The oceans are vital for providing food for billions of people and maintaining the planet’s biodiversity.
But when we talk about issues affecting the oceans, the conversation often falls to what ingredients are found in suntan lotion, plastic bottles floating in the water, the bleaching of coral reefs, and what we see in sensationalist reality programming such as Whale Wars.
Environmental activists want that to change because the oceans are being threatened by the very industry that depends on the health of those same oceans to survive. The fishing industry is mammoth, and each year it brings up anywhere from 0.97 to 2.7 trillion fish – these figures don’t include farmed fish or what is caught recreationally, or sharks, dolphins, turtles, or whales that are caught in nets.
So the fishing industry is big. It is also the main source of income and food for so much of the world.
- Globally, an estimated 260 million people, directly and indirectly, earn their livelihood from the fishing industry. Other reports suggest that number is closer to 500 million.
- In the U.S., in 2016, 1.7 million jobs were supported by the fishing industry.
- Many coastal regions rely on fishing to sustain their local economies.
- Three billion people rely on wild-caught or harvested seafood for 20% of their protein.
These figures are important for defending the commercial fishing industry and arguing against bans and restrictions. It should be noted, however, that some bans and restrictions have been put into place. In 2019, China imposed a ban that ran March 1 to June 1 with the goal of helping cut back on overfishing. Australia has restrictions on the size of fishing boats. Other nations, including those in Europe, also seek to regulate waters to protect fisheries, including those in the Arctic (the U.S. also signed the treaty).
Some oppose these restrictions or any talk of bans on commercial fishing. It is hard to argue taking away people’s income and source of food. Moreover, people would likely just switch to cows, chickens, and other land animals, which are often farmed in similarly dustructive fashion.
So if we have to accept that commercial fishing is here to say, and bans and restrictions will only have a marginal effect, the conversation should focus more on how we catch fish, rather than how much fish we actually catch.
Here are some of the key concerns that surround the fishing industry that might help to ease concerns around the fishing industry.
- Ecological Disruption – This occurs as a result of fishing with hooks that lead to stress or injury to sea life, damage to “food webs” with the removal of one species leading to negative effects on other species, and a loss of ecology from dragging nets that are vital to storing carbon that contributes to climate change.
- Bycatch – This is part of the catch that isn’t the target species. It is estimated that for each one pound of the target species that is caught, five pounds of marine material is caught and discarded; an estimated 63 billion pounds (40%) of fish caught globally is discarded, with 650,00 whales, dolphins and seals being killed. Bycatch, however, can be retained and sold for various purposes, but information on this is not well tracked.
- Shark Finning – Up to 100 million sharks die each year as a result of finning, which is a practice where fishermen remove the fins of sharks for sale before discarding the shark body (alive or dead) back into the ocean.
- Marine Debris – Fishing gear represents around 10 percent of the total plastic pollution that goes into oceans each year. Why this is alarming is that around 85 percent of that is “large plastics” that includes nets that trap sea life and damage seabeds.
There is awareness around these issues, but it isn’t as commonly talked about. Ethical animal agriculture and farming practices seem to get greater attention.
Even though few fisheries are built using sustainable practices, they are out there and do provide people with the option. You just need to speak with your local grocer about what sustainable option they offer. Buyers drive the market. If people demand fish that is sustainably and ethically harvested, then the fishing industry will follow suit.
Along with shopping smart when it comes to your food, don’t forget to extend that same consideration to your supplements. If you aren’t a big fish eater, then you might have heard about taking omega-3 supplements to get essential fatty acids in your diet. Pure Encapsulations, Nordic Naturals, and Irwin Naturals offer omega-3 supplements that contain omega fatty acids from trusted sources. These brands strive to harvest fish in a way that supports the environment and your health.