In The Perfect Protein, Andy Sharpless shows how seafood is the healthiest, cheapest, most environmentally friendly source of animal protein on Earth. Sharpless contends that we must save the world’s seafood not only to protect marine life and biodiversity but also to stave off the coming humanitarian crisis.
With Earth’s human population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050—adding the equivalent of two Chinas to current numbers—we need wild fish more than ever to feed us (especially the nearly 1 billion of the world’s poorest people who rely on seafood as their main source of animal protein).
The bad news is that wild fish populations are in decline because of overfishing, destruction of habitat, and bycatch. We are grinding up small “reduction” fish such as anchovies, mackerel, and sardines into feed for salmon and other farmed animals even though these overlooked fish are delicious and packed with health-boosting omega-3 fatty acids—and could feed millions inexpensively.
The good news, as Sharpless and Evans reveal, is that if just 25 coastal nations of the world, including the United States, take three key steps — enforce scientific quotas, protect nursery habitat, and reduce bycatch – to better manage their wild seafood supply, the world’s oceans will not only become more biodiverse, they will sustainably provide more fish for the world to eat. And more fish in our oceans and in our bellies will result in less obesity and heart disease and reduced carbon emissions.
With a foreword by former President Bill Clinton and delicious, sustainable seafood recipes from 21 top chefs such as Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, and José Andrés, as well as a set of simple rules for how to be a responsible seafood consumer, The Perfect Protein gives us all a lot to think about: namely, that we can and should save the oceans, eat more fish, and feed the world.
The Perfect Protein is The Omnivore's Dilemma for the ocean….Anyone who cares about solving world hunger or saving jobs needs to read this book!" —Ted Danson
Andrew Sharpless is CEO of Oceana, the world’s largest international conservation organization solely dedicated to protecting the oceans. Under Sharpless, Oceana has tripled in size and, most importantly, protected more than 1.2 million square miles of oceans around the United States, Europe, and Central and South America. Prior to joining the organization in 2003, Sharpless held top-level positions with the Discovery Channel, RealNetworks, the Museum of Television & Radio, and McKinsey & Co. He holds degrees from Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics, and Harvard College.
Suzannah Evans is a writer who served as the editorial director of Oceana until 2012. She is a doctoral candidate in journalism and mass communications at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
Q&A WITH ANDREW SHARPLESS
Q: How can ocean overfishing be stopped when the high seas are like the Wild West? Aren't the big fishing fleets able to do whatever they want out there? Isn't the ocean like a frontier town in the old west without a sheriff?
Sharpless: The oceans are divided into national and international zones. The areas within 200 nautical miles (231 statute miles) of the coast are called “Exclusive Economic Zones” and are controlled by the country they are closest to. The areas beyond that are called “High Seas” and are indeed international zones, controlled, if at all, by international committees composed of representatives from many countries. Most — seven-eighths — of the world’s ocean fish are caught in the exclusive economic zones rather than in the high seas. This is very good news because it means that fishing in those zones can be managed country by country, and does not require action or even agreement by the United Nations or some other international body. Just ten countries control 50 percent of the world’s wild ocean fish catch. Twenty-five countries control 75 percent of the catch. The top ten countries are generally ones that have the capability, if they choose to do it, to manage their fisheries well and to make them more abundant forever. The top twenty five countries, in order of the size of the marine catch from the exclusive economic zone are:
3. United States
12. United Kingdom
20. South Africa
21. South Korea
Q: You say that people who eat wild ocean fish are helping to save the rain forest — how can that be?
Sharpless: When you eat wild ocean fish, most of the time you’re choosing that instead of beef, poultry, lamb, pork or other meat from terrestrial livestock. Cattle and all other forms of livestock are fed enormous amounts of grain. Agriculture, much more than urbanization and even timbering, is the fundamental driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss on the planet. Wild fish don’t eat grain. They thrive entirely in the 71 percent of the planet that is oceans. They do not contribute to the increasing pressure on the 29 percent that is land, and the much smallerportion of the land that is arable. On a per capita basis, arable land has been in decline for more than 40 years. It is an increasingly scarce and therefore valuable resource. On a global basis, expanding livestock production therefore pushes grain farmers deep into the forest. That’s why, when you choose an ocean fish over a hamburger, you’re helping to save the rain forest.
Q: You say that saving the oceans helps feed the world — but isn't that true only for people who eat fish? What about someone who hates fish? Or someone who lives in the middle of Africa, far away from the ocean, who never sees fish in their local market?
Sharpless: If you’re someone who eats food, you have a solid reason to want an abundant ocean. You don’t ever have to eat an ocean fish to have your diet improve thanks to more fish in the sea. The reason is that the price of a core food commodity like grain is set by supply and demand on a global market. That means that the price of a corn taco depends on the worldwide supply and demand for corn. For the past decade, the core price of grain has been rising, in a demand-driven spike. That means that poor people are already faced with tough choices at meal times — cutting back on meals in order to pay manage their rising food bills. If the ocean fisheries collapse, those choices will get tougher. That’s because an empty ocean will mean that people who used to eat fish will now eat meat. And that will increase demand for grain, pushing up future prices.
Q: The oceans are being overfished so badly that catches are declining despite huge efforts by the world's increasingly technically sophisticated fishing fleets. Yet you recommend that people eat more fish. This doesn't make sense. Please explain.
Sharpless: If the 25 countries in the world whose oceans provide 75 percent of our catch would do a good job managing their fisheries, we can produce 20 percent more ocean fish than ever before. And we can do that forever. Some fisheries have been badly managed and need a little breather to recover. With the right measures, they will start rebounding quickly, usually within five to ten years. We can therefore improve the world’s wild fish catch well before the middle of this century when the human population is expected to reach 9 billion.