Q&A: Charles Clover Sees 'The End of the Line'
Author Charles Clover was a keynote speaker here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium conference, Cooking for Solutions. His 2006 book, "The End of the Line" (New Press, 2006), charts the crisis that overfishing poses to the environment and what we eat. Next month, a documentary based on the book arrives in theaters. And environmentalists and marine biologists hope that it will do for sustainable seafood what Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" did for global warming: serve as a wake-up call to consumers about the challenges we face.
I spoke to Clover this morning about the film and its message. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: What message do you hope to send?
A: Al Gore says the climate crisis is the most important thing on the planet. And we’re saying we’re not so sure. There are things that are going to impact us sooner and are impacting 70 percent of the planet’s surface and intimately involved in climate change and in the health of the planet.
The human race has a myopic obsession to having one problem that it worries about at any one time. In fact, there are about three things that are going to get you, and you should just watch out that they don’t sneak up and whack you on the back of the head.
Q: How did you get interested in overfishing?
A: I’m a fly fisherman. I use a fly, and I’m extremely inefficient. The thing that galled me was the research that showed that angling pressure alone had collapsed the salmon population on the River Wye in England. And I thought, if people with a fly and a spinner can do that to a salmon population, then what happens if you drive at it with a net with a mouth big enough for 13 747s or stretch a long line 80 miles wide? What does that do to the sea? So it was simply from scaling up the damage I was doing with one fly and one rod to what industrial fishing was doing to the world.
Q: Is it too late to save the oceans?
A: No. But part of the problem is that people still believe we live in a world of plenty. The world of plenty in terms of fish disappeared in 1988, and we haven’t caught up with that fact yet. That was when the number of wild fish catches started to trend down. We know the world population is going up by half in this century, maybe more. And we know that the wild fish stocks are overexploited. That’s a pretty catastrophic place to be in.
And yet, the things you read about in fish in the U.S. tend to be about mercury. Well, you won’t be able to get enough contaminated fish to be able to poison yourself with mercury in the next century. So let’s stop worrying about that and worry about the big picture!
Q: So what can we do? Eat less fish? More farmed fish?
A: There are several things. First, buy only sustainable seafood; don’t eat fish like the bluefin tuna. But we also should address our Western culture of eating carnivorous fish. In order to farm salmon or tuna, we are grotesquely and unsustainably clear-felling whole areas of the ocean’s smaller fish that we don’t think are big enough to give us a square meal but will grind up nicely into fish oil and meal. It takes five pounds of little fish to grow one pound of salmon. And actually those fish, like Peruvian anchoveta and blue whiting, eat very nicely. So why don’t we eat the little fish?
-- Jane Black
May 15, 2009; 3:30 PM ET
Categories: Food Politics , Sustainable Food | Tags: Jane Black, seafood
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