This February I am supporting a new campaign; ‘Fish Free February’, founded by marine biologist Simon Hilbourne in collaboration with Ocean Festival UK founder Jasmine Tribe. The campaign, which challenges the public to remove seafood from their diet for the entire month, has been organised by international marine conservationists to reduce our collective impact on the oceans and the life that they hold, in a simple and effective way. Throughout the month of February people will be encouraged to discuss the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices, putting the wellbeing of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decision-making.
My reasons for supporting this campaign are multi-faceted, and centred on the factors associated with large scale industrial fishing practices outlined below. The main threat to the oceans is not plastic pollution, ocean acidification, or warming sea temperatures it’s fishing, or more precisely overfishing at an unsustainable rate which is done on a huge industrial scale. As the Fish Free February campaign points out; not all fishing practices are bad – well-managed, small-scale fishing that uses selective fishing gears can be sustainable. However, when it comes to the majority of our seafood, this is simply not the case. We mostly rely on industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the wellbeing of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges.
So what are the problems associated with fishing practices?
Overfishing: We are taking more than our fair share of fish, so much so that populations are unable to repopulate fast enough. 90% of global fish stocks are fished to their maximum or overfished with an estimated 1-2.7 TRILLION fish caught annually for human consumption.
Plastic pollution: As a result of fishing gear being abandoned at sea due to breakages, losing items overboard and in some cases old or broken fishing gear being purposely dumped into the sea. Just because there is not fisherman attached, doesn’t mean those nets, hooks and lines aren’t still lethal, with numerous marine species becoming trapped and entangled in them. Furthermore large pieces of plastic pollution like fishing nets ultimately breakup into smaller pieces eventually becoming microplastics which are then accidentally ingested by marine life. For example a study by Li et al in 2018 found that coastal mussels sampled from around the UK ALL contained microplastics as did ALL the supermarket bought mussels for human consumption.
Destructive fishing practices: Fishing often doesn’t just kill the species intended for consumption, bycatch and non-specific fishing methods (such as dynamite, long lines, trawlers, gill nets and electric pulse nets) mean that other species end up dead as well. Dolphins, sharks, turtles, corals and many other fish species – they’re all caught up in this mess as well.
Mislabelling: That’s right, fish isn’t always what it says on the tin. A study by Oceana found that as much as one third of seafood samples in the US were not what they were labelled as in restaurants and stores. This can have huge implications on the environment and also human health, but ultimately it highlights that we need far more stringent regulation and monitoring in the fishing industry.
Farmed fish (aquaculture): 40% of the seafood we eat is farmed, on the surface the concept of farmed seafood may seem like a good alternative to taking wild stocks, however creating seafood farms particularly in the case of open sea cage’s, often results in detrimental effects to natural habitats associated with the construction, waste pollution, use of chemicals as well as the spread of disease. All of which can impact the surrounding waters and eventually wild populations.
Food waste: The Scottish farmed salmon industry is highly wasteful, with around 20% of fish never reaching harvest due to mortalities and escapes during production, according to its own figures. On top of this it is estimated by the WWF that around 4kg of wild caught fish is needed to create the feed which then produces only 1kg of farmed salmon!
Human rights: In regions of the world such as South-East Asia, forced labour and human trafficking is rife within the fishing industry. It is very possible that the imported fish in our supermarkets has made its way from the sea to the shelves as a result of modern-day slavery.
Illegal fishing: Companies in the fishing industry don’t always follow the rules. As you might imagine, it can be fairly challenging to monitor the high-seas and currently illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is widespread. This exacerbates the negative impact of all of the issues associated with industrial fishing.
By taking part in Fish Free February and sharing the facts about global fishing industries I am truly hoping that these challenges will be highlighted, thus creating a wider discussion around these issues and resulting in future sustainable informed choices. The campaign sends a clear message of protest against current standards of fishing and seafood farming. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to generate a shift in the fishing industry and encourage a radical reduction in seafood consumption, opting for sustainable practices when fish is purchased.
To find out more and to get involved in the campaign please check out the following website and social media pages:
- Overfishing is currently the largest threat to ocean life and habitats: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/problems/
- 90% of global fish stocks are fished to their maximum or overfished:
- 1-2.7 trillion fish are caught annually for human consumption: http://www.fishcount.org.uk/published/std/fishcountchapter19.pdf
- 100% of mussels found to contain plastic:
- One third of seafood samples in the US were not what they were labelled:
- Farmed seafood now supplies approximately 40% of the seafood humans eat:
- Food waste from Scottish farmed salmon: https://feedbackglobal.org/new-report-finds-310k-tonnes-of-wild-fish-a-year-will-be-needed-to-feed-scottish-salmon-industrys-ambitions-to-double-in-size-by-2030/
- In some countries vulnerable workers seem to be offered good salaries and a steady job but in reality are trapped and forced to work in horrendous conditions on board fishing vessels for months at a time. https://www.dw.com/en/modern-slavery-widespread-in-fishing-industry-say-ngos/av-49089741