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Antropologisch Kieskompas: Sea the Truth

By Veerle Joanna Vrindts To me, no smell is as revolting as the smell of dead fish.  I prefer making a detour when a fish market is near in order to avoid the rotting stench and the staring, dull fish eyes.  Nevertheless, every year billions of fishes are consumed by human consumers.  In the Netherlands, the consumption of fish is increasing and the Ministry of Agriculture, Well-being and Sports even funded promotion campaigns like “Van vis krijg je nooit genoeg” (“You never get enough of fish”). Quite strange, especially if you know that our oceans will be empty by 2048 if we keep up these fishy eating habits!

Sea the Truth, a new documentary released last Wednesday by the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation, the scientific bureau of the Dutch Party for the Animals, addresses exactly this issue. Some weeks before the national Dutch elections the première took place in Amsterdam. The documentary, featuring biologists, doctors, fishermen, politicians, is a follow-up of the documentary Meat the Truth (2007) distributed worldwide about the impact of the meat industry on the environment and climate.

Every year a hundred million tons (!) of fish are caught in our seas and oceans. One third of this catch is not even used for human consumption, but goes to factory farms where it is served to other fishes and even to animals that would normally never eat fish, like pigs and chickens.  Meanwhile,  the UN just brought out a report in which they warn that fishes in the ocean will be extinct within 40 years if we continue at this pace.  According to the movie, twenty kilograms of fish is needed for  one kilo of fish oil and pills. Despite their healthy image, there is no scientific proof that these supplements are beneficial for the brain, bones or muscles.

How did we get here?  Why do fishermen contribute to their own bankruptcy? Who benefits from overfishing if that means that the world will be out of wild fish in a few decades? Not the fishermen, not the fishes themselves, not the future generations …  only the present day consumer. And of course the big fish traders who make quick profit by the application of huge nets with steel chains at the bottom that literally scratch all life and vegetation off the sea floor.  You could compare it to destroying an entire forest, including all the (baby) animals and trees that inhabit it, just to catch the rabbits. Nothing is left: no water plants where fish could breed, no natural eco-system, just some corpses of  ‘by-catch’ that is thrown back into the sea, half-alive or dead.

No wonder that the fish population does not recover spontaneously.  Still, we keep eating fish, hiding ourselves behind our WWF-list of ‘sustainable fish’. Does sustainable fish exist? According to prof.  dr. Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia and many other scientists the answer is ‘no’.  Because of by-catch and the brute means used for fishing nowadays, every fish, on the endangered list or not, is one fish too much.

For me the choice was not difficult to make: I won’t ever eat fish.  Eating a plant-based diet for quite some years now, I never missed fish, meat or other animal products.  For those who think they cannot live without the taste of fish, the fake-fish made of tofu, which was served at the reception after the premiere could be a more sustainable solution ( According to the guests, it tasted and smelled exactly like fish; even the texture was similar, while the ingredients were organic , GMO-free and most of all delicious without the need to butcher our sea life.

Unfortunately, only Party for the Animals emphasized the need to cut down the fishing industry in their program, followed by GroenLinks.  Most other parties, except CDA and TON, agree that trade in endangered fish species should be reduced, but overlook the problems of by-catch that come even with ‘good fish’.

You can watch the trailer at:

The DVD of Sea the Truth can be ordered online or through Party for the Animals, after the elections.

More information is available on:

Veerle Joanna Vrindts is a Master’s student in Social and Cultural Anthropology.

This is part of the series ‘Antropologisch Kieskompas’, on the Dutch elections taking place today. Earlier contributions of Antropologisch Kieskompas (most in Dutch), dealt with the secret love of economists, looking around for ways to explain the economic crisis in relation to the social sciences,  issues of integration, education, and democracy.

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