Every summer since then, I have fished. Not down in Florida, but up north in the waters of Georgian Bay. But the thrill of the catch now eludes me. Why? Because, quite simply, there is no catch. While this lack of fish in our local waterways remains a mystery to me, the increasing emptiness of our oceans is far from inexplicable. The answer to this lies in our eating habits: we really love fish, and we eat a lot of it. Quite simply, our consumption habits alongside inefficient trolling practices have contributed to a depletion of fishing stocks worldwide.
So what’s society’s answer to this? Simple: fish farming. Over the past ten years, commercial fish farming has risen exponentially worldwide in response to consumer demand. While this puts fish on our plates, it hasn’t solved the ecological problems that plague the fishing industry. The problem lies in the diet of most commercially farmed fish. The vast majority of the fish we eat are carnivorous and rely on large supplies of wild fish for growth. Simon Cripps, director of the WWF, likened this practice to “feeding sheep to lions – and then eating the lions.” In fact, the WWF estimates that fish such as salmon require up to four kilos of wild fish for every kilo of growth.
This is where tilapia comes in. Tilapia is a fish of African origin that has been farmed worldwide for over 4000 years. In fact, tilapia are featured on ancient Egyptian tablets and it may also have been the fish Jesus is believed to have fed to his disciples. So why are we just hearing about it now? It’s because of fish guts. Well, I should explain that one.
Tilapia are herbivorous and can extract nutrients from almost anything thanks to their relatively massive digestive tract. This combination makes them ideal candidates for ecologically-minded fish farming. It also makes them dirt cheap, which appeals to the frugal yet hungry student in all of us. On that subject, tilapia are a great entry fish for the aquatically uninitiated. They’re firm and won’t fall apart from a little manhandling, and they’re mild and will take on whatever flavors are thrown at them.
So what’s the catch? Because of their diet, tilapia are high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s. You’ve probably heard of omega-3s and how good they are for the body – this isn’t always the case for omega-6s. Some studies link omega-6s to heart problems because they allegedly elicit an inflammatory response in the body. This isn’t necessarily the case, in fact they may contain anti-inflammatory agents, but just the same, it’s probably best to limit tilapia consumption to once or twice a week.
The real problem here is the sorry state of fish farming in general. Lax regulations in some nations can translate to illness, heavy antibiotic use and the presence of hormones in commercially farmed fish – what’s good for the ocean might not be good for you. However, when you’re a student of limited means, your convictions and your dinner are often mutually exclusive.
Garlic-Lemon Seared Tilapia
- Two 3-ounce tilapia fillets (or other mild whitefish)
- One garlic clove, slivered
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons oil (canola, safflower etc.)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Wash tilapia fillets and pat dry over paper towels.
- Season both sides of each fillet generously with salt and pepper.
- At the same time, heat a saucepan over high heat and add oil and butter.
- Meanwhile, sliver the garlic clove and add to the pan. Sautee until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then remove and discard.
- When the butter/oil has browned and bubbling subsides, add the fillets and sear two to two and a half minutes per side, pressing down firmly on the fish with a spatula.
- Add lemon and remove from heat.
- Serve over mixed greens or pasta.