What’s the Catch?
The fish on our plate often comes from all over the world, but we really have no knowledge of exactly where the fish spawned, swam, and was processed. Has the fish on your plate been caught or farmed sustainably? Was it fed a healthy diet before it was harvested? Let’s explore the aquaculture industry and find out what you should look for when buying fish.
Whether it is sushi or sautéed snapper, roughly 6.2 billion people— 84% of the global population— incorporate fish into their weekly diet. In just 14 years, it is anticipated that there will be an additional one billion people on this planet— who will certainly continue to eat fish as well! But can the oceans provide enough sustainable fish for everyone?
Additionally, fishing in fresh and salt waters has remained consistent at roughly 92 million metric tonnes of catch per year since 2009. Out of the 81 million metric tonnes of just wild ocean fish (versus wild fresh water fish), China is responsible for catching the largest quantity weighting in at 18% of the world total, followed by Indonesia (7%) and the United States (6%).
If we keep up this pace, how can we feed an additional 1 billion people by 2030? If the fish consumption pattern holds, the world would need 32.2 million metric tonnes of more fish— without depleting our oceans.
Our oceans, rivers, and lakes are overfished….
For 40,000 years—beginning with our hunting and gathering ancestors— fishing has been both a sport and a primary food source for the human race. In fact, over-fishing the oceans first began in the era of Moby Dick when the schooners searched the global oceans for whale oil. And while it is nearly impossible to count the exact amount of fish in our oceans’, it is clear that they have been overfished.
Factors which contribute to overfishing in our oceans are aggressive fishing, lack of regulations, by-catch, and illegal fishing. Illegal fishing accounts for 15% of total captured fish. This pirating can take many forms such as fishing in protected areas, not reporting the full catch, or claiming a different country of origin. Boats registered to Africa, for example, are exempt from any regulatory approval.
Our waters at a glance…
The FAO reports that 30 percent of our oceans are overexploited.
The World Wildlife Fund agrees that “more than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management planes to restore them”.
SNAPP (Science for Nature and People Partnerships) says that over the last 40 years, marine life has been slashed in half and 90% of the swordfish and tuna have disappeared since the 1950s.
The technology behind large commercial fishing boats
According to the FAO, there are approximately 4.6 million fishing boats cruising the oceans to catch for dinner or sell commercially. Asia controls 75% of these boats while Africa controls 15%. But these boats are incredibly diverse. It is amazing to think that of the world’s fishing boats, only 64% operate with an engine! Obviously, the ones that have engines are far more efficient. The larger factory ships, for example have huge freezers and new fishing technology that helps to locate and catch previously undetected fish. As a result, they are capable of hauling a tremendous amount of fish and bycatch. The bycatch ultimately gets wasted.
Nowadays, fishing vessels must be equipped with electronic devices, or “blue boxes”, which form part of the satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS). The blue box regularly sends data about the location of the vessel to the fisheries monitoring centre (FMC). Vessels are also equipped with GPS transmitters which track the ship’s speed and position. Source: http://worldoceanreview.com/
By-catch and the ocean habitat…
Whether a vessel is trolling nets along the seabed floor to catch bottom feeders (like shellfish) or casting huge nets in the water, there is an unintended by-catch. Fish such as cod, haddock, shrimps, lobsters, and scallops get tangled in the nets dragged along the ocean floor. Those nets thrown in the water to catch the larger fish often results in other species, such as baby whales, dolphin, and sharks to get caught and killed in the process. For every pound of fish purposefully caught, there are 5-10 pounds of wild fish killed during the process. Furthermore, the bycatch is not eaten— it is either ground up for fish feed or simply thrown overboard. Finally, these bottom draggers break up coral and disturb the ocean’s habitat. This can be visible, for instance, when there is an overabundance of seaweed on your favorite beach.
So how can we rebuild our fish stocks?
