Due to issues such as overfishing, global fish stocks are in trouble today. It has been estimated that approximately 70% of fisheries worldwide have been overexploited or have already already collapsed . This is a huge problem because not only do many human populations around the world depend on fish from the ocean as a critical source of protein, but ocean ecosystems play many important roles in global ecological health, such as the production of oxygen by ocean phytoplankton and serving as a food source for many species in the global food web.
So, what can be done to remedy this challenging situation and help our global fish stocks rebound? Fortunately, there are many things that can be done, and realizing that our oceans are in trouble today, many stakeholders in the fishing industry are already starting to change course and approach things more sustainably. And, there are also a number of sustainable practices that you can use when you fish at your favorite local fishing hole.
Sustainable practices for the fishing industry
Hook-and-Lining (pole catching): This fishing technique involves using a fishing pole that has one line and several hooks. This allows fishermen to quickly release bycatch.
Harpooning: Fishermen use hand-thrown harpoons or barbs that are fired from a gun to catch larger fish like swordfish, with very little bycatch.
Traps: This fishing technique involves guiding fish into boxes, or reef nets placed near the water’s surface that allow the fish to be tipped into a holding tank. Wire mesh traps that lie on the bottom can also be used sustainably if they are not dragged along the ocean floor.
Trolling: This method uses anchored lines from a moving boat to hook fish individually, allowing for minimal bycatch and quick release .
Purse seining: This fishing technique uses fish aggregating devices (FADs) that attract targeted species of fish and then catch them in nets. When properly used, the FADs reduce the bycatch of non-targeted species to as low as 1%.
Longlining: This technique uses a very long central fishing line that has many smaller lines of baited hooks attached to it. If these longlines are placed deep in the water, and if special circle hooks are used, they greatly reduce the incidents of bycatch .
Sustainable aquaculture operations: that minimize pollution, disease, and damage to native ecosystems, and also avoid using wild-caught fish as feed for aquaculture stocks .
The use of exclusionary devices to avoid catching non-target species such as sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks.
The prohibition of shark finning and other unsustainable fishing practices by both national and international authorities.
Targeting only plentiful species and those species smaller and lower on the food chain to allow for quick reproduction and replacement.
Mitigating bycatch and reducing the practice of dredging and other damaging fishing practices.
Managing wild fisheries and monitoring populations accurately.
National and international enforcement of fishing regulations that help to maintain healthy fish populations.
Sustainable practices to use when you go fishing
- Use Lead-free tackle
Lead is still used in many fishing jigs and sinkers, which can cause health problems for fish and wildlife if such devices are swallowed. Lead can also kill birds like loons and eagles which might eat the fish that swallow a lead sinker. Lead-free sinkers are available on the market as a much safer alternative.
- Practice catch and release
If you can, practice catch and release fishing to reduce the impacts on fish populations. Catching an invasive fish species is helpful, however, as such species are becoming a real issue to native fish species, as the invasive fish can outcompete the native ones.
- Use all of what you catch
If you do choose to eat what you catch, you can compost those inedible parts like the bones by adding sawdust, peat, wood chips, dried leaves, or bark and using the rich composted organic material to feed your lawn or your garden.