In this blog, we’re going to give you an insight into the fishing industry, to hopefully give you a better understanding of the issues we’re facing surrounding this industry in today's world.
Photo credit: Mike Veitch- Whale Shark feeding on catch
Something that must be highlighted- not all fishing is bad! it's also an important aspect of peoples livelihoods, diets and the global economy
Fishing creates jobs- for example, over 2 million jobs in the US alone in 2006.
Fishing is a key dietary and economic contributor, especially in developing countries.
Small scale fishing, using selective fishing gear, can be sustainable. However, these practices are not typically what we see available to us on the supermarket shelves…
Although fishing definitely holds a great importance across the globe, it is largely not being carried out in a sustainable manner- which needs to be addressed to secure future generations' fish stocks, and ocean health.
Fishing has evolved...
Photo credit: Fish 2.0- small scale artisanal fishing
Fishing practices can be traced back to around 40,000 years ago- when early humans based their lives around access to fresh water, giving them the ability to catch fish- a source of survival. Fishing methods here were spearfishing with harpoons, and the use of woven nets- on a small scale and sustainable in nature, unlike a lot of what we see today within modern fishing methods.
The modern, more efficient, methods being used in today’s fishing practices are leading to two main issues- overfishing and bycatch. Dynamite fishing, long lines, trawlers, gill nets, drift nets, super trawlers, electric pulse nets, and fish farms are some of the main culprits leading to these issues.
Photo credit: Antonio Busiello- Commercial fishing vessel
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation calculated that an estimated 90% of global fish stocks are either fished to their maximum or overfished. Currently, our fish consumption is too high for the ocean to have a chance to replenish its stocks; our practices are unsustainable. If we are catching fish at a faster rate than they can reproduce and repopulate, the fish stocks will collapse.
As the world’s demand for fish has doubled in the past 20 years, the pressure put upon world fish stocks has been piled on. The once sustainable fishing levels of our ancestors are now a thing of the past. Fishermen are having to use increasingly destructive fishing methods to catch enough product, and they’re having to go further afield, change their target species, and fish deeper waters to achieve their catch rates.
Photo credit: Alessio Viora- Sunfish caught as bycatch
Bycatch: non-targeted species caught from fishing practices.
One key contributing method for bycatch is undertaken whilst fishing for tuna. Long line fishing used to catch tuna also catches a shockingly high number of sharks, dolphins and seabirds. There are laws put in place here, but only to prevent fishermen bringing their bycatch back to port- in other words, fishermen can catch bycatch, but they must throw them back into the ocean; dead or alive before coming back in to port. Another method that acquires a lot of bycatch is trawling. Huge trawling nets catch everything in their path that can’t escape- leaving ocean floors flattened and life-less.
It’s not only active fishing gear that can catch other marine life. Fishing gear that’s no longer in use, but still in the ocean due to being lost or disposed of, entangles and captures millions of whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, turtles and seabirds every year- a process called ghost fishing.
Thoughts from us at UAVWILD
Although it’s very evident that our fishing practices need to be re-thought and made increasingly sustainable before the destruction to fish stocks is irreversible, we must also consider the people whose livelihoods depend upon this industry. A multi-threaded approach to manage the worlds fishing practices is needed, to ensure affected parties are supported. Marine protected areas, quotas, community development, policies, and global market change are all going to be key in fighting this issue.
Different management methods are needed across the varying scales of the fishing industry, e.g. a large scale commercial fishing fleet in the US will need a completely different management plan to a small scale fishing village on a remote island in Indonesia. Although, all management will be working towards sustainability.
Infographic: WWF- Marine protected area management supporting fisheries
For example, in developing countries, community based approaches to managing fisheries are key, such as those shown in the infographic above. Our friends at Coast 4C are a fabulous example of this. Please take a look at their work through the link below. It's enlightening to see that projects such as Coast 4C are in place and delivering such success within their fishing communities.
On the consumer scale, it's important that we make choices to promote sustainably caught fish. Reducing our fish intake is a great start, as well as ensuring you're always checking the labels for the sustainability information such as the MSC label. If you want a good place to start, take a look at the links below to the good fish guide, and the MSC website.
However, it must be noted that we can't pass the blame solely on to consumer habits- the industry at higher levels has a lot of work to do and global leaders need to implement change, fast.
For more information on fisheries and surrounding topics...