has become the focus of large debates and environmental crusades in the modern world. According to scientists, at least 85% of the world’s fisheries are exploited at an unsustainable level, which has the potential to lead to huge long term problems¹. According to Greenpeace, a sustainable fishery is one “whose practices can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the targeted species’ ability to maintain its population at healthy levels, and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem – including humans – by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment”². It follows then that a sustainable fish is one which comes from a sustainable fishery – or one which is abundant and caught with environmentally friendly and non-destructive fishing practices.
How can we identify sustainable fish?
Thankfully, a number of different environmental and ocean conservation organisations have defined a criteria which allow fish to be certified as sustainable. When buying fish, you should always look for the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC’s) sustainable seafood certification to ensure you are not contributing to the destruction of the ocean³.
The MSC looks at a number of things relating to a fishery before certifying it as sustainable. For a fishery to get this status, it must meet the following criteria⁴,⁵:
- For conservation purposes, the level of fishing must stay below the point where catch rates exceed the replenishment of the fishery. Fishing must be able to continue indefinitely without any noticeable effect on the target species.
- Fishing methods must be such that they do not unnecessarily harm the surrounding environment and oceanic ecosystems. They must preserve the structure, productivity, function, and diversity of the ecosystem.
- The fishery must be fully legal, and must be able to adapt to changes in circumstances – for example, if the population numbers of a species seem to be decreasing, someone must have the power to reduce the fishing quota to a more sustainable level.
What can we do promote sustainable fisheries throughout the world?
There are a number of things we can do both personally and on a larger scale to promote sustainable fisheries and reduce the effects of destructive fishing techniques. As an individual, you can choose to eat fish which has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. If your local supermarket or fishmonger doesn’t stock fish from certified sources, then speak to them about it. There is a very good chance that they will be happy to source the products that you want³.
On a larger level, we need to reduce illegal fishing and the effects of environmentally destructive fishing techniques. Some researchers have estimated that up to 33% of the world’s annual fish catches – about 26 million tonnes – comes from illegal, unregulated, and unreported sources⁶. This is obviously unsustainable, since illegal fisherman usually have no concern for sustainability or for the effect they are having on sensitive marine ecosystems. By reducing illegal fishing, as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is doing, we can help promote sustainable fish.
Reducing destructive fishing practices is probably the area where the most and fastest progress can be made. Many fishing methods destroy reefs, catch undersized species, and have huge levels of bycatch. For example, trawlers drag a huge net across the ocean floor, collecting everything in their path from corals and sea stars to great white sharks and dolphins. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, some shrimp trawlers discard twenty times more bycatch then what they keep. This means for every kilogram of shrimp they catch, they throw away 20 kilograms of dead and dying sea-life – much of which is juvenile or threatened species. This is obviously unsustainable, and needs to be stopped now before it is too late⁷.
We need to come together to educate people and lobby for the preservation and conservation of our sensitive oceans. One of the easiest ways you can do this is by eating and promoting sustainable seafood and staying away from anything caught by illegal or destructive methods.