The Fishing Industry
Nearly 44 million people are engaged in the primary production of fish worldwide. Most marine fishers work in small-scale fisheries, mainly in developing countries. These countries have contributed more than half of total capture fish production since 1990 and more than two-thirds in 2005.
Marine capture fisheries have exceptional value as a source of food, livelihoods and income for millions of people across the globe. Fish provide more than 2.9 billion people with at least 15% of their average per capita animal protein intake. The most recent data show that marine fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 100 million tonnes of fish in 2008. Approximately 170 million people are involved in the fishing industry and 520 million are potentially dependent on the sector. Annual global fish trade is worth $92 billion, while the entire seafood industry is valued at $200 billion.
Issues with some of the commonly used large-scale fishing methods are:
Long lines – These are aimed at fish that swim in open water such as tuna and swordfish, but also catch a huge number of endangered sharks as well as sea turtles, marine mammals and birds.
Gill nets – This type of fishing is a major cause of the decline in many whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Purse seines – If used properly, this can be very specific with few other species being caught. But when used at the same time as Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), many different fish and animals are swimming in the same area and these all get caught up in the purse seine. They then get thrown back to sea dead.
Trawls – Large trawls often catch dolphins, turtles and other creatures by accident.
Bottom trawls – These methods are extremely destructive and many other plants, animals and habitats are damaged in the process.
Dredges – This fishing method is destructive because it ploughs up the whole seabed and catches other species by accident.
Pole and line – this is the most sustainable fishing method for tuna as it does not have the bycatch concerns of other tuna fishing methods.
Handlining (or hook and line) – a highly selective and sustainable method, used, for example, in the UK for mackerel and seabass.
Fish Farming (Aquaculture)
Several species of fish and shellfish are farmed at an industrial scale. Shellfish farming, such as mussels and oysters, tends to have a much lower impact on the environment and can be considered sustainable. Farming of many other species however, including salmon and prawns, often have a negative impact on the environment and are rarely sustainable.
Some of the problems include:
- A dependency on wild populations through the collection of juveniles from the wild to stock the farm;
- Diseases from the farmed fish transferring wild fish – this happens when the farms are pens located at sea, such as salmon farms;
- Destruction of habitats - 38% of the world’s mangroves have been cut down for shrimp culture, with other aquaculture accounting for a further 14%.
- Many aquaculture species depend on fish food that comes from wild caught fish - 3.8 million tonnes of fishmeal and fishoil are used in aquaculture feeds each year;
- Waste (organic and chemical) is discharged from fishfarms directly into the surrounding area.
There are a variety of sustainability standards and certification systems emerging. If choosing farmed seafood, buy with organic or Global Aquaculture Alliance certification.