I come from a city called Adelaide. And back in the early 1990s (not that long ago) I was going out with a guy called David whose father worked at the big power station at Torrens Island.
His home freezer, when I visited his house, was absolutely full of bags and bags of cooked prawns. More than I'd ever seen in my life in one place. A whole chest freezer of 'em!
I loved prawns, and right then and there, the moment I caught sight of the contents of that freezer, I was ready to marry this guy. I had visions of a prawn-filled happy existence, for ever and ever. Amen!
It turned out, as he told me, that the prawns came home from work with his Dad. The power station had these huge cooler vents through which sea water was piped from the Gulf St. Vincent.
And all those prawns went swimming in through the vents, were cooked alive by the hot water as they got sucked through - Pop! Sizzle! And the men who worked at the station bagged them up and took them home. Free seafood smorgasbord.
Fifteen years later
Adelaide imports prawns now.
Go to any supermarket, and you'll notice almost all the prawns come from Thailand, or Indonesia, or China.
In less than twenty years - it seems such a short time - we have gone from having a gulf absolutely full of prawns to importing the animals.
It wasn't just the power station, of course. That's a ridiculous thought. But while the power station was sucking those zillions of prawns through the vents and while David's Dad was bagging them and bringing them home, a flotilla of fishing boats was doing the same thing.
The money was running high. Prawns were getting a premium price from offshore markets like Japan and Europe, and the fishermen weren't being too particular about quotas. They were fishing the prawns, and a host of other species, as fast as they could bring them in.
I don't know what this has done to animals that lived in the gulf and depended on the prawns and other fish too. For instance, I also remember going swimming at the beach with wild dolphins in the early 1990s. But I can guess that when their food sources get reduced, it must get tough.
Any food source can only be sustainable as long as it is able to renew itself at least as fast as we are consuming it. Probably faster, when it has been seriously depleted - I don't know the details of all this ecological stuff.
But what I do know is that sure as eggs are eggs, Thailand and Indonesia and China will soon run out of prawns too.
What does this mean to prawn-lovers?
A lot of cultures argue that they have always fished, and have the right to continue to do so. My mother argues that she has always eaten prawns - why should she stop now, or even reduce a little?
My parents also don't hold with "all this wacked-out vegetarian stuff". Why should they go vegetarian, or even reduce the amount or types of food they eat? Nature is red in tooth and claw, after all. And my parents are in the majority.
Then there are the Weston A Price extremists, who believe the more meat the better. Lots of it, wild if possible, and bugger the ecosystem. Wild salmon? Gimme gimme! Range-run beef? Yes please! Whale? Why not? Bluefin tuna? Yummy yummy! Dodo? If they could get it, they'd eat it. They don't seem able to make the connection between the food on their table and the ecosystem that supports that food.
Changing our habits in difficult times
By now you're probably figuring out which side of the fence I'm sitting on.
However, I'm not the rampant Save The Snails! lunatic you might be thinking I am.
But I do think that, as a species, we need to reconsider our eating habits. If only to stop eating some foods for a generation or two until balance is restored.
Take a look through Monterey Bay Aquarium's excellent Seafood Watch facility. You don't have to look too hard before, if you're any sort of conservationist, you're worried about all the types of seafood that it is recommended, in red letters, that humans AVOID.
Which makes you wonder, if you do a bit of extrapolation, how many types of seafood that are not on the AVOID list will be so soon, if we all shift from the AVOIDs to the "ok" list?
I've stopped eating fish because I want my great-grandchildren to be able to eat them if they choose.
If that sounds odd, then maybe we'll have to accept that I'm an oddity. But I think it makes sense. Because if we all continue to eat seafood at the rate we are currently, there won't be anything left at all in our oceans. Except plastic.
Making a heartfelt plea for prawns doesn't sound very grandiose. Let's face it: they're not as awe-inspiring as this:
But without the small creatures, we won't have any whales. We won't be able to look into the blue sea, and know it is full of life. We won't have anything. Sure we'll have the memory of a few tasty shrimp cocktails, but is that worth selling our birthright for?
I don't think so.
Cluttercut - Green simplicity