The last time I ate meat

Ceviche wallah

Ecuadorian ceviche — basically lime, seafood soup — was the last time I had meat. After this $5 bowl of shrimp ceviche, I swore off the whole process, particularly seafood as it’s simply unsustainable and bycatch is disturbing.

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Order the daily bycatch? Maybe you’re eating manta ray or shark

Rays accidentally caught, likely to be sold as trash

Many average restaurants in coastal Ecuador offer a fixed menu of fish dishes: pescado ceviche, pescado tortilla, pescado spaghetti, etc. What they mostly likely can’t tell you is what type of “pescado” you’re actually eating.

That’s because they might very well be using bycatch, the incidental catch of fish other than a targeted species. If a fishermen is angling for snapper or grouper, he is probably also pulling up loads of other species — from sharks to rays to sea turtles.

Bycatch is particularly bad with shrimp, where one pound of the prawns costs the lives of as much as 20 pounds of other fish.

At least the fishermen are trying to sell the bycatch and the local economy absorbs some of it. Restaurants and residents purchase bycatch sometimes as trash fish, to grind up into a generic meal.

Killing rays and sharks — animals far more valuable alive, either as tourist attractions and/or as vital parts of healthy, breathing ocean — makes little sense.

And in many other instances, other sea creatures pulled up aren’t even broad to market. They’re simply tossed — often already dead — back overboard, treated as competitors (for the record, manta rays don’t eat fish) by the fishermen themselves.

And some still wonder why fisheries are so depleted. See below to understand more.

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For the record, shrimp fishing is hyper-destructive

Hauling it in

Puerto Lopez, that wonderfully sleepy fishing town, unfortunately sees its fair share of shrimp trawlers taking advantage of its rich, cold waters. Sadly, shrimp fishing is routinely harmful to the environment — ripping up vast amounts of reef-supporting life along the bottom of the ocean and catching (and mostly killing) up to 20 kilograms of “bycatch” for one kilo of shrimp.

As tasty as the shrimp are — Lord knows I’ve been a giant fan over the years — they are not fished sustainably. Please, please do not eat shrimp.

Equally unfortunate: the mass destruction of coastal mangroves and estuaries for shrimp farms. There are some alternative versions of shrimp farms that are considered sustainable — multi-species growth ponds like those used for centuries in Asia or modern, high-tech closed-loop systems — but the practice of grinding up other fish to eat shrimp is still a questionable practice at best.

Of course, shrimp fishermen (and dependent people and businesses) are a large block of the poor coastal economies worldwide. This is a huge challenge for the development and conservation sectors to answer: how can we keep these people sustained while also sustaining the environments they’re destroying?

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Sleepy fishing town

Morning catch

I spent a couple weeks in Puerto Lopez, a sleepy fishing town on the coast of Ecuador known to tourists primarily as a destination for whale watching in July, August and September. I did some diving coursework — and then some more diving for fun — and also explored the coast a bit. It was welcome change after weeks in the rural jungle.

Almost daily — either on the way to a dive boat or just on an amble by the shore — I visited the local fishermen’s landing. Here they haul their catch ashore amid people buying seafood and seabirds hankering for scraps.

I also spent a good bit of time taking photos of fishermen — who I am fond of — and talking with them and others about the sustainability of fishing, diving, tourism and other marine exploits. More on that in the coming days.

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Ecuadorian hot pocket

Makes me drool a bit

I stopped eating seafood while traveling down the coast of Ecuador. But not before I had indulged in this 30-cent wonder: a batter-dipped and fried shrimp hot pocket.

Ecuadorians do enjoy their street food and many a poor family’s livelihood is invested in a portable grill or deep frier. See below.

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Ecuadorian ceviche: so good but so bad

One of my last meals with any kind of meat

Ceviche de camaron con chifles from Puyo. But no more. I can’t justify eating shrimp given how unsustainable their fishing is.

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