Industrial fishing focuses on maximizing the number of fish caught or raised rather than preserving the ocean habitat for the future. The way we fish right now is simply not sustainable.
Here are some of the main issues:
The growing demand for seafood and better technology for finding and catching fish means that fish are being caught faster than they can reproduce.
- More than 75% of the world’s fisheries today are either fully fished or overfished.
- Over 90% of large, predatory fish populations are already gone.
- Many fisheries have already collapsed, throwing thousands of people out of work.
For every ton of seafood caught, approximately 500,000 pounds of dead fish are thrown back in the ocean.
These fish are known as “bycatch” – fish species that were caught unintentionally.
- It’s estimated that 44 billion pounds of dead fish are tossed overboard annually.
- Shrimp trawls are particularly problematic, tossing back 10 pounds of dead fish for every pound of shrimp.
Many types of commonly used fishing gear can cause long-term damage to sensitive marine ecosystems. For example:
- Bottom trawlers drag nets with attached “rockhopper” gear (such as old tires), along the seafloor to catch fish living between rocks and reefs.
- Dredging pulls nets with a chain mesh base through soft sand or mud to catch scallops and sea urchins.
- These methods severely destroy the ocean floor and damage the places where fish feed and breed.
Alternatively, here are habitat-friendly fishing practices that don’t damage the seafloors:
- Hook-and-line fishing uses a single line and hook to manually catch fish.
- Longlining uses a central fishing line strung with many smaller lines holding baited hooks.
- Trap fishing uses cages to attract live fish until the fisherman returns to haul up the gear.
Seafood is now increasingly being raised in captivity, a practice known as aquaculture. Over half of all fish consumed in the United States is farm-raised, including shrimp, salmon, tilapia and catfish -- most raised outside the United States.
- Many farmed fish are carnivores and depend on being fed wild fish, putting further pressure on wild fish populations.
- Aquaculture can contribute to ocean pollution if the fish are densely packed.
- Fish grown in captivity can transfer diseases, such as sea lice, to wild fish populations.
- Often, fish farms give routine antibiotics to their stock, contributing to antibiotic resistance.
- It can also destroy sensitive ecosystems when non-native fish escape their pens into the open ocean and breed or compete with wild fish.
Not all fish farming is destructive, though. Farm-raised oysters, clams and mussels are examples of ocean-friendly farmed seafood choices. There are a growing number of environmentally responsible fisheries that are a source of sustainably farmed seafood.
Everyone should avoid excess mercury, but contamination of seafood is an especially serious public health threat to children and pregnant women.
- About 70% of mercury pollution comes from human sources, making it into our waterways where it then makes its way into fishes’ bodies.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that women who are pregnant, nursing or planning to become pregnant should not consume any swordfish, shark, tilefish, or king mackerel because they contain the highest levels of mercury and are considered unsafe.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans. Their recommendations indicate which seafood items are "Best Choices," "Good Alternatives," and which ones purchasers should "Avoid."
Seafood Watch recommendations are science-based, peer reviewed, and use ecosystem-based criteria. Their scientists research government reports, journal articles and white papers. They also contact fishery and fish farm experts. After a thorough review, they apply their sustainability criteria to develop an in-depth Seafood Watch Report. All reports are reviewed by a panel of experts from academia, government and the seafood industry. From these reports, they create their seafood recommendations.