Food for thought on 'Fish Debt Day'
If you live in the European Union and you like fish, then there's some bad news for you: as of the time I started writing this (1000BST Friday 09 July), you're in debt to the rest of the world.
That's a fairly oblique thought, without a bit of explanation.
A group of environmentally-minded economists - the New Economics Foundation (Nef) - have got together with some marine conservationists (including the Pew Environment Group) to calculate how much fish EU waters can sustainably produce each year and compare that with the amount of fish we actually eat in the EU.
The bloc collectively consumes roughly twice as much as home waters can generate, according to these calculations.
So if we ate nothing but this home-grown stock from the beginning of the year, by 8 July we would have consumed it all; thereafter, we would be in "fish debt".
And "fish debt day" is occurring earlier and earlier in the year.
Conceptually, this is a miniaturisation of the much broader notion of ecological debt, which has been much discussed over the last few years in sustainability circles and which Nef has sought to highlight through the idea of "Interdependence Day".
They've broken the fish idea down into nations as well. Unsurprisingly, Austria and Slovakia - nations without sea borders - goes into fish debt very early in the year, while a handful - Estonia, Latvia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden - remain in "profit", being self-sufficient.
Like all such analyses, this one's figures are open to challenge but it is a neat way of encapsulating the idea that as a high fish-consuming bloc, with many of its own fisheries depleted and aquaculture unable yet to fill the gap, Europeans who like fish are now having to find it elsewhere in the world.
You might argue that in a globalised economy, that's fine - and indeed the Austrian and Slovakian examples illustrate the point perfectly that if you have little chance to fish yourself, what are you supposed to do other than import it?
But fish aren't just another natural resource. The supply isn't by definition finite, as is oil; but it also isn't necessarily infinite, like (to all intents and purposes) sunlight.
It's renewable; but only if you manage it properly.
The reality is - and this isn't news - many fisheries aren't managed effectively, and EU nations have been as complicit as any in prioritising the continuing supply of fish into their markets without adequate attention to ecological sustainability or to the problems it causes communities in developing countries.
One comment sent in by reader Nathaniel Calhoun from Liberia in response to a recent Green Room article on fisheries caught my eye:
"Illegal trawlers can be seen 24 hours a day within 1 kilometer of Liberia's shores. They fish so close to shore that individual Liberians in dugout canoes are sometimes further out to sea.
"By all accounts they are decimating fishing stocks and causing locals to risk longer and further voyages in search of their livelihoods. A few coast guard vessels would go a long way towards a solution."
This illustrates perfectly a pattern seen too often - sometimes in EU waters as well - where big industrial concerns can mop up a fishery that local people have been in the habit of using sustainably.
The EU has recently put in place measures designed to combat illegal fishing, with skippers facing enhanced sanctions and with distant-water fleets in principle having to operate to the same standards as in EU seas.
It's a start. And it follows on from attempts to make sure that agreements legally made between EU states and developing countries, particularly in Africa, take local needs into account and feed some of the profits back to communities.
How effective these rule changes will prove to be is another matter, though, with some reports suggesting there are still major issues.
Within EU waters, not everything is dire, with signs of recoveries in some stocks, and some countries (such as Denmark and the UK) finding new ways to restrict catches and reduce discards.
But according to the latest scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (Ices), there are clearly areas where the recovery plans are not working:
On North Sea cod, for example:
"Despite the objective to reduce fishing mortality..., estimated total catches have been much higher than intended. Fishing mortality has been reduced but has remained well above the implied targets.
"Under the present implementation and enforcement approach... the recovery of the stock [is] unlikely."
We're clearly enjoying our fish in Europe - the great taste, and the health benefits it brings.
But how many of us are asking where it comes from, and who else might not be eating fish because we are?
And in the meantime - how about Nef, Pew and the rest taking on the same analysis for East Asia?