The state of the world’s fisheries
For centuries, humans have relied on the ocean’s abundance of fish for sustenance. Today, seafood is the world’s largest traded food commodity and the primary source of protein for approximately 3 billion people. The industry also provides employment and income for millions of people, which is particularly important for coastal communities in developing economies.
As our global population grows, so does our demand for seafood. Advancements in commercial fishing technology mean humans now have the ability to wipe out entire fish populations in a very short period of time. Today, as much as 80% of the world’s fisheries are either overfished or collapsing.It’s estimated that approximately170 billion pounds of wildlife are removed from the ocean by fishers each year.Scientists fear that continuing to fish at our current rate will cause a full-scale collapse of the world’s fisheries which would have a significant impact on global food security.
How the commercial fishing industry harms marine environments
Sustainable seafood is any seafood that is caught or farmed with minimal environmental and social impacts. Fisheries are generally considered sustainable when they target plentiful species, follow local regulations and guidelines, and rely on scientific data and ongoing population monitoring to ensure the fishery is well managed. Sustainable fishing practices may include hook-n-line, spearfishing, and any well-regulated localized fishing including some aquaculture and green ocean farming.
There’s an ongoing debate in the ocean conservation space about whether fishing can ever be truly sustainable. It would behoove us to recognize that there are ways to fish sustainably and that many indigenous cultures have sustainably fished their waters for thousands of years. Ultimately, consuming fish in and of itself isn’t the problem; exploitative and unsustainable practices in the commercial fishing industry are.
Regulating the commercial fishing industry
Managing sustainable fisheries is a dynamic process that requires constant and routine attention to new scientific data that can be used to guide fisheries management. Because most fisheries are in international waters, no single body has the ability to effectively enforce protective regulations and quotas. Commercial fisheries are often left to act in their own self-interest, which is rarely what’s best for the ocean.
In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determines what constitutes sustainably sourced seafood. Marine fisheries in the U.S. are considered sustainable because they’re scientifically monitored, regionally managed, andlegally enforced under a number of requirements.However, there is always room for improvement.
The farming and husbandry of aquatic species in a controlled or semi-controlled environment is called aquaculture, or fish farming. Fish farms already account for more than half of the seafood consumed globally, are crucial to meeting the growing demand for seafood, and can help build wild fish stocks and reduce dependence on imports. However, there’s no denying that it’s currently an imperfect solution with drawbacks that must be addressed in order for it to be truly sustainable.
The search for solutions
If fish farming can be optimized to work in harmony with nature, we may be able to create truly sustainable sources of protein that feed billions of people without overfishing or damaging the delicate balance marine ecosystems have achieved through millennia.
For example, the nonprofit SeaLegacy has been working with small-scale ocean farms in Galicia, Spain, to share the success of multi-trophic aquaculture, a type of fish farming that works in harmony with nature by utilizing the entire water column and zero pesticides or antibiotics.
Not only does this system show promise as a sustainable source of seafood, it can also become a source of biofuel, help clean the environment, and reverse climate change by absorbing excess atmospheric carbon.
While initial experiments with multi-trophic aquaculture have been successful, how we scale these smaller operations commercially has not yet been determined.
What 4ocean is doing to drive positive change
We’ve seen the impacts of the commercial fishing industry firsthand. Our captains and crews have recovered thousands of nets and other types of fishing gear associated with commercial and noncommercial fisheries. They’ve also rescued animals tangled in nets and fishing lines. In fact, derelict fishing gear accounts for up to 15% of the trash recovered by our crews in Bali each week.
To address issues in the commercial fishing industry and drive positive change, 4ocean hires professional, full-time captains and crews from the communities we serve to clean the ocean, rivers, and coastlines seven days a week. Many of our crew members come from the fishing industry and use their knowledge and skills to harvest ocean plastic instead of fish, which helps shift the local economy away from fishing to an industry that promotes ocean conservation and restoration.
We’re currently looking to expand our operations into areas heavily impacted by plastic pollution associated with the commercial fishing industry. This expansion would allow us to recover higher volumes of derelict gear that’s already polluting the ocean and create new opportunities to work with local communities, businesses, and governments to champion the development of more sustainable fishing practices globally.
We’ve also donated over $1 million to organizations like SeaLegacy and Sea Shepherd that are driving awareness and action on this issue every day.
To drive positive change in the commercial fishing industry, we must act as both informed consumers and citizens. Educating yourself about where your seafood comes from and voting for ocean-friendly legislation that enforces current regulations, puts more stringent requirements on the commercial fishing industry, and creates protected areas where overfished species can recover are some of the most effective ways you can make a difference.
We know that finding seafood from a proven sustainable source can be a bit tricky, so we’ve collected a few resources that can help you make informed choices about the seafood you consume.