Habit 2 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, authored by Steven Covey, the leadership guru, is “Begin with the end in mind.” Thus as my Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship, eSEAS: Enhancing Seafood Ethics and Sustainability, ends, I begin my first blog post! As I envision it, this is not the end, but merely the beginning of what will become a series of regular monthly posts of my reflections on what constitutes seafood ethics and research updates on the nascent concept and emerging field. My notion of seafood ethics has evolved over my two-year fellowship at the University of Bergen, Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, and I imagine that it will soon take on a life of its own, as I engage more actively and publicly on the topic.
Let’s start with the more familiar word “seafood.” Seafood is any form of sea or aquatic life consumed as food by humans. This includes fish, such as large predatory fish (e.g., tuna, cod, and salmon) and small forage fish (e.g., herring, sardines, and anchovies). It also includes shellfish, such as crustaceans (e.g., shrimps, crabs, and lobsters), bivalve molluscs (e.g., mussels, clams, and oysters), and cephalopods (e.g., octopus and squid). Charismatic marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins, and seals, are controversial as seafood, but let’s not forget the humble aquatic plants, such as seaweed, algae, and kelp. Images of seafood, like this bowl of congrio chowder, a Chilean national dish to which the Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda penned an ode, Oda al Caldillo de Congrio, come readily to mind, especially near dinnertime!
Now, to the more esoteric word “ethics.” Ethics, like values, mean different things to different people. For most laypeople, including scientists who are not philosophers (like myself!), ethics gets easily confused with morality. So when talking about seafood ethics, I often am asked what seafood is ethical or unethical to eat. Consumers want to know what seafood is morally right to eat, given the species, provenance, production method, sustainability practices, or treatment of workers. For philosophers, ethics is the study of moral principles, not only of what is right to do, but also of how to decide what is right to do (by an individual or society) in the face of value plurality and knowledge uncertainty. This is a more nuanced interpretation of ethics that makes it not so simple to answer the highly complex and contextual question of what is or is not ethical.
So, what exactly do I mean by “seafood ethics?” In a chapter soon to be published in the Routledge Handbook on Animal Welfare, I defined seafood ethics as the descriptive, evaluative, and normative study of values, value-based tradeoffs, and ethical dilemmas of multiple stakeholders, including citizens, interacting along diverse seafood value chains. As an incipient field of study, seafood ethics offers a novel, integrated approach to fishery management and resource sustainability, which I, and the European Commission who funded my project, believe is critically needed today, given the depleted state of the world’s fish stocks. Over time, this definition is surely to evolve, but at least it gives a starting point for reflective dialogue among not just scientists, but also citizens and policymakers, at the end of what I now see as just the beginning of eSEAS.