Image via Photographer Jiri Rezac, Greenpeace.
When it comes to fishing, there are two important factors to consider: environmental and ethical practices. However, this article will look at one kind of fishing: industrial fishing.
Firstly, let’s look at the ethical side. Tragically, the fishing industry is one of the least regulated economic undertakings when it comes to animal welfare, and fish are allowed to be slaughtered in various inhumane ways. They can be killed by being bled out or by asphyxiation. Not only that but they can be trapped in a giant net for hours. People may not think this is a big problem, but that is only because we often neglect fish welfare. There are scientific studies that point to fish feeling pain. It is not just pain, however, but general stress. Mackerel, for example, turn from green to blue when captured due to the stress from the experience. Around 1 trillion fish are caught by the fishing industry each year, and we need to look more into how they are treated.
Secondly, let’s address the environmental side. There are many environmental damages associated with the fishing industry. However, we’ll look at bycatch and overfishing. Overfishing is pretty self-explanatory. It entails fishing a given population of aquatic animals so much that it cannot repopulate, thus damaging the ecosystem in various ways, such as depletion of key species, overpopulation of others (because they now lack predators), and an overall collapse of the ecosystem. However, what causes overfishing? Unfortunately, to maximise profit, certain fisherpeople still turn to illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing methods which undermine efforts made to render the practice more sustainable. We now have giant vessels capable of bringing in much larger amounts of fish than in the past. On top of this, there is a lack of data on marine animal populations. As a result of all these factors, overfishing continues to be a widespread and serious issue. Alongside overfishing is bycatch. Bycatch refers to all the non-targeted aquatic species captured as a result of today’s fishing methods. What makes it such a problem is that fishing gear is very unselective, so bycatch happens at alarming rates. Around 40% of all catch is discarded. Bycatch can also be viewed as an ethical issue, as the residual marine animals trapped therein can die by drowning or starving to death before they are ultimately discarded.
However, there are solutions to these problems, and they come in the form of regulations. On the ethical side, fish need to be in the nets for a shorter amount of time, and the nets need to be smaller. The fish should also be stunned before being killed. As for the environmental side, we need to stop granting large enterprises harmful subsidies, create marine protected areas where fishing is forbidden in vital marine habitats, and use science-based management. In addition, the modification of fishing gear can help end bycatch.
In the meantime, there are two big things we can do on an individual basis. If you want to protect the environment, you can either reduce fish consumption or buy it sustainably. Websites such as Seafood Watch have guides on what fish are more sustainable to eat. However, from an ethical perspective, the best thing we can do is to eat fewer fish or avoid eating them completely.