It’s no secret that what we choose to put on our plates impacts our planet on a global scale. The destruction wrought by our appetite for meat and cheese in terms of land and water resources used coupled with the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions has recently become a mainstream topic of discussion – and concern. We’re learning that products with palm oil have terrible implications for endangered species half a world away.
One of the most destructive and misunderstood of our food industries is the commercial fishing industry. In addition to the billions of fish that are harvested from the oceans to meet consumer demands, the aggressive fishing nets used in this industry kill other, non-target marine animals as well. Annually, around 300,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises end up entangled in fishing gear and around 250,000 sea turtles are either injured or caught by fishermen. Sharks and seals are also often caught as bycatch.
One of the unintended victims of the fishing industry is the extremely rare and endangered Maui’s dolphin. Forty years ago, their populations were at 1,800 and in 2005 it was just 111. What are the population numbers of this New Zealand native species of dolphin 16-years later? Less than 50.
This species of dolphin has a slow maturity rate which means that it is hard for its population to rebound from such a loss. According to WWF, this rare and critically endangered species is a victim of human activities.
These activities include fishing, particularly with gill nets and trawling. Gill nets are very thin nylon nets that cannot be detected by the dolphin’s echolocation. Once they are caught, they’re done for. They cannot swim backwards or untangle themselves and drown to death. Trawls nets are also a crude way of fishing. Large nets are dragged behind boats and scoop up everything in their path, including dolphins. Again, dolphins cannot escape and drown to death.
You Can Make a Difference
There are ways you can help protect the last 50 Maui’s dolphins – as well as many other marine animal species – but one major way is to start with what goes on your plate. Knowing the damage that our appetite for fish is having on the planet, we need to take a close look at how our choices contribute to this damage.In the United States, we do not need to consume fish as a means of survival, but nevertheless we consume around 4.8 billion pounds every year. If one person were to remove fish and shellfish from their diet for one year, it could save 225 fish and 151 shellfish. If you consider the fact that bycatch accounts for 40 percent of global fish catches, that means that the marine animals that would have been bycatch alongside those fish could be spared as well.
We all have a choice when it comes to what we eat and by choosing better and opting for plant-based sources of protein over fish – a few times a week, if not all the time – we can drastically reduce the demand and lower the need for commercial fisheries to use drastic measure that are harmful to the ocean ecosystem.
Share this post and help raise awareness to save the Maui’s dolphin, the power is in our hands – or rather, on our plates.