Pay the Fish ( No, not the fishmonger, the fish)

We just fish the fish from the sea, without any consideration. The fish is not asked anything. And they are not paid for. We haven’t even sown those fish. So, at a fish stand, they are earning money with something they have taken from the sea for free, from a stock that belongs to everyone, or at least not to them. They haven’t paid for it. In reality, we should be paying for the services provided by those fish.

When I confronted the lady at the fish stand about this, did you pay the fish? She asked if I was crazy. She replied , ‘We are not going to throw money into the sea, do we?’

But actually, that’s what we should be doing! The fish is at the end of the chain from a human perspective. However, it is the source in this case, produced by the system, the natural-environmental-ecosystem, or whatever you call it. And, in fact, we should pay for that, just like for the other steps in the chain.

Okay, the fish stand lady can argue that they had to fish, use a net through the water, bring the fish to the stall, and fry them. That is also an investment of labor energy. But for the most important part, the source, the fish itself, they didn’t have to do anything.

But how many fish are we talking about, actually?

Figures about fish are very rough estimates (hard sources welcome). They place the number of fish in the ocean at 3 to 3.5 trillion. That’s about 450 per person (as of 2023). Not really a lot. Although there is some debate about what counts as ‘fish.’ Shared over the ocean surface, there are about 100 fish per hectare, on average across all species (and thus about 4.5 hectares per person). However, that’s not the part you can ‘harvest,’ skim off the cycle. It’s clear that if you did that, the species would go extinct immediately. You can catch and eat a few per year so that the population stays stable and reproduces.

How much fish do we catch or eat then? The figures I could find show that around 91 million tons were caught in the wild in 2015, and about 106 million tons came from aquaculture. That’s about 20 kg per person worldwide, although it might not be evenly distributed. In terms of the number of fish (2019), it would be between 0.79 and 2.3 trillion fish annually worldwide (figures from 2007-2016). That’s about 287 per person, large and small. That is a lot, comparing it to the estimates of the number of fish swimming around: about 20% to half every year. So, fish must reproduce very quickly to keep up with us. On the other hand, if those figures are accurate, most populations might collapse soon.

Not only do we deplete the oceans for free, but most land animals have also disappeared due to free hunting. So, out of necessity, we started breeding them ourselves. Something that is now happening with fish as well. Soon, we might only have farmed fish. This has already happened with bees because there are too few, so they are bred in boxes to ensure that trees and flowers are pollinated. I saw in a documentary (though I unfortunately don’t remember which one) that it was about 1 million boxes per year, with each box containing 100,000 bees!

It seems that, shortly, we have to grow everything ourselves because nothing grows naturally anymore. Biodiversity is diminishing, and the soil is depleted. By the way, with farmed fish, we actually pay for the fish, the costs for its literal ‘upbringing.’ However, even this ‘self-growing’ requires energy , resources and and factories, even more than before, of course. And we don’t pay for those raw materials either. Its all circular reasoning, ultimately biting each other’s tail.

This reminds me of a plant grower in an episode of a dutch consumer program, (‘Keuringsdienst van Waarde’) who supplied beautiful plants attracting butterflies and advertised them as such. He delivered them entirely insect-free, having sprayed them to ensure no bugs or worms would be present, as het stated that “customers didn’t like that”. So when the interviewer asked where the butterflies should come from if the caterpillars on the plant were sprayed dead, the farmer’s face was priceless. If you’ve ever seen someone’s mouth fall open, that was it. He had never thought about it, he stammered.

Well, of course, we’re not going to throw money into the sea for those fish. But then what? Fish are the last in the chain from our perspective as food consumers (after the supermarket, transport, wholesale, auction, and fishermen). In that chain, everyone pays the next one, until we reach the last, the fish, which, when we eat it, can no longer spend the money. So, paying for services rendered by that fish, in this case, means we must destroy the money when we take from that stock. The same actually should apply when we cut down trees or pick blackberries for instance. They are not free; the world around us, on which we depend, has invested energy and mass into them under the influence of solar energy. So why shouldn’t we pay for that?

So, for example, for each fish, we burn a €5 note. It then disappears from the ‘market,’ preventing it from causing damage a second and subsequent times. In other words, we don’t perpetually inflict damage with a €5 note or continue to exploit the system for free. Read: creating a debt to the system. This way, money disappears from the market, and we prevent it from accumulating and causing increasingly significant damage.


*Now, everyone, especially the U.S., is angry with China because they are scouring the sea for fish. Indeed, China eats more fish per person than the U.S. (about 38 kg vs. 22 kg per person). But when it comes to wild fish, China eats about 10 kg per person, and the U.S. eats 16 kg per person. The rest is already farmed fish! (Netherlands about 20 kg per person, wild and farmed together).”







[6] FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.
Author: ronald rovers