It Started With Seafood
Brooklyn, New York
2017, High School, Prose
I pulled out my camera to take some photos of the landscape in front of me. I was a little disappointed. This was not how I had imagined the boat dock. The traditional Chinese fishing boats were there, but they were dwarfed by the lager shipping vessels. It was an overcast day and I could spot the plumes of smoke coming from the factories nearby. I was 13 and I was with my grandma in Fujian, China. This was the place where my dad grew up. When I was younger I heard stories of my dad’s childhood. He spent his days helping my grandfather catch fish. I had romantic ideas of what the place would look like, but it was replaced by reality. With the polluted skies, smoke from the nearby factories, and dark waters, the reality was that a lot had changed in the 30 years since my father left China.
Whenever I asked my dad about his childhood, he would get this faraway look in his eyes. My dad recounted stories of swimming in the sea during the summertime. He laughed about the sunburns he would get from being out in the water all day. He would make gestures with his hands about how much fish he would eat. He told me that he would bring a huge canteen of fish to school every day. He would spend every day on that fishing boat and he was fond of the memories. He is proud of his heritage and attributes his lean physique and good health to his primarily fish diet growing up.
Since I am descended from a family of fishermen, I was always surrounded by seafood growing up. It was customary to eat shrimp, crabs, and fish at dinnertime. On special occasions, we would eat clams, lobsters, and sea snails. I used to love salmon and clams. When I was in middle school I requested my mom to cook those for me. I especially loved the orange color of salmon. Later, I would learn that the orange color of the salmon was most likely a dye.
Ironically enough, the person I would tease about his seafood avoidance, my younger brother, would influence me to stop consuming it. He always had a fear of fish and would not go within a foot of it. He couldn’t stand the smell or sight of fish. Our family considered seafood part of tradition. My dad found it insulting that my brother would not eat the staple that was prevalent in his upbringing. My parents tried tricking him into eating it. It’s comical how hard they tried. I have memories of my parents trying to make fish look like chicken and serving him fish soup disguised as egg drop soup. He would always sniff it out. I don’t know how he did it. He never liked seafood and was constantly scolded for it. However, my brother would not budge on his diet. He started to become educated and started referring to things like reports of seafood containing mercury. I started doing my own research and learned about the dangers of seafood from the pollution in the ocean. I was worried. I read more about the toxicity of seafood and learned that there were notable traces of metals, industrial chemical, and pesticides (EDF Seafood Selector). I couldn’t stomach the fact that my family was consuming all these chemicals.
Over time, seafood started to lose its appeal for me. I hated the hassle of eating seafood, and I was starting to become educated on other diets. What finally convinced me was my transition into a primarily plant-based diet. I did it because it was the most logical diet for good health. It was also a big transition into an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
I was driven by the need to do something because I come from a family that loves seafood and a culture that celebrates it. Even though I don’t eat seafood anymore, I want my parents to continue enjoying it safely. It’s hard to convince people who spent their whole lives eating seafood and being part of the process. It’s hard for them to realize that the industry has changed. As I was surfing the Web, I came across everyday people who were making a difference. They emphasized that to make a difference, we must start with ourselves. So I began to work on myself.
Through movements like veganism and eco-friendly living, I stumbled across zero-waste. One of my biggest inspirations was Lauren Singer. She is the founder of the blog, Trash is for Tossers, and is the leading activist for a zero-waste lifestyle. It’s a movement that she has made mainstream. I was especially inspired by her story. While she was advocating for environmentally friendly policies in college, she realized she didn’t address the waste she was producing. Singer took a hard look at her lifestyle and embarked on a life change. Over the past few years, she has produced no waste. She only has one mason jar of waste from the past few years. Her message is simple, and it works.
She inspired me to take a hard look at my lifestyle. I wasn’t doing anything about environmentalism, but I considered myself an environmentalist. So the easiest thing I could do was start with myself. I started minimizing the things I had, particularly clothes. It may seem like an unrelated movement, but everything is intertwined in environmentalism. The fashion industry has a huge impact on the water supply. The printing and dyeing process is full of chemicals, and it ends up in local waterways that flow into the ocean. It’s a wasteful industry as many developed countries practice fast, cheap fashion. I didn’t realize how related everything was.
