The oceans are a vast source of seafood for much of the world’s population. Due to overfishing and environmental issues, many of the fish species are becoming depleted. Consumers can help by purchasing sustainable seafood and avoiding the endangered species.
What is Sustainable Seafood?
Sustainable seafood practices help keep the oceans healthy by using fishing methods that are less damaging to the environment. Some of these practices include long lining, traps, and aquaculture.
The amount of fish caught in the world’s oceans grew steadily until the 1990s, when the catches for many species leveled off. The oceans can no longer support a growing demand. Endangered fish are at risk of being depleted. Sustainable fishing ensures that the marine life is protected so that it will continue to be a source of food for humans and other creatures in the marine food web
Fishing Practices and Environmental Issues
There are three main reasons why the oceans are being depleted:
- Habitat Damage
Overfishing is hauling in more fish than the species can reproduce. Fisheries send out more and more boats to keep up with demand for popular seafood. They can haul in tons of fish during each expedition. This practice has reached a point where there are no longer enough fish to sustain the fisheries, and certain species are now endangered. Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, and shark have all been overfished.
Habitat damage occurs in deep water when fishing trawlers drag nets across the bottom of the ocean floor. This practice brings up plenty of marine animals, but it also destroys their habitat. Many creatures need the sandy bottom and the formations for reproducing, for food, and for shelter. When the ocean floor is damaged, they die because they have nowhere to live and breed.
Coastal habitats are harmed through overpopulation of these areas, which results in more pollution. Wetlands are filled in or paved over, resulting in a loss of habitat for the species living and breeding there.
Bycatch, or discards, are the terms commonly used for the fish caught that are not wanted. Bycatch happens when ocean trawlers pull up many species of fish. They sort through the catch to keep only the particular fish they want and throw the rest back. The ones thrown back into the ocean are often dead or injured. This is detrimental to ocean food webs and a waste of natural resources.
According to The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture, published by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, page 76, a crude estimate is that 23% of the fish landed are thrown back as bycatch. This happens for many reasons. The fishing boat may not have proper permits for the fish caught or they may not be the ones wanted. Unwanted marine life is pulled up while trawling. Sea turtles, dolphins, seals, and whales drown in sea nets.
Innovative solutions are being developed to help solve the bycatch problem. Placing trapdoors in nets, called Turtle Escape Doors, helps sea turtles get out of the nets. Pingers placed on nets emit a beeping noise that keeps porpoises, dolphins, and other sea mammals away. Fisheries are looking for more ways to reduce ocean waste.
Fish Aquaculture is One Solution
Aquaculture is a solution to the problem. It raises seafood in farms, keeping them in pens or secured areas. Much of the fish sold in the market, such as shrimp, shellfish, and salmon are now farm raised.
Shellfish feed off plankton and are farmed with little impact on the environment. Bigger fish, such as salmon are often so compacted in a small area that disease and pollution become a problem. Shrimp farms have resulted in some coastal habitat damage. Clearly, although aquaculture is a solution, it also has problems.
Protecting Endangered Fish
The best way to protect fish that are at risk is to use a sustainable seafood guide when purchasing fish in the store or enjoying restaurant seafood. The guides list fish that are endangered and offer better alternative choices. Fisheries respond to consumer pressure by changing their fishing practices, resulting in a healthier ocean.
Purchasing sustainable seafood helps protect our environment by encouraging fisheries to not overfish, reduce bycatch, and by helping to protect coastal habitats. Sustainable fish guides are available at stores, restaurants, fisheries, and consumer agencies, as well as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program. By being careful consumers of seafood, people can help to preserve the vast natural resources of the world’s oceans.