Human activity has finally pushed oceans to their limit…
Humans have been fishing the oceans for thousands of years. But over the past five decades technology has allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. Scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world’s oceans.
Poor policies, governance, and management has resulted in over-harvesting, which threatens the sustainability of fishing. Targeted species are not the only ones at risk. While most fishing techniques such as long-lining and trawling target specific fish, they often capture other unintended species - bycatch. Many fishing methods, including bottom trawling, cyanide poisoning, and blast fishing, also damage marine habitats. On a large scale, bycatch and damage to marine habitats can and has significantly reduced species populations, thus threatening their survival.
Fishing and conservation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some of the loudest voices for sustainable fishing come from the community of commercial and recreational fishermen. Taking fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce is bad for fish, fishermen, coastal economies and the marine ecosystems on which they all depend.
Sustainability isn’t about complicated formulas and emerging technologies. Sustainability as applied to fishing is a commitment to practices that allow for thriving ecosystems that support healthy fish populations and a steady supply of fish to seafood businesses, retailers, and chefs as well as the consumers who cherish seafood. Sustainable development of the aquaculture industry can be viewed through the same lens. When done right, we can ensure sustainable production of high quality seafood alongside healthy ocean ecosystems. Ultimately, the success of sustainability requires that everyone, from the seafood industry to the everyday consumer, take action to improve the sustainability of our seafood.
Partnerships, Innovation, and Practical Solutions
On land, we manage how public areas are used, who’s using it, and for what purpose - access is not a free for all and neither are the resources being sought. We need to consider the same regulations for our oceans and when it comes down to it, the solutions are numerous and quite simple. Some new approaches worth exploring and some proven techniques worth implementing…
Catch Shares: An innovative approach that helps fish and fishermen rebuild, recover and renew. Under catch share management, managers set a scientifically-determined catch limit. Then, the privilege to harvest a given percentage of the catch limit is granted to an individual, a group, or a community. Fishermen are held accountable for fishing only their given percentage in exchange for this secure access to the fishery. With catch shares, fishermen have a real investment in sustainability – because if the stock goes up, the amount of fish guaranteed to each fisherman goes up too. According to a study in Science Magazine, Catch Shares are key to reviving fisheries and a solution to overfishing.
Aquaculture: The world’s appetite for fish has surged and aquaculture is booming. Today, what you eat is just as likely to have been raised on a farm as caught from the wild. If done right, aquaculture, can produce more seafood without harming the environment. The majority of seafood consumed by Americans comes from abroad, but many countries who supply us with fish being farmed do not adequately regulate their operations. Aquaculture can help fulfill the growing demand for fish along with other benefits such as job creation, but fish farmers and policy makers must implement strong regulations in order to protect the environment.
Responsible Fishing: Destructive fishing practices waste more than 16 billion pounds of fish each year, kills countless other marine mammals, and destroys marine habitats. Simple steps can be taken…improving fishing gear and methods that reduce bycatch while still allowing fishermen to catch fish is one common sense step in the right direction.
Protection of Marine Habitats: The most powerful tool to restoring our marine ecosystem is the creation of more Marine Protected Areas, but this takes time…lots of time. One thing we all can do now with immediate results…everyone, regardless of age, can do their part by simply being aware and caring about our seas - take basic steps to prevent harm or destruction to marine life and keep the water clean and free of trash.
Did You Know…
The global fishing fleet is estimated to be 2.5x larger than what the oceans can sustainably support - we are taking far more fish out of the ocean than can be replaced by those remaining.
- 52% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited.
- 24% of the world’s fisheries are overexploited, depleted, or recovering.
- As many as 90% of all the ocean’s large fish have been fished out.
- Several fish populations have declined to the point where their survival is threatened.
- Unless conditions improve, all species fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.
Why is this happening? Many fishers are well aware of the need to safeguard fish populations and the marine environment. However, the greed and waste of some large commercial fleets combined with modern developments in fishing technology have had an enormous effect on fishing worldwide. Contributing factors to the current level of overfishing include…
- Technological advances that have made large-scale fishing easier.
- Subsidies that keep too many boats on the water.
- Pirate fishers that don’t respect fishing laws or agreements.
- Massive bycatch of juvenile fish and other marine species.
- Destructive fishing practices.
- A lack of sound fisheries conservation and management.
- Fisheries partnership agreements that allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries.
Making Informed Choices
Consumers can drive the seafood supply chain to sustainability with their purchase decisions, but the fact is that for many, those choices seem tricky. Surveys show that the majority of Americans (some 80 percent) want to buy seafood that is good for human and environmental health, yet they are often confused about their options. Thirty-six percent say they don’t even know where their seafood was caught. Many feel uncertain about whether farmed or wild-caught fish is better. The bottom line…consumers want to know more.
Should I eat this? Blue Ocean Institute’s seafood program helps consumers discover the connection between a healthy ocean, fishing, and seafood. Their products and publications aim to increase consumer understanding to drive extensive demand for sustainable seafood. They also encourage seafood industry retailers and restaurateurs to implement sustainable seafood practices.
Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood – Blue Ocean’s color-coded rankings for popular seafood are determined by evaluating species’ life history, abundance in the wild, habitat concerns, and catch method or farming system. It also includes health advisory information.
As the world’s fisheries are being fished to capacity, our seafood choices have the power to make this situation worse, or improve it. Through better practices, we can create healthy, abundant oceans for everyone.