Stop Eating Fish Immediately! (the Effects Of The Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill)

In: Health and Fitness

8 Jul 2010

If you care about your health and care about the planet then you should stop eating fish and seafood right now. There are very real health and ethical reasons to do so.

Why? Well, because the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a huge disaster that will have a long-term effect on the environment.

Even if the well is successfully closed soon there is still the issue of the remaining pollution and its impact on sea-living species (and inevitably on human health). We will have a significant clean-up job on our hands, and the pollution will remain for some time.

Do not ignore the issues because the US government has disallowed fishing in the water that is being directly affected by the oil spill. We are not ‘off the hook’ so to speak. What happens under the surface of the water is not obvious to the eye of a casual observer.

We have two serious issues to examine when we decide whether we are comfortable eating fish and shellfish: firstly what types of toxins could find their way into seafood, and secondly what would be the effects of overfishing in the remaining good fishing locations to make up for the shortfall in the supply of fish?

In terms of toxins, we have a number of different substances polluting oil affected waters which have the ability to build up in fish and shellfish. Firstly we have crude oil and secondly we have the dispersant being used, currently Corexit 9500. Corexit 9500 is a highly poisonous substance, roughly four times more poisonous than oil. Crude oil contains both mercury and lead, which are highly poisonous heavy metals. Crude oil also includes benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), all of which have been recognised as causing cancer. Research is being conducted as to whether PAH can accumulate in fish, but at the very least it has been shown that it does accumulate in shellfish.

Heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) dispersed in water accumulates in the bodies of fish as the water is filtered through the fish’s respiratory system. Additionally predatory fish tend to eat other fish, resulting in a greater heavy metal load. By the time a larger fish, prized by humans as a tasty morsel, is caught and sold as human food the heavy metals have been recycled and accumulated many times over.

Mercury is associated with brain impairments, both degenerative in adults and the development of autism and chromosomal disorders (such as Down’s syndrome) in children. Mercury crosses the placenta in pregnant mothers and has its greatest effect on babies and children due to being significantly more concentrated.

Lead affects the brain, nervous system, reproductive system and kidneys. In laboratory tests on animals, no minimum quantity of lead has been considered a safe dose; even the smallest quantities have had a harmful effect. As with mercury, lead has its greatest impact on the health of small children due to being so concentrated. It has been associated with low IQ, slow growth and hearing defects in children.

Corexit 9500, the chemical dispersant used by BP to try to break up the oil from the surface of the water is known to be both more toxic and also less effective than other chemical disbursants, requiring a heavier application. Corexit 9500 was reputedly banned in Britain over a decade ago due to its highly toxic affects on both the environment and people; in this case we have Corexit 9500 being used over a large volume of water.

The use of this chemical in such quantities and at such oceanic depths is unknown in human history, and the exact contents of the mixture are a trade secret. Expected health effects are respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders, again grossly affecting children due to their smaller size. At this time over 600,000 gallons of Corexit 9500 have been utilised in an attempt to clean up the oil spill. To make things even worse, the toxicity of Corexit 9500 in a solution of water increases with water temperature, and oil in the water is resulting in higher water temperatures.

Clearly the sea-creatures living in and around the Gulf of Mexico are going to be off the menu for some time. The government won’t willingly allow the people to eat contaminated fish right?

Unfortunately however, the Gulf Coast is responsible for about 50% of the total US harvest in its peak season. Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to be worth $2.4 billion per year. Not only is fishing an essential part of USA’s GDP, but people are still eating fish and so the demand causes pressure on other fishing localities to increase the supply.

Do not also forget that some fish are highly migratory, particularly deep ocean fish, sometimes travelling up to 200 miles for feeding and reproduction. It is not possible to identify whether any individual fish has ever come into contact with the oil or the disbursant that is choking the Gulf of Mexico area.

In addition to the issue of caught fish containing human-toxic substances, there is also the significant issue of overfishing to contend with. Overfishing occurs when the commercial fishing operation in an area catches the fish faster than the fish can replenish their population. This is happening globally already and will only be made worse if the same number of fish are required from fewer and less-dense fishing areas. According to, almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are fully to over-exploited, depleted or in a state of collapse, and over 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. Who can tell what the full impact will be when the ocean ecology is already under stress, and we increase the stress by overfishing from the surrounding areas.

Overfishing has a large effect on the ocean ecology as a whole. As fewer fish are caught in commercial fishing nets, ocean mammals and birds (such as dolphins, whales and pelicans) either have a hard time finding food, or are caught in nets themselves. Once caught in fishing nets, these animals and birds are usually killed and discarded.

So while those of us who are not yet affected by the disaster in the USA can sit back and watch everything unfold, it will be our fish and sea animals that will be increasingly removed from the oceans to make up for the shortfall in US fishing.

In my opinion, the only healthy and ethical thing to do about the seafood issue is to completely stop eating fish and their byproducts. We need to look into getting our EFAs from other sources such as flaxseeds, spirulina, chlorella and phytoplankton. Fortunately fish do not create their own EFAs, but instead break down the EFAs in the microalgae food that they consume. Humans are able to do the same, and so we can replace fish in the diet with supplemental sources of EFA. I have previously used fish oil for DHA supplementation, but I am going to try out some vegan alternatives.

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