Online Edition: Summer 2007

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The End of the Line

How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat

Charles Clover

The New Press ($26.95)

by Ryder Miller

Charles Clover, an award-winning journalist and an editor for the Daily Telegraph in England, seeks to alert the world about the decline of the world fisheries stocks in The End of the Line, noting that the concerned consumer has the power to change the dangerous practices contributing to this crisis. Clover's call to action should make one angry, and he suggests that we should take that anger with us to the supermarket and when we go out for a meal. Clover is also adept at turning a phrase, and he so versed in the subject that The End of the Line abounds with wonderful lines and succinct language.

Clover is not a vegetarian—in fact he’s a sports fisherman—and as such this book is aimed at those who would rather not give up eating fish. He doesn’t advocate for giving up eating fish entirely, but he does struggle with what tack to take to convince people to change their fish consumption, saying, “The question of how to make this solution politically acceptable is one of the great problems of out time.” Modern environmentalists who struggle with this question are often out-radicalized by well meaning people who are out of touch with the mainstream. Henry David Thoreau mused in Walden that we would all be vegetarians by now, but there are those who are invested against making a change. That is especially the case with the entrenched fishing industry.

Though Clover thinks it will take forty years to “come to grips with the global crisis caused by intensive fishing,” in his documentation of the damage the world fisheries have wreaked it becomes clear that sustainability efforts were needed generations ago. We are already fishing down the food chain; unless we make a change we may be left with only minnows, plankton, and starfish to eat.

Clover supplies a number of useful solutions: certification for sustainable fishing methods; fish farming, although it comes with its own risks, to ease pressures on stocks of wild fish; and more marine sanctuaries, or safe zones, where fish can hide and multiply. He also points out the health benefits of eating less fish, since they accumulate toxins from the environment. Finally, he provides a Choosing Fish Guide that allows the consumer to become a direct part of the efforts to protect fish. Not fully developed here is one controversial solution: “preventing fish from being exposed to any kind of fishing gear at all.” Many will choose to eat less fish, but it is surprising that there are not more people who eschew fish consumption altogether in the spotlight.

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