Oil Spill In Gulf Of Mexico Affects All Edible Fish

If you care about your health and care about the planet then you should stop eating fish and seafood right now. There are very real health and ethical reasons to do so.

Why? Well, because the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a huge disaster that will have a long-term effect on the environment.

I won’t pretend to know much about he technical details of the leak itself, but even if the well is successfully closed soon there is still the issue of the existing level of pollution and its impact on sea-living species.

Obviously the US government will not allow fishing in the water that is being directly affected by the oil spill, but that does not mean that we are ‘off the hook’ so to speak.

There are two serious issues to consider when you decide whether you are comfortable eating seafood. Firstly what types of toxins could find their way onto your plate? Secondly, are you willing to accept the ecological disaster waiting to happen in the form of overfishing the remaining good fishing locations?

In terms of toxins, we have a number of different substances polluting oil affected waters which have the ability to build up in fish and shellfish. Firstly we have crude oil and secondly we have the dispersant being used, currently Corexit 9500. Corexit 9500 is a highly poisonous substance, roughly four times more poisonous than oil. Crude oil contains both mercury and lead, which are highly poisonous heavy metals. Crude oil also includes benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), all of which have been recognised as causing cancer. Research is being conducted as to whether PAH can accumulate in fish, but at the very least it has been shown that it does accumulate in shellfish.

Heavy metals such as lead and mercury cycle through a fish’s respiratory system, eventually accumulating in its body. As some many larger fish are predatory, they receive both the environmental load of toxins, plus the accumulation of toxins from the smaller fish. This pattern continues up the food chain until the largest fish (those that are prized as being for human consumption) have significant accumulations of heavy metals. For this reason, a percentage increase in the heavy metal load due to the environment of the fish will have greater than the percentage increase in heavy metal accumulation in large predatory fish.

Mercury is associated with brain impairments, both degenerative in adults and the development of autism and chromosomal disorders (such as Down’s syndrome) in children. Mercury crosses the placenta in pregnant mothers and has its greatest effect on babies and children due to being significantly more concentrated.

Lead has been proven to be harmful even in the smallest doses tested on laboratory animals. No minimum quantity of lead has ever been accepted as safe. It affects the brain, the reproductive system, the nervous system and the kidneys, especially in children due to the higher level of concentration. Lead has been associated with low IQ, slow growth and hearing defects in children.

Corexit 9500, the chemical dispersant used by BP to try to break up the oil from the surface of the water is known to be both more toxic and also less effective than other chemical disbursants, requiring a heavier application. Corexit 9500 was reputedly banned in Britain over a decade ago due to its highly toxic affects on both the environment and people; in this case we have Corexit 9500 being used over a large volume of water.

The use of Corexit 9500 in such quantities and at such oceanic depths is unknown in human history, and the exact contents of the mixture are a trade secret. Corexit 9500 increases in toxicity as it heats up, and oil in the water tends to increase the temperature of the water. It is expected that it will affect humans’ respiratory systems, nervous systems, livers, kidneys and also cause blood disorders. Just as with mercury and lead, Corexit 9500 will have a greater impact on children due to their smaller size. At the time that this article was written (early June 2010) over 600,000 gallons of Corexit 9500 have been applied to the ocean’s surface.

Clearly the fish and shellfish living in and around the Gulf of Mexico are going to be off the menu for some time. The government won’t willingly allow the people to eat contaminated fish, so all should be fine right?

Unfortunately however, the Gulf Coast is responsible for about 50% of the total US harvest in its peak season. Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to be worth $2.4 billion per year. Not only is fishing an essential part of USA’s GDP, but people are still eating fish and so the demand causes pressure on other fishing localities to increase the supply.

In addition, many fish, particularly deep ocean fish are migratory and will pass through the Gulf of Mexico waters on their way to someplace else. Some fish will travel up to 200 miles for feeding and reproduction and so it is not possible to easily determine which fish will have been affected by the growing pollution.

In addition to the issue of caught fish containing human-toxic substances, there is also the significant issue of overfishing to contend with. Overfishing occurs when the commercial fishing operation in an area catches the fish faster than the fish can replenish their population. This is happening globally already and will only be made worse if the same number of fish are required from fewer and less-dense fishing areas. According to overfishing.org, almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are fully to over-exploited, depleted or in a state of collapse, and over 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. Who can tell what the full impact will be when the ocean ecology is already under stress, and we increase the stress by overfishing from the surrounding areas.

Overfishing has a large effect on the ocean ecology as a whole. As fewer fish are caught in commercial fishing nets, ocean mammals and birds (such as dolphins, whales and pelicans) either have a hard time finding food, or are caught in nets themselves. Once caught in fishing nets, these animals and birds are usually killed and discarded.

So while those of us who are not yet affected by the disaster in the USA can sit back and watch everything unfold, it will be our fish stock that will be increasingly removed from the oceans to make up for the shortfall in US fishing.

In my opinion the only way that we can both avoid the health issues from eating fish, and take an ethical stance against overfishing in our own backyards is to completely avoid eating fish or their byproducts. Lean protein can be easily obtained by land animals and plants, and so consumption of fish is not needed. We need to look into getting our EFAs from other sources such as flaxseeds, spirulina, chlorella and phytoplankton. Fortunately, fish do not create their own EFAs, but instead break down the EFAs in the microalgae food that they consume. Humans are able to do the same, and so we can replace fish in the diet with supplemental sources of EFA. There are a number of good supplements that are already being manufactured for vegans who wish to increase their consumption EFAs. Personally I have switched from using fish oil capsules as supplements, to marine phytoplanton supplementation.

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