Few sectors embody the age of globalized trade as much as the food industry, an age in which borders and limits are pushed further every day, an age of always more and always from further away. The supermarket, in particular, offering us unprecedented variety and abundance at low prices, goads us into constant hyper-consumption and distances us increasingly further from the context in which that enticing product on the shelf was produced. As a result, we ignore the heavy hidden costs of our food system, which squanders enormous amounts of oil and energy just at the moment our planet is running out of resources.
When it comes to fishing, the FAO estimates that the sector consumes 14 million tons of fuel a year, which corresponds to 25% of the sector's total turnover (2005 data). A telling example is the striped catfish farmed in Vietnam, fed on fishmeal imported from Peru and then exported by air to 140 countries around the world. Fish that were once only consumed locally are now sent on round-the-world trips before they reach restaurants and consumers. Fish from European and North American seas are sent to countries with cheap labor for processing, then shipped back to their homelands or on to other countries.
If instead we buy local fish and use short distribution chains we can have fresher products, reduce the environmental impact of transport (food miles) and support artisanal fishing close to home, where we can verify that ecosystems are being respected and resources used wisely. These small acts can have big power, strengthening the spirit of community.
And we must also remember that the further away the fish comes from, the more chances of fraud: farmed shrimp from Thailand passed off as wild, dab fillets sold as plaice, shark labeled as swordfish or even tuna, striped catfish as cod…
When it comes to fish, the definition of local is less clear than for agriculture. We seek to get our fish from the waterways, lakes and seas closest to our home, even when they might be hundreds of miles away.
We can gather information about fish farms and fishing practices in nearby rivers, about cooperatives and distribution methods for artisan fishers in our country and about the place of origin on the label. Helpful initiatives to ease this process are bring launched every day, even in big cities.