I don’t own a TV, so I don’t see very much of it. It’s a stupefying medium, even beyond its commercial imperative to attarct eyeballs with whatever it takes, but of course it’s hard to avoid. So, not so long ago, I saw an ad for the National Geographic Channel’s new “reality” series Wicked Tuna. The show’s about Massachusetts fishermen who go after Atlantic blue fin tuna, one of the most endangered species in the sea. I’ve often wondered how and why the trash-laden “NatGeo” and the National Geographic Society, which has reported on the plight of the blue fin, are connected. Turns out that NatGeo is a Fox property; slime-master Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp owns most of it, which explains quite a bit. The “brand” of the NGS is soiled by the lending of their name to that shit. (My favorite public radio show, On the Media, talks about the problem.)
The show premiered the other night. It will do nothing to conserve blue fin — education, or more precisely, thought, is not the purpose of commercial television — no matter the greenwashing the company is already doing in response to the outrage over the series. It may indeed stir up an appetite for the fish right here in America. Of course, the real reason the blue fin is in such trouble is that the Japanese market will pay anything to eat it. The really big fish sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars in Tokyo’s oceanic abattoir. The current record is $736,000 for a 593 pound animal; that’s $1,241 per pound. The less giant tuna there are, the more they will pay to consume them. The Gloucester fishermen in the series are heavily regulated, reluctantly so (but ask them about cod); it’s really other, pirate nations, especially around the Mediterranean, for instance, who feed the market. It’s simple, murderous economics, a reminder that “consumption” originally meant burning up within, which is why it was once a disease (tuberculosis) and obviously still is.
I gave up buying fish several years ago, and, oh, how I miss salmon, but of course I don’t mean “Atlantic” salmon, which is now all bland farmed product, sometimes even dyed pink for the market. (I think of those listings of sustainable fisheries as a palliative for hopeful, concerned consumers, but it is precisely consumerism that is the problem. Meanwhile, here’s that report on mislabeled fish in the market.) But, while some Japanese are intent on eating their way through the sea, driving the slaughter of whales, dolphins, and tuna, I don’t have much of a fishtail to stand on: I live in a country with 5% of the world’s population, which hogs a third of the world’s resources. Our precedent, the very model of a world that sees the American way of life on television, is completely unsustainable. What is to be done?