Seafood is a vital and healthy source of protein for millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, many of the global seafood stocks are being threatened today due to destructive fishing practices.
Most of our global fisheries are now at risk due to overfishing. The rate of global oceanic fishing today is 2-3 times more than ocean replacement rates. Currently, more than half of global fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% have been overexploited or depleted .
- Poisons and explosives
The traditional use of poisons to kill or stun fish is relatively common. However, unlike traditional plant-based extracts, cyanide and other chemicals are commonly used today for this purpose. Such poisons can kill all of the organisms living in marine ecosystems .
The use of explosives in fishing has also been used for centuries, but it is now being employed at an increased rate. Explosives can create large craters on the seafloor and kill target fish as well as many non-targeted organisms as well .
Muroami is a fishing technique that is used in the coral reef ecosystems of Southeast Asia. where large heavy devices (such as large stones on ropes or blocks of cement suspended by cranes) are pounded onto coral reefs, and is intended to scare fish out of a coral reef after shattering it into pieces. This fishing technique creates broad-reaching destruction to coral reef ecosystems .
- Bottom trawling
Bottom trawling uses large nets that are dragged along the sea floor. This destructive fishing technique can harm many living things in its path, including fish, sea stars, urchins, clams, coastal seagrass beds, and coral reefs.
Many organisms are caught by accident and then thrown back into the ocean, but often these organisms are injured or already dead by that point. This bycatch can sometimes reach 80-90% of the total volume of what is caught.
Trawling nets can crush and flatten fish habitat, churn up sediment in the water column, and cause permanent damage to marine ecosystems .
- Large-scale pelagic driftnets
These nets can accidentally catch large marine animals such as mammals, sharks and turtles .
- Ghost fishing
Sometimes, fishing nets and other equipment are abandoned in the ocean intentionally or unintentionally. These abandoned nets continually catch marine life like fish, shellfish, and even large marine mammals that suffocate when they cannot go the water’s surface for air .
With increased oceanic fishing activity globally and the use of synthetic fish nets that last for a long time, there is an increased rate of ghost fishing occurrences throughout the world’s oceans today.
Due to the use of unsustainable fishing methods such as bottom trawling and pelagic driftnets, many different species of marine organisms are caught by accident. These bycatch species are generally not eaten because there may be no market for them, or they may be banned species such as birds, turtles and marine mammals. Some species of fish may also be discarded because the fishing boat is not authorized to collect them .
It has been estimated that millions of tons of bycatch are thrown back into the ocean after being injured or killed. According to the World Wildlife Fund, bycatch makes up approximately 40% of total catches globally .
A few solutions
The following are some of the primary ways that we can reduce destructive fishing methods worldwide:
- Exploitive and destructive fishing methods should be banned and bans should be enforced.
- The livelihoods of the poor who rely on destructive fishing methods should be improved and affordable sustainable fishing methods should be provided .
- Fragile marine areas should be protected in order to allow fish stocks to recover and protect marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. Closed seasons should be implemented in order to protect sensitive species and juveniles .
- Local community stewardship over marine resources should be encouraged. Implementing local community rights of use to control marine resources will help to facilitate the use of sustainable fishing practices and the punishing of those who do not use them within local community structures .
- The certification of sustainable fisheries, such as through the Marine Stewardship Council, should be encouraged. Consumers must be educated about the negative environmental impacts of destructive fishing to enable informed choices.
What you can do
You can help to reduce the pressures on wild fish stocks and to encourage good fishing practices around the world by purchasing only seafood that has been certified as sustainably sourced, such as those seafood products that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or through the World Wildlife Fund .
Donating to organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund will support their work that focuses on sustainable fisheries and conserving the marine environment .