Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

No good news in fishing industry

Wick's World


Here’s what I know about fish. It’s like uninvited company. After three days it begins to stink. My problem is that it’s one of my favorite foods. Once in a while my wife and I are forced into eating at a fast food joint. Yesterday we stopped for a sandwich and coffee. I had my favorite fast-food sandwich — a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish. Never mind that it is always way too heavily laden with tartar sauce that inevitably lands on my shirt, coat, pants and the car seat. The soft bun and hot, crispy fish make it all worth it.

When I got home last night, I began researching other fish I have been eating to see how much good fish oil I was getting in my diet. I was also curious about the mercury levels I may be accumulating. Here is what I found.

Almost all tilapia, the most recent fish to hit the market, is farm raised and due to several factors, has very little good fish oil. Fortunately, I have an Asian market down the block that sells it fresh, head included. Virtually all fish have lived in a body of water (fish farming does not mean that fish seeds are planted in the ground and grow into big fish) and contain some level of mercury; generally, the bigger the fish, the more mercury. Some sharks are so mercury filled they now come with built in thermometers.

I discovered that mercury is not the only chemical found in seafood that is hazardous to not only the infected fish, but also to human consumption. Farmed salmon are found to be heavily laden with PCBs and other toxic chemicals, some of which mimic the female hormone estrogen.

The problem of mercury in fish has plagued Minnesota lakes and rivers for decades. Unfortunately, we live in the path of the prevailing weather systems that dump factory produced acid rain from the industrial Midwest. Our citizens have become accustomed to limitations of consuming only a certain amount of our state’s favorite fish, the walleye.

I learned that a seafood I eat rather often, shrimp, is very environmentally costly to harvest. Most shrimp are caught by using trawlers that drag the ocean bottom with a net. The result of this method of harvesting is that the nets haul up 10 pounds of sea life for every pound of shrimp. For the most part, anything not a shrimp is discarded back into the ocean with very little chance of survival.

Japanese whaling, a custom that began in the 12th century, is endangering one of the most beautiful creatures in the ocean. For the first time in a quarter-century, Japan called off its annual whale hunt due to pressure to abide by a United Nations ruling. Another age-old practice has been damaging to shark populations. It is the custom of eating a $200-a-bowl of shark fin soup. All species of sharks can be killed for their fins and very few are kept for their meat. Demand for shark meat is very minimal so often only the fin is kept from the harvest and the shark is tossed back into the sea. They are then unable to swim so they die a slow, painful death.

A rule of thumb to go by when eating fish is that bottom dwellers and large fish tend to accumulate more contaminants. Vise versa, tiny sunfish, about the only kind of fish I catch, contain the least amount of toxins. How about the cod used in a McDonalds Filet-of Fish that I find so tasty? I learned that it contains 390 calories and 590 mg of sodium; the amount of mercury is unreported.

I really didn’t find any good news to report about the fish and seafood industry. Many species are rapidly dwindling in numbers and fish farms seem to be an unhealthy solution. Fish farming is an environmentally unsound practice and the quality of the product leaves much to be desired.

On the other hand, science has been able to produce something called in vitro meat. Scientist can take a stem cell (piece of flesh) from a living animal and place it in a three-dimensional growth medium. They then bathe it in a mixture of amino acids and minerals. The result is that the stem cells multiply and grow into muscles which can then be harvested as a “minced-meat product.” Yummy!


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