Losing Wild Fish Would Be a Nuisance in Some Places, a Health Crisis in Others
By Amy McDermott
Local, wild seafood is essential for global health. Around the world, more than 3 billion people rely on fish as a substantial part of their diet. Nearby fisheries offer vitamins and minerals otherwise unavailable in poor coastal areas.
But local seafood, and the nutrients it provides, is at risk. More than half of wild fisheries are threatened. Without seafood, many coastal communities would lose access to key nutrients, leading to chronic illness.
"There's a large proportion of the planet, where losing access to seafood will drive people further and further into undernutrition," said Chris Golden of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "derailing much of global progress in food security."
Fishermen clean their catch in San Pedro, Belize. Oceana / A. Ellis
A Global Need
Fish is a staple in dozens of countries according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. The majority are developing nations, where coastal people often turn to fish as their main source of essential micronutrients like zinc, iron and iodine, that the body needs in small amounts for proper development.
In Bangladesh, for example, whole small fish are a major source of vitamin A. Madagascar's coastal Vezo people rely on wild seafood for the majority of their diet, said economist Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor with the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia. Coastal indigenous peoples eat 15 times more seafood per capita than non-indigenous populations, and often live in remote areas, far from grocery stores, he added. Without seafood, many of these communities wouldn't have zinc, iron and other essential micronutrients. Chronic health problems would likely plague such remote and rural areas, researchers say, if fish disappeared.
Prevention is key because micronutrient deficiency is hard to recognize. It's an insidious kind of malnutrition often called hidden hunger. "In the vast majority of cases, you'd never be able to look at someone and know if they were deficient," Golden said. "It's in the details of their blood that you gain understanding of this."
More than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, and so face an elevated risk of disease. Many more would be afflicted without wild fish.
A woman holds a fish at market in Moalboal, Philippines. Oceana / Jenn Hueting
Wealth and Access
Dig into the connections between wild fisheries and food security, and patterns start to emerge.
In wealthy nations like the U.S. and Japan, offshore fisheries could collapse, and plenty of people wouldn't even notice. Grocery stores and restaurants would absorb the shock by importing fish from somewhere else.
Most of the fish that Americans eat aren't local or wild anyway, said fisheries scientist Eddie Allison at the University of Washington in Seattle. And if people can't get hold of fish, "there are plenty of other things to eat," he said.
Less affluent countries have fewer options. People will respond in one of several ways, depending on their access to nourishing food, and its cost, Golden said.
In places like Madagascar, where cheap and nutritious alternatives to wild fish are hard to find, many people would suffer from zinc, iron and vitamin A deficiencies. Other countries, like Brazil, Mexico and Pacific island nations, are already turning away from traditional diets, to cheap fast food. Collapsing fisheries would only accelerate the transition. Fish farming could temper nutrient deficiencies and worsening diets in some places, like Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam, Allison said, but not everywhere.
Divisions exist inside countries, not just between them, said Cisneros-Montemayor. "Even within countries, there are segments that are much more vulnerable than the rest," he said. Towns fringing the coast tend to rely most heavily on fisheries, especially in developing nations.
Some of these are indigenous communities, in remote areas. They need seafood for nutrition and often as a connection to their cultural heritage, Cisneros-Montemayor said. Familiar issues of access and cost dictate how they can respond when fisheries change. "In many places there are just no stores, or the roads are bad," he explained. When stores do come to very rural areas, like the Canadian Arctic, "a liter of orange juice is, like, $20."
Fishermen unload their boat in Ramena, Madagascar. Oceana / LX
Wealthy and impoverished regions will have very different responses to a changing ocean. But no coast exists in isolation; the sea touches them all.
Fishing has globalized in the last century. Now, wealthy countries send their fleets around the world, often taking fish off the coasts of developing nations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, Allison said. It depends what foreign fleets are catching, and if they help or hurt local economies.
It's hard to tell the extent to which wealthy nations drive developing nations into fisheries decline, Cisneros-Montemayor added. But it would be foolhardy to think of rich and poor as separate. "When it comes to seafood, the whole world is connected," he said. "And unfortunately, it's always the poorest people who suffer the biggest impacts."
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By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
The irony hit Katherine Kehrli, the associate dean of Seattle Culinary Academy, when one of the COVID-19 pandemic's successive waves of closures flattened restaurants: Many of her culinary students were themselves food insecure. She saw cooks, bakers, and chefs-in-training lose the often-multiple jobs that they needed simply to eat.