OceansAsia is proud to be partnering with #FishFreeFebruary a UK Based Charity initiative to promote awareness of the issues facing our oceans, through looking at what we put on our plate. Asia has some of the highest seafood consumption per capita which is why we fully support this great campaign. Sign the pledge, share with your friends and start making a difference immediately.
Fishing began as small scale operations with rods or pole and line, and has developed and grown using ever more sophisticated technology. Now, dynamite, long lines, trawlers, gill nets, drift nets, super trawlers, electric pulse nets, and fish farms are catching alarming quantities and decimating wild stocks worldwide.
Fishermen are having to move further and further offshore, fish deeper and deeper waters, catching smaller and smaller fish, and change target species as each becomes increasingly hard to find.
An estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish are caught each year for human consumption, but this doesn’t include illegal fisheries, bycatch, discarded fish, fish caught to be used as feed or bait, or fish killed but not caught. Compare these numbers to the 3 billion mammals, and 57 billion birds killed for the same cause, and one thing is clear… there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea!
It’s simple, there are just too many people eating too much seafood. If we are catching fish at a faster rate than they can reproduce and repopulate, fish stocks will collapse.
Calculations from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate that 90% of global fish stocks are fished to their maximum or overfished. That leaves just 10% of fish stocks that are under-fished.
CHINESE NEW YEAR *
Chinese New Year is in February this year (February 12,14 & 15) as we welcome in the Year of the Metal Ox.
The characteristics of those born in the Year of the Ox are diligence, dependability, strength and determination. These are qualities that will certainly help all of us through Fish Free February!
The Chinese New Year period is often a time for large family and business gatherings where seafood plays a large role. High on the demand are the “Four Treasures of the Sea”, Shark Fin, Abalone, Sea Cucumber and Abalone. All of these species are critically over fished globally so even better reason to show your Ox characteristics and be strong and determined to save the oceans by signing the pledge and abstaining from seafood for February.
In excess of 200 million sharks are killed globally each year, largely driven by the demand for sharks fin soup, but also for meat dishes popular around the world.
Also on the menu are the larger reef fish such as grouper and Napoleon wrasse. Some of which are critically endangered.
Although you might want to eat a sea bass fillet or a tuna steak, there is a realistic chance that the fishermen who caught that fish, also caught many other fish they didn’t want. These non-targeted species are called bycatch.
Longline tuna fishing catches unimaginable numbers of sharks as well as dolphins and seabirds, while trawl nets destroy entire ecosystems taking anything that can’t escape and flattening the ocean floor to rubble.
Scientist don’t know how many individuals there are in the ocean for many of these bycatch species. If we can’t calculate the number of silky sharks for example, how are we supposed to know if their populations are increasing or decreasing. While scientists are trying to calculate this so called ‘stock assessment’ fisherman worldwide are returning to ports with hundreds of these dead animals.
Even protection under national and international laws cannot prevent non-targeted species being caught. Fishermen still net these species, they are just not allowed to bring them to port and they are therefore thrown, dead or alive, over the side.
Fishing gear can end up in the ocean via a variety of routes. Fishing lines break, nets get snagged on rocks and corals, fishermen lose them overboard or can’t find where they deployed nets and lines, and in some cases, broken and old fishing gear is purposely dumped into the sea!
Drifting around on ocean currents, these discarded and lost fishing gears are referred to as ‘ghost nets’. Marine animals are naturally attracted to floating debris, and as a result, ghost nets attract a wide array of pelagic (open ocean) species. Every year, ghost nets are responsible for entangling millions of sharks, rays, fish, dolphins, whales, seabirds, and turtles.
A recent study found that 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised of fishing nets. Straws and plastic bags are terrible for the oceans but compared to the amount of destruction discarded fishing gear causes, they aren’t nearly as big an issue.
Ghost nets are the ocean’s silent killers that live on even after the fishermen return to port.
IT’S NOT WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN!
WE ARE NORMALLY PRETTY GOOD AT TELLING BEEF STEAK FROM CHICKEN BREAST, BUT COULD YOU TELL YOUR HALIBUT FROM YOUR COD FILLET?
A big problem with commercial fisheries is the mis-labelling of species. Remember the whole horse meat scandal? Different countries use different names for species and often they are vague. In Australia for example, flake (which should only apply to two species of gummy shark) is used to sell any shark meat which could have been caught locally or imported. One third of seafood samples in the US were not what they were labelled according to a study by Oceana.
Mis-labelling of seafood in restaurants and stores makes it difficult for consumers to choose eco-friendly options, opens a market for illegally caught fish, and can even have impacts on your health.
IF YOU CAN’T BE 100% SURE OF WHAT YOU’RE EATING, SHOULD YOU REALLY BE EATING IT?
AN UNJUST INDUSTRY
A Greenpeace investigation revealed that some 29% of the fishing quota in the UK is owned by FIVE families (they are all on the Sunday Times Rich List). On top of that, another 24% of the UK fishing quota is held by a Dutch multinational company with a huge fishing fleet.
The smallest of fishing boats (less than 10m long) generally practice what are seen as more sustainable fishing methods than larger industrial ships. However, in the UK, this fleet of small scale fisheries makes up 79% of the boats, but is only entitled to 2% of the catch!
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO PROMOTE SMALL SCALE FISHERIES WHEN THE INDUSTRY IS DOMINATED BY A SELECT FEW POWERHOUSES?
Then there is the issue of human rights. Out on the high seas, the oceans are lawless, patrol-less places. In some countries vulnerable workers seem to be offered good salaries and a steady job but in reality are trapped and forced to work in horrendous conditions on board fishing vessels for months at a time.
Farmed seafood now supplies approximately 40% of the seafood humans eat. By farming fish, fishermen are reducing the bycatch of non-target species, and reducing the pressure on natural populations of fish which might otherwise be threatened with overfishing. However, fish farms can also come with a whole range of ecological problems of their own.
Shrimp farming is one of the most destructive forms of fishing around. The area used to make shrimp farms is normally natural mangrove forest which are already under enormous pressure. Mangrove forests are important ecosystems for capturing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere so much so, that clearing mangrove forests for shrimp farming has 10 times the carbon footprint of raising beef on cleared rain forest!
The, largely nitrogen-based, faeces and unused food from fish farms, coupled with the nutrients, chemical and pesticides used to promote fish growth, can cause oxygen depletion in the surrounding waters. Areas of the ocean with low to zero oxygen levels are virtually inhospitable for fish and are called ‘dead zones’.
Just like commercial chicken farms are a notorious source of disease, fish farms are very susceptible to diseases and sea lice which can then spread to wild populations. Such is the case with wild Chinook salmon in Canada; returning wild salmon numbers are dwindling after scores of juveniles are infected by sea lice from nearby salmon farms.
For Restaurants Wishing To Get Involved
WHY PLANT BASED? *
On average we are taking 109 million tons of fish from the ocean each year. 1 in 5 of all fish in your local supermarket was caught illegally. A staggering 36.6% of all fish landed globally is used to make fishmeal for agriculture and aquaculture animal feed or fertizers.
A plant based diet reduces pressure on our oceans as well as reduces carbon emissions from animal agriculture. If you want to help the oceans take a look at your dinner plate!