Plastic was another area I had to tackle. For one, plastic is a big problem because it’s so prevalent in modern life. Biological Diversity reports that plastic swirling convergences “make up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces” and “thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals, and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it.” The straws, the packaging, and plastic lids make a huge negative impact on the ocean. They may seem insignificant, but the constant use of plastic items adds up to over 300 million tons of plastic (Bettina Wassener). That amount of trash is contributing to 7 million tons of plastic that end up in the sea (Bettina Wassener). Zero-waste living focuses on only using reusable items. So instead of using plastic items for one use, I use the reusable version. I use a thermos instead of water bottles, I use tote bags instead of plastic bags, and I avoid plastic utensils.
After I began to work on myself, I considered making an impact on my city. I participated in beach cleanups, and I would occasionally go by Coney Island and pick up some trash. It’s a small thing, but I hope to continue doing it so it makes a big impact. I hope to get involved with an organization that encourages youth activism.
I think that it’s important to hold the aquaculture industry accountable. People don’t think about the impact of seafood consumption or the aqua farms. The demand of seafood remains high as the average “global fish consumption hit[s] a record high of 17kg or 37 pounds per person per year” (Gaby Bastrya). Consumers should start demanding a cleaner industry. We need to develop a way in which people can get safe seafood in an eco-friendly way. Fish farms are negatively impacting the ocean because they generate a lot of waste. Fish farms are usually in bodies of waters. Fish are fed drugs, and they may not be native to the water, which becomes a problem when they escape. It’s not just the aquaculture industry, as there should be a public outcry about the fashion industry, plastic industry, and oil industry contributing to ocean pollution.
Fortunately, technology is fueling the revolution of the fishing industry. One example is Aquapod, the off-shore fish farming technique that wants to change the fish farming industry. The Aquapod is a very large net made from recycled milk glass bottles. It’s more environmentally sound because it is deep-water fish farming, which means that it will utilize the ocean to ensure a healthier environment for the fish (InnovaSea Systems). They are not disrupting the eco-system near the shore. According to Renee Cho, water in the open ocean is pristine and the currents “are strong and steady to flush out the fish waste and pests.” Another approach is the recirculation system aquaculture that recycles the water and reuses it (Cho). There are also developments of systems that use the eco-system of a body of water for farming while getting rid of the waste produced.
There is a bright future ahead – technology can be harnessed to solve the ocean pollution crisis. The Ocean Cleanup is a project that involves building the largest flotation device to clear up the ocean in five years. It’s inspiring how a young teen formulated the idea and made it into reality. This is just one example of the change that is happening. The younger generation is the game changer. I am very hopeful about the progress. If we all work on this issue from different angles, we can tackle the problem of ocean pollution.
While I may not be helping in the technology aspect, I hope to make an impact in environmental policy. I will be taking an environmental studies class next semester and I hope to get educated. After, I hope to make a difference. I would go after the industries and place regulations. The industries are the ones that are polluting the ocean. I think it’s crucial for the public and the policymakers to make sure the big industries are not producing tons of waste. This should be a global effort. I want to bridge the economic problems occurring in the East and the West. If we work collectively, it will work. I remain optimistic and I know that with policy and movement we can bring about change.
Since my trip to China, I have gone on a personal journey. I have become more aware of the environmental problems around me, specifically ocean pollution. I have taken my individual steps towards a bright future. Now I must go out there and inspire others to make a change. So one day I can feel comfortable with my parents eating seafood.
Barclay, Eliza. “How Plastic In The Ocean Is Contaminating Your Seafood.” NPR. NPR, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 June 2017.
Singer, Lauren. “About.” Trash Is for Tossers. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.
“A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life.” Ocean Plastics Pollution. Biological Diversity, n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.
Deep Sea Fish Farming in Geodesic Domes: Upgrade. Motherboard, n.d. Web.
Bastyra, Gaby. “Free-range Fish Farming.” Atlas of the Future. Atlas of the Future Project, n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
Wassener, Bettina. “Raising Awareness of Plastic Waste.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Making Fish Farming More Sustainable.” State of the Planet Making Fish Farming More Sustainable Comments. Earth Institute Columbia University, 13 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Home.” InnovaSea Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
I wanted to incorporate my story into the essay about ocean pollution. I wanted the audience to read my work and take away something. The things I remember best are people’s stories. I wanted to make ocean pollution relevant. It’s a daunting topic to address. There was a lot of information I had to include. It can feel like a hopeless problem, but I wanted my story to be hopeful. I wanted to inspire others to do the same. I was inspired by this Contest and through my research. I have always loved reading and writing. This is how I express myself best. I am always moved by words, so this was the best way for me to voice my concerns about the problem. It’s a way for me to have a voice and make an impact.