Home
Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
Ethical seafood? - Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Crossroads (ESea)

ESea - Background

The question how ethical the production and consumption of seafood is a very complex one, but that does not provide an excuse for the scholarly community to avoid answering it.

Stockfish hanging from lines
Photo:
Matthias Kaiser

Main content

Seafood is en vogue – and arguably it is healthy. Modern consumers think of seafood as a healthy supplement to a traditional meat-based diet. Supermarkets offer frozen seafood of great variety and some even fresh seafood. Good restaurants the world over have a variety of seafood on offer, even if they are not located in a coastal area.

Typically, a consumer will associate tough fishermen and shouting fishmongers as suppliers of this food, perhaps singing shanties and drying the fish in the sun. Yet, we know, or we should know, that the realities are very different.

The fish stocks in our oceans are largely at the brink of being overfished, some species are threatened with extinction. Fishery fleets in the rich parts of the world are trawling the seabed with heavy machinery, destroying coral reefs and processing the catch while on sea. Some fish, which is on offer, has travelled the world, before it ends up in our restaurants or shops, and has undergone a multiplying of monetary value on its journey along the value chain.

But a large part of the seafood derives not from fisheries, but from aquaculture. Some of it has grown in intensive farms, been fed with industrialized feed which contributes further to the depletion of ocean resources, and lived a life restrained from natural drives and movement.

A picture of heavily polluted waters may come to mind. All of these factors may plant a gnawing doubt in our minds: Is it actually ethical to eat seafood? Are we instrumental in the destruction of our planet, in the exploitation of the poor global South, or adding toxins to our body?

The question how ethical the production and consumption of seafood is, is arguably a very complex one, but that does not provide an excuse for the scholarly community to avoid answering it. We need to explore and hopefully answer the question of the ethical status of seafood. We need to provide tools to assess the ethical qualities of the diverse products of seafood consumption, and we need to point out possibilities of improvement. This project attempts to contribute to these tasks.