Happy Earth Day.
Plastic pollution in our oceans seems to pose the biggest threat to marine life. A startling statistic from the Ellen McArthur Foundation predicts that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.
While some of us have started to make attempts to reduce our individual plastic usage, we may be ignoring an even more urgent issue: overfishing.
Overfishing is the practice of catching too many fish in one period, or catching fish that are not yet of reproductive age. This means that “fish stocks” are depleted by fisheries, and are not able to be replenished due to a loss of mature fish.
What caused fish to become so popular?
After the continued rise of a middle class globally as well as health conscious eating in westernized countries, seafood has increasingly gained momentum in the market. By 2030, an additional 40 million tons (on top of the 90 million we already produce) of seafood will need to be harvested to feed the world.
An estimated 70% of this will be consumed in Asia. China alone will consume 38% of the world’s seafood.
How bad is it?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, over 1/3 of fisheries are overexploited. However, according to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) , 85% of fisheries globally are fully or overexploited, depleted, or in recovery.
Furthermore, if fish are continually exploited in this manner, scientists predict that all populations of wild caught fish will experience collapse by 2050.
Read more at: Oceana – Overfishing Facts
How will we be affected?
Globally, fish provides around 3 billion people worldwide about 15% per capita animal protein. In the United States, commercial and recreational fisheries created $208 billion in sales and contributed $96 billion to the GDP.
Communities that rely on fisheries or natural fish stocks for food, financial stability or ecotourism will be hit the hardest by losses. These coastal communities also will be affected heavily by climate change and intensified weather events.
Who else is affected?
Scientists estimate that 90% of “big fish” or predators in the ocean have been wiped out due to unsustainable practices. Approximately 100 million sharks are finned each year for shark fin soup in Asia. Lack of predators causes imbalance in the food chain that can cause a collapse of populations and other detrimental effects on the ecosystem.
Furthermore, bycatch (animals caught unintentionally in fishing equipment) takes the lives of 300,000 whales and dolphins, 250,000 turtles, and 300,000 seabirds per year. Approximately 40% of all fish catch is bycatch, which is essentially useless to the fisherman. This problem arises from using methods like drift nets or gill nets instead of more selective fishing methods.
What can you do?
The majority of issues with fishing are due to difficulty implementing fishing laws, especially on the high seas. As consumers, we can help by choosing to eat fish that are unexploited or by supporting companies and products that use sustainable fishing methods.
To find which fish are best to eat, use Monterey Bay’s Consumer Guide, which is personalized to your location.
Furthermore, consider buying sustainably caught fish, such as pole caught, or looking for labels on seafood that denote it as eco-certified. These labels include but are not limited to:
To preserve the livelihoods of marine and coastal communities, our actions as consumers must reflect our goals for more environmentally friendly fisheries. By 2020, the United Nations hopes to accomplish:
- “Sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans”
- “By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics”
Though we are still far from these goals, we must continue to push for progress and educate ourselves and others on the importance of maintaining balance in our oceans. Otherwise, we will see the collapse of huge populations of animals and will detriment our most susceptible communities.