We have been going about this saving endangered or threatened species thing all wrong.
David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post explains in his article Tastier Names Trouble for Seafood Stocks that numerous varieties of fish are currently on the threatened species list because someone decided to give them a less disgusting name. It would seem that the seafood environment has reached this level of degradation in part due to positive PR campaigns. (Is there nothing we can’t blame on marketing?!)
Here in Colorado we are well acquainted with the idea of wrapping an attractive name around something mentally repugnant and serving it to tourists as an exotic dish. After all, we are home to the Rocky Mountain Oyster, a dish that is made out of bull testicles and has absolutely nothing to do with Oysters. Seriously though, can you blame the Cattleman’s Association for the that one? Who in their right mind would order Rocky Mountain Testicles?
The Slimehead has joined the ranks of depleted species because it underwent some PR reviews and came out with the appetizing name of Orange Roughy. Scientists named the prehistoric looking fossil fish for it’s distinctive mucus canals.
Mmmm… mucus canals over long grain rice in a tomato cream sauce. Yummy.
The fish was basically left alone and considered a by-catch of other commercial fishing enterprises until the name change occurred. Then the Slimehead became a popular food source and has been quickly over-fished. It’s currently dangerously depleted.
Other victims of good PR schemes are the Monkfish (previously known as the goosefish), the Uni (a sea urchin previously called a Whore’s Egg) and the Chilean Sea Bass (really the Patagoinian toothfish and not actually a member of the bass family.)
The biggest problem with these PR makeovers is their effect on the fish populations. Many of these previously untouched creatures have low reproduction and incredibly long lives making it very difficult for them to recover from over harvesting. Over-fishing is a serious threat to both the Oceanic environment and fisheries. If there are no more fish to pull from the ocean then there are no more fisheries. (This means no more money for you fisheries! Watch what you’re doing here!) While over-fishing is harmful for the more delicate species mentioned in the article, it is also harmful to fish who normally would be able to handle the threat due to their prolific reproduction. The Cod is an excellent example. Cod should be capable of sustaining heavy fishing but their ocean floor habitat is being destroyed by the bottom trawlers sent to harvest them.
In the meantime the renaming of previously revolting fish is wrecking havoc on these previously ignored species, adding them to the already gigantic list of species that may get the government’s attention some decades down the road.
So I propose a new approach to environmental activism. Instead of battling for months and years to have the government list a species as endangered, and then battling for months and years to force them to designate critical habitat, and then battling months and years to force them to comply with their listings, let’s start an anti-PR campaign.
Let’s rename the depleted fish something really, really gross so they won’t get harvested and eaten.
Seriously, how many of you are going to woo someone over dinner with wine and a filet of Slimehead?
Background information for this post came from Tastier Names Trouble for Seafood Stocks By David A. Fahrenthold and Seafood Watch.