Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” is one of the most compelling, accessible books on factory farming, industrial fishing, “humane” farming and the psychology of eating animals. Foer’s description of “bycatch” belongs in the “great list” hall of fame along with the opening chapter of “The Things They Carried,” and the poetic catalogues of Walt Whitman:
Shrimp by-catch (Location: East Coast of Florida) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident—-except not really “by accident,” since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and few fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch.
Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimp trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it.
What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate?
So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK IN THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP.
Or take tuna. Among the other 145 species regularly killed—gratuitously—while killing tuna are: manta ray, devil ray, spotted skate, bignose shark, copper shark, Galapagos shark, sandbar shark, night shark, sand tiger shark, great white shark, hammerhead shark, spurdog fish, Cuban dogfish, bigeye thresher, mako, blue shark, wahoo, sailfish, bonito, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, longbill spearfish, white marlin, swordfish, lancet fish, grey triggerfish, needlefish, pomfret, blue runner, black ruff, dolphin fish, bigeye cigarfish, porcupine fish, rainbow runner, anchovy, grouper, flying fish, cod, common sea horse, Bermuda chub, opah, escolar, leerfish, tripletail, goosefish, monkfish, sunfish, Murray eel, pilotfish, black gemfish, stone bass, bluefish, cassava fish, red drum, greater amberjack, yellowtail, common sea bream, barracuda, puffer fish, loggerhead turtle, leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Audoin’s gull, balearic shearwater, black-browed albatross, great black-backed gull, great shearwater, great-winged petrel, grey petrel, herring gull, laughing gull, northern royal albatross, shy albatross, sooty shearwater, southern fulmar, Yelkouan shearwater, yellow-legged gull, minke whale, sei whale, fin whale, common dolphin, northern right whale, pilot whale, humpback whale, beaked whale, killer whale, harbor porpoise, sperm whale, stripe dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, and goose-beaked whale.
Imagine being served a plate of sushi.
But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.