In partial thanks to the Netflix docuseries Seaspiracy, and with many thanks to the countless scientists and conservationists who have been fighting the good fight for years, many of us have been made aware of the detrimental impacts the fishing industry has had on our climate, ocean conservation, and individual health.
So let’s get into it…
- Fishing has wiped out 90% of the world’s large fish.
- Fishing kills 30,000 sharks every hour.
- 70% of macro plastic at sea comes from fishing gear.
- Widespread forced labor in the seafood trade is reported in 47 countries.
- $35 billion in subsidies is given to the fishing industry every year.
These may seem like outlandish and impossible statistics, but the unfortunate truth is that today’s fishing industry is detrimental to our ecosystem and the safety of our future. Let’s delve into all of this a little deeper.
The Fishing Industry and the Climate Crisis
The fishing industry permanently removes fish and other animal species from the ocean to be served up as entrees for consumption. Which is something we’ve long been okay with, but the amount of fishing (or rather, overfishing) that takes place today is bringing certain species of animals to the brink of extinction and disrupting the ocean’s ecosystem in a way that makes it unsustainable for our environment.
In today’s world, close to 5 million fish are caught every minute. When these many fish are removed from the ocean, it threatens the safety of coral reefs and the survivability of larger fish.
Additionally, the overfishing we see today inhibits the ability of the ocean and its wildlife to retain carbon from the atmosphere. This is where the ocean’s impact on our climate change comes into play. When we remove the animals that are allowing the ocean’s ecosystems to flourish, we are also removing the ocean’s ability to absorb the earth’s heat and store emissions. The ocean is said to be the largest carbon sink on earth. Therefore, if we cripple the animal population that is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping our planet cool, we will heat up at a faster rate.
Quick fact: Losing just 1% of the ocean’s carbon stores is the equivalent of releasing the emissions of 97 million cars.
The Fishing Industry and Human Trafficking
The environment isn’t the only thing affected by overfishing. The vastness of the high seas makes fisheries enforcement difficult. For this reason, it is relatively easy for certain fishing organizations to lure (and in some cases kidnap) individuals and have them work on their boats for months at a time. Reports have shown that forced labor and human trafficking in the fishing industry is a critical issue.
Migrant workers are especially susceptible to the deception and coercion of these fishing agencies. Workers may be told they will work for a few weeks to a few months at a time, earn their money, and then be free to go home. The unfortunate reality is that some of these workers are kept on board until they can pay off debts that the captains have created for them. They are also forced into terrible living conditions where they may be subjected to physical and sexual abuse. In the worst cases, some crew members are killed or thrown overboard.
Quick fact: 24,000 fisheries workers die on the job per year.
Why Farmed Fishing Isn’t the Best Alternative
Just in case you needed a little more convincing to think twice about your seafood…
- Farmed fish can get anemia, lice infestations, infectious diseases, chlamydia, and heart disease.
- Farmed salmon have color added through feed (astaxanthin) to make their flesh orange/pink.
- 38% of the mangrove deforestation worldwide is caused by shrimp farming.
- Fish contain heavy metals, mercury, dioxins, plastic compounds, hexachlorobenzenes, and PCBs.
- The contaminants in fish often outweigh the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fish don’t make omega-3 fatty acids; algae do.
What Can We Do to Help Protect Our Oceans?
The most obvious step we can take to help protect our oceans is to decrease the amount of fish and ocean life we consume. This would help decrease demand. Additionally, we can also try to advocate for fewer subsidies to be provided to the fishing industry (again, $35 billion per year is given to the fishing industry).
We won’t be able to single-handedly solve our climate crisis or the issue of overfishing, but every little step or action taken to support our environment can eventually go a long way.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic check out these resources:
Emperors of the Deep by William McKeever. This book discusses the importance of sharks and oceans on our ecosystem, as well as slavery in the fishing industry.
The Importance of Sharks on our ecosystem.
Protecting whales and our oceans can help limit greenhouse gasses and global warming.
The bycatch dilemma.