags in the front row went off to a sushi dinner after this. As horrible as all this is no one is going to do anything until it's too late because humans are greedy stupid asshats.

  28. I really like the alternatives suggested in this talk. One that seems far more beneficial and obvious is to stop eating fish altogether.

  29. is it really good that we always look things in the bigger far away perspective? the bigger picture "we consumed 30 milion metric tons of fish……." macro economics vs quantum physics

  30. Fish farms, as opposed to catching wild fish creates local problems from fish feces and uneaten food. A concentration of one species encourages disease epidemics that can spread into the sea. Finally, monoculture attracts parasites, which, in addition to creating huge pest populations locally, serves as a reservoir for invading the sea and wild/non-resident fish. A modest proposal is to eat the "trash"/invasive species/"ugly sustainables" instead. (Jellyfish are becoming a problem worldwide, along with Lionfish. Eat an Invader, save the Natives!

  31. Fish farms are spreading diseases to the ocean fish because they stick their farms close to the migration routes that the wild fish. The farms won't admit that their fish are sick and diseased but they are… Just watch the documentry called Salmon Confidential

  32. Amazing Ted Talk. I'm currently doing research on the sustainability of the fishing industry in my country, and this approach to consumer-spurred sustainability is honestly the best solution I've found. If we were all more concious about our food choices, the world would be such a better place.

  33. I like meat and put in the conservation effort and money to be able to eat it. Quit complaining and do something about it instead of watching videos on your couch. Learn instead of listen.

  34. The solution there are many in the world, when I was a child in Europe we were not to have more that 2 children by family I had only 1 now we have mass immigration from countries which for every woman drops 8 to 10 kids for the social benefits.
    It is a lost cause

  35. you can eat seaweed or grass for Omega 3, but its only EPA – our ability to convert to DHA is limited. The animal does the DHA conversion. that's why grass fed cows and dairy products have higher DHA

  36. Veganism is the single most environmental diet and has tremendous health benefits! #savetheocean ^_^ â¤ï¸ğŸŒŽğŸŒ±

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