7,516 kilometers. That is the length of India’s scenic coastline. Spotted with forts, deltas, forests and hills, each unique in its own right. These coastlines have only one thing in common: seafood on the local menu. Seafood sustains swathes of populations and is the premier source of protein and nutrition in coastal diets.
Modern transport infrastructure transports seafood inland. So nowadays, no matter where you are, chances are you can enjoy seafood locally. But did you know, one-third of all fish caught never make it to the kitchen? Yup! A shocking 35% of global catches get thrown overboard or rots before making the trip to the local restaurant and ‘fresh fish’ stores.
Fresh fish vs Freshly Caught Fish
If there was ever an argument to be made in favour of grammar-nazis being allowed to preach - this is it! ‘Fresh’ fish is not the same as ‘freshly caught’ fish — a technicality heavily exploited by the food industry. Fresh fish, is fresh that is kept fresh, on ice, for however long before the customer decides to order it. Although freezing and curing do prevent rotting and decay, it greatly affects flavour and cookability, and flavour should be the only reason to eat.
Common Restaurant Trends
The problems with ordering seafood in restaurants doesn’t end there. Being a highly profitable commodity, seafood is worth every penny saved and this often leads to unregulated purchases with zero quality checks in place.
Then there’s the buffet fish trend of India, the choice always being ‘basa’. There’s two recipes you see in common: i. Basa cooked in a gravy which has coconut water, and another dish which is fish Manchurian, or some variation thereof. On the sushi counter is usually this pitiful looking salmon which get more likes and upvotes on Instagram that in real life. And the shrimp keeps getting smaller by the day.
Ordering seafood a-la-carte is different though. Not safer, just different. Instead of cooking bad seafood for everyone, a-la-carte seafood is made especially for you. Improper handling all along the supply chain and improper regulation of the industry has made it near impossible to enjoy a healthy plate of seafood.
Which brings us to the biggest problem.
We’ve Overfished All the Tasty Seafood
Yup! The tasty fish is gone or on the verge of being gone. 47 of India’s 68 commercial fish species are under threat from a plethora of problems, all with humans at their center. These include Bombay Duck (it’s actually a fish), Tuna, Sharks, shrimps, Pomfrets, Mackerel, Sardine, Golden Anchovy, Hilsa, Seerfish (surmai), sciaenids, Catfish and 35 other popular species. In this dwindling ecosystem, fisheries continue to overfish and once a species is exhausted, it's simply onto the next one for the capitalist.
A Possible Way Out
There’s a lot that needs to be done in India, particularly in terms of regulations and infrastructure. But there’s a lot of consumers can do on their part too. For starters, knowing where to order from.
Startups, such as FreshToHome, a source directly from farmers removing the middlemen thereby removing all the contaminants and other hazards caused by the transfer of fish. They also apply plenty of quality checks. Additionally, they use specially made transport boxes which does not freeze the fish. In India, this is among the best case options.
But knowing where to order from is half the battle, what to order is the other bit, and the voluntary initiative - ‘Know Your Fish’(http://knowyourfish.org.in/) is the perfect solution. Besides having a calendar which makes scientific backed arguments on which fish to order each month, they also make recommendations on the must-haves each month.
All this said, one cannot understate and undervalue the effort we need to put into maintaining the aquatic/marine ecology. Dumping into the sea needs to be controlled and stopped, and repopulation needs to be effectively monitored.
But don’t stop eating fish, just eat fish the smart way.