Our Consumption of Fish Keeps Growing. Where Do We Go from Here?
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
Since Seaspiracy came out, millions of people have been considering giving up fish or changing the way they consume it, and the conversation around overfishing has finally opened wide.
Overfishing is responsible for the decline in ocean wildlife populations. It removes essential predators and impacts the food chain, with potentially fatal effects for ocean ecosystems. Today, a third of the world's fisheries are pushed beyond their biological limits, a catastrophe waiting to happen. The fishing industry is responsible for bycatch, the capture of unwanted sea life while fishing - this includes whales, dolphins, turtles, and many more species. It also depletes vital fish populations which in turn threaten the livelihood of billions of people.
Overfishing causes a rise of endangered species, and the lack of structure or scientific knowledge prevents fixing this ecological imbalance. Meanwhile, the world's population keeps growing, and so is the global consumption of fish and Omega-3, which comes from the marine algae that fish eat. So where do we go from here?
We talked to Shameek Upadhya, co-founder of Omvits, a British vitamin and supplements brand that creates sustainable and cruelty-free Omega-3 from algae that will protect our planet for future generations - with all the benefits of fish oil, without the fish.
Here’s what he had to say about working towards ocean preservation, sustainable living, Seaspiracy, and why the FMCG industry crucially needs to change.
The Spill: First of all, congratulations on your rebrand and your new plastic free packaging! So tell us a little about the ‘new’ Omvits, and why was now the right time for a change?
SU: The new branding was a significant time and energy investment we made to mark a new chapter in our journey moving towards 100% plastic free products - and the new styling celebrates our products, social impact achievements and vision. Using sustainable packaging has been on our minds since we started. As we learnt more about sustainability and recycling, the hard truth was that our plastic products still posed a threat to our environment even though they are recycled. This was simply unacceptable for us, so we’ve been seeking out solutions for two years. Our new packaging is paper based, provides barrier protection, can be recycled easily with paper, and if it finds its way out of a recycling bin, then it’s compostable and marine degradable. It’s a game-changer for our brand but also the whole FMCG industry.
TS: What do you wish more people knew (or took seriously) about the challenges the planet is facing right now?
SU: That 50% of the oxygen we’re all breathing while reading or listening to this interview, is produced by algae in the ocean. If we don’t change our eating and consumer habits, we are putting ourselves and every other form of life on earth at risk of extinction. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, no pun intended!
TS: You once said “the natural world is not a vending machine”, have you seen encouraging progress in terms of humans breaking up with the mindset that the planet has endless resources? And how do you personally keep positive despite concerns about climate change?
SU: There is progress, but there’s still a very long way to go. Ecosystem restoration and conservation are more like an ultra-marathon relay that will span over the lives of a few generations at least. Most of us will have to pass the baton to others for the race to continue even after we’re gone. I keep positive through mindfulness practices, talking to inspiring people, and spending time in nature. Serving the planet and people is so much easier than trying to be successful or chasing aspirations that are built on insecurities or upsets. You have to deep dive into your own soul to discover pathways that are natural for you.
TS: Please tell us about the work you do with Vitamin Angels, a charity that helps at-risk populations gain access to life-saving and life-changing vitamins and minerals. How many children have you managed to provide with vitamin A so far? Are the children in one region, or is this a global campaign?
SU: We discovered Vitamin Angels shortly after we started the company, and instantly loved their work. Since 2017, we’ve helped to provide vitamin A to over 25,000 children. The charity has global reach and we’re planning to send a few very lucky people in our team and brand partners, on an all-expenses paid trip to meet the children, spend time in their community and volunteer in a project.
TS: Do you work with more charities, and are you planning more projects like this one in the future?
SU: Currently, Vitamins Angels is our primary charity. I’m also looking into 1% for the Planet, and am interested in meeting people who are working on grassroots level ocean and wildlife conservation projects that need some support.
TS: Omvits creates sustainable Omega-3 and vitamin supplements, now in 100% plastic-free packaging. Do you think health and environment are intertwined, and why?
SU: We are all natural, our bodies are made from nature, so there is no difference between a personal environment like your body, home or office and the wider environment like a forest or an ocean. It’s all the same environment shared by billions of species. If the planet is sick, we’re all sick. If any species is sick, the planet is sick. Plastic has to go, maybe not in all its applications, but definitely from the FMCG industry where it’s only used temporarily, then discarded. Plastic waste is choking the lungs of this planet, our oceans. If we want to survive on earth, our relationship to consumption and nature will have to transform.
TS: The documentary Seaspiracy was watched by millions globally and landed in Netflix's top 10 most popular shows in March 2021. Do you feel like the general public is finally awakening to the issue of ocean pollution and overfishing?
SU: I don’t think the Seaspiracy film has made an impact on the general public yet but it has raised awareness, educated and inspired thousands of people who are now talking about the issues around overfishing, and the devastating impacts of the global fishing industry. The Seaspiracy team has done a tremendous job on creating a global conversation and raising awareness.
TS: Do you agree with the criticism surrounding it?
SU: Criticism was inevitable; there are still people who believe that the earth is flat. When we turn living creatures into commodities, we put the biodiversity and ecological balance of our planet at risk, which puts all humans at risk too because we need a healthy planet more than it needs us.
TS: What would be the first steps you advise people to take if they want to live more healthily, and more sustainably - and finally make a change that lasts?
SU: I would advise learning how to cook, and then try to grow some fruit and veg. Not only will you be able to always feed yourself and your family with great food, you will also deepen your relationship with the soil in your garden or the plant pots, enjoy all the different types of weather and adapt your lifestyle aspirations, so they exist in harmony with nature. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination.
Photo credit: Omvits. For more information about Omvits, visit www.omvits.com