The movie Happy Feet brings to light an issue that is gaining worldwide attention. The penguin population in the film is experiencing a fish shortage and takes its frustrations out on a penguin that is different than the rest of them. The penguin, Mumbles, cannot sing like the rest of the penguins do; he dances. The elders decide it is he who has brought misfortune upon them. In his desperation to find his identity and resolve the colony’s plight, he leaves to find out where all the fish have gone. His journey leads him to a huge trawler, which is shown capturing several tons of fish for human consumption.

This vision of fishing vessels rapidly depleting the ocean of fish is not far from what is happening today. According to a study published in a recent issue of Science, should the trends in fishing and consumption continue, the world’s supply of seafood could be gone by the year 2048. Some of the forces behind the dire forecast include overfishing, pollution and the destruction of marine life’s natural habitats.

A Washington Post article (November 3, 2006) stated that 29% of the total number of global fish caught for commercial purposes have experienced a collapse, meaning their levels are at least 90% below their maximum catch levels. The data analyzed fish populations over a period of four years ending in 2003, the last year for which the data is available. The same article also stated that the fishing industry generates about $80 billion yearly, with about 200 million people relying on it as their main source of income (either directly or indirectly). Therefore, the depletion of the global fish supply affects many people over the world, and resolving the issue should be of international interest.

Just at a time when consumers are being encouraged to eat more fish as part of a leaner diet and beginning to understand the importance of omega-3s for brain and heart health and other functions, they are getting conflicting information about the safety of eating seafood and the resources available.

However, to help alleviate the problem of overfishing, countries such as the U.S. and New Zealand have started taking steps to protect the fish and their natural habitats, although some experts say all countries need to do more. The U.S. fish farming industry is growing, with farmed fish providing the same health benefits as wild-caught fish. The National Fisheries Institute website states that farm-raised seafood is “the fastest growing segment of agriculture in the U.S.”

The U.S. government suggests that people eat a variety of shellfish to avoid mercury buildup in the system. For example, it advises against people eating high-mercury seafood such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Additionally, guidelines reveal that five of the most commonly eaten fish—shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish—are low in mercury. FDA guidelines can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html.

For many Americans who love seafood, this is good news. They can count on enjoying seafood for the long-term, without worrying about depriving Mumbles and other penguins of their dinner.