New findings by the UN show that food wastage from fishing is at an all-time high due to increasing demand. Learn more about the causes and effects of overfishing here.
A recent report from the UN FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisations) has stated that one-third of all fish caught never gets eaten in a damning study into the fishery industry. This loss is due to fish being thrown overboard once caught if they are small/ not viable for sale as well rot before eating due to a lack of knowledge and equipment such as refrigerators. This comes not long after fish production reached all high in 2018 of 179 million tonnes globally as concerns about overfishing rise.
Overfishing is a process by which the quantity of fish caught is high enough that the population cannot replace through natural reproduction. It is a problem rife around the world as more than 30% of all fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits with the Mediterranean being the most severely impacted.
The Effects of Overfishing
The process of overfishing has been occurring for many years and started by focusing on the top level predatory fish, as a result species such as the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna have declined to a point where they are now threatened. But this type of focused fishery known as ‘fishing down’ has a knock on effect for the entire aquatic ecosystem as a decrease in the number of top level predators has led to an increase in smaller fish species like sardines and anchovies. These smaller species feed more on nanoplankton causing a reduction in their population as well as damaging coral reefs due to overpopulation.
There is also evidence from a study in Northern Cyprus that the depletion of wild fish stock has led to dolphins seeking out fishing boats as a source of food. Fish nets are six-times more likely to get broken when dolphins are in the area and this is dangerous for the animals also who may become entangled in nets.
The average person eats more than 20 kilograms of fish a year at present, double that of the 1960s and as a result fisheries are a lucrative business. However if fish stocks are pushed to a point of depletion many nations in particularly poorly developed areas such as Africa will have dramatically hindered economy as well as high unemployment.
Millions of people rely on fish for their source of protein and without this malnourishment may occur. Lasse Gustavsson, director of Oceana in Europe is quoted as saying “food waste on a hungry planet is outrageous” and he is right. This problem is also exacerbated by climate change which is pushing species out of warm tropical waters around which most reliant human populations are found, and into cooler northern waters.
What’s the Solution?
The ocean covers 70% of the planet, with that much area it is almost impossible to regulate all fishing habits and the lack of rules in international waters or legislation means very little species or regions are protected from overfishing. It has been the traditional fisherman management strategy to catch as much as possible as quickly as possible without regard for the long-term health of the system and this simply needs to stop.
There have already been a few success stories of the FAO in implementing sustainable fishing infrastructure. For example waste from fisheries in Lake Tanganyika region of Africa were reduced by 50% by the introduction of fish drying racks. Furthermore in the Gulf of Mexico a fishery reform was introduced in 2007 and as a result the population of Red Snappers increased to more than three times its rate before.
The U.S. has implemented a rights-based fishing strategy called ‘catch shares’ in some fisheries. This is where a share of the catch is allocated to individual fishermen or groups and each holder must stop fishing when he reaches his limit. In most cases fishermen can buy or sell shares to allow them to plan their fishing around the weather and other factors. Not only does this improve fishermen safety, it ensures limits are not exceeded and extends the fishery season.
Consumer awareness is also key. Such as buying from sustainable fish farms like the US and Canada where tight regulations are in place as well as favouring local and seasonal stock. We can benefit ourselves and the ocean by eating smaller fish species as they have reduced bioaccumulation of pollutants and help offset the lack of balance in the ecosystem at present.
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Author: Holly McElroy