The international community which includes the U.N., FAO, OECD, World Bank, and the EU are all working on separate programs to help rebuild wild fish stocks – hopefully to result in rebuilding at least a sustainable global catch worth $32 billion a year. Satellites are being utilized to track the fishing vessels and monitor the ships to port of origin. But it is difficult to control. For more information, the WWF gives more detail on protecting our oceans in the film ‘From Bait to Plate’ as well as their traceability principles.
Sustainably Farmed Fish
Today, aquaculture is the fastest growing protein industry, with a growth rate of roughly 5% annually.
China was farming fish as early as 3500 BCE and the ancient Egyptians and Romans grew fish for an easy varied diet. Today, aquaculture is the fastest growing protein industry, with a growth rate of roughly 5% annually. It has grown 33% from 2009 to 2014 and is projected to continue this trajectory. In 2015, global aquaculture was valued at $156.27 billion and is expected to reach $209.42 billion in 2021. A 34% increase in just six years! To put this in perspective – in 2014 the U.S. meat and poultry industry sales totaled $186 billion.
China produces 62% of the global aquaculture production. Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh are the top five producers after China. The United States aquaculture industry is still small, contributing only about 5%.
But let’s be frank— both saltwater and fresh water fish farms have a bad reputation. It is a fragmented industry with some excellent players and some not-so-excellent participants. The issue is the lack of accountability and global regulatory standards. According to SNAPP, 65% of aquaculture is responsible for polluting the oceans, feeding inappropriate food to the fish, adding unnecessary chemicals, and inappropriate worker welfare.
We must start using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.
Fish can be vegetarians!
Feeding fish with other fish is not sustainable. The total amount of fish caught and farmed is 167 mmt. Out of this 167 mmt, 146 mmt are needed to feed humans and roughly 21 mmt is used to feed farmed fish or in human supplements. But, this practice is actually pretty unnecessary.
There are two nonexclusive, more sustainable, solutions to this problem. A fish food company, EWOS, is currently partaking in both:
1. When fish are processed, depending on the type of fish, about 40-70% is wasted. This is particularly bad if they are being fileted on the fishing boat, as the discarded portion of fish is often tossed overboard. These trimmings can be fully utilized for fish feed.
Fish Farm of the Future Goes Vegetarian
How do you find sustainable fish?
Sustainably farmed fish is the future of aquaculture. We want full transparency into where the fish on our plate comes from. This means we want to know that the fish was fed a healthy diet, that it was raised in an environmentally responsible farm, and that the employees in the fish industry were not exploited in the process. Here are some organizations that are trying to reshape the industry:
Google supports two organizations that bring fresh, transparent seafood to the restaurant within 24 hours through Dock to Dish and Thimble Island Oyster Farm.
Grocery stores, like Target and Whole foods, are only buying fish that is sustainable and traceable.
Sustainability labels to look for when buying wild caught or farmed fish:
The Bottom Line:
Let’s face it, do we really know where the fish on your plate comes from and what it ate before it ended up there? While there are several sustainable solutions underway, the demand is only increasing. As a healthy consumer, you need to look for third party certifications and make sure you have a clear answer to your questions before making a purchase or eating fish at a restaurant. The industry is growing along with the need for increased transparency in the fish supply chain. This is certainly an industry to watch!
Charles, Dan. “The Future Of Clean, Green Fish Farming Could Be Indoor Factories.” NPR.org. National Public Radio, 07 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Clay, Jason. “Farmed Seafood.” WorldWildlife.org. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
“Exploiting a Living Resource: Fisheries.” World Ocean Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
“Fish to 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture.” World Bank Report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, n.d. Web.
Grimm, Dietmar, and Ben Harper. “Sustainable Open-Ocean Aquaculture.” SNAPP.org. Science for Nature and People Partnership, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
“Target Well On the Way to Selling 100% Sustainable Seafood.” The Fish Site. N.p., 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Kvric, Dejean. “11 Countries That Consume the Most Fish.” Insider Monkey. N.p., 29 May 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
“The Role of Fish in Global Food Security.” 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report. International Food Policy Research Institute, 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.