Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Fishing?

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Globally, seafood represents 15% of animal protein consumed by humans, and the fishing industry employs around 35 million people world wide. Fish are big business, but not for long. That business is set to vanish in the next few decades, unless we make some major changes. Massive cuts to global fishing quotas and to our consumption of fish are necessary if we are to avoid totally eradicating all remaining edible fish in the space of a generation. The loss of our fish would be catastrophic – millions of people unemployed, millions of people without adequate nutrition, a collapse of the ocean ecosystem and the loss of many crucial ecosystem services. It may even make global warming worse, too!

But for us consumers, what can we do? Is there any way to sustainably include fish in our diets?


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2 comments on “Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Fishing?

  1. Thank you for your very informative post Claire. Your recommendations in the final paragraph would surely ensure that our oceans thrive in the future. I’d add controls on the type of fishing allowed, which you do explain in your post; the damage from bottom trawling and scallop dredging is very worrying.

    The EU did finally move in the right direction with the Common Fisheries Policy last year, but only after strong campaigning by Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall and his Fish Fight Campaign, aided by some British MEPs who worked tirelesly on the issue only to get rewarded with losing their seat at this year’s EU Parliamentary Elections. MEPs were bombarded with emails demanding reform in the run up to the vote, and change occurred.

    It is easy to expect everyone else to save the planet for us, but really each one of us has our own responsibility. To take responsibility we need to be aware of the consequences of our purchasing decicions. Posts like this help us all make the right choices. I have cut down on fish / seafood and have purchased MSC only products for some time now. The real reservation I have with MSC is that it can feel safe to eat fish as long as the label is present, when in fact it is not a 100% guarantee. That said if enough of us express our concern whenever fisheries not complying with the the MSC rules are highlighted, then the scheme will continue to gain credibility.

    [Comment migrated from Google+ comments: https://plus.google.com/103388070429526962689/posts/TbrtSNjtw9W%5D

  2. As the study “The Tragedy of the Commons” suggests, there can never be really sustainable fishing on the “high” seas as these are “commons” in the sense that everyone can profit but no one pays a price (except for equipment. And as with tax laws, it is in human nature to try and find always the next loophole in any regulation. That very same inventiveness could surely be turned to good use in fisheries (as anywhere else, q.v. the enormous progress made in computing), if the fishery grounds were not kind of “common property”. Maybe just something like an “International Guild of Fishermen and Seafarers” to whom the rights to the oceans were turned over for a lease to the international community might already do the trick. (Of course, like on roads, the public would still be given free access to travel etc.).

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