Industrial fishing is destroying our planet
The fishing industry is responsible for some of the most environmentally damaging practices affecting our seas and oceans today. Bottom-trawling (trawling for fish on the ocean floor) destroys the fragile ecosystem of the sea-bed, and while debates about quotas are reported in the news, illegal fishing remains widespread. The European Commission estimates that around ten per cent of seafood imports could be illegally sourced (28).
The very existence of many species is threatened by society’s appetite for fish flesh as over fishing has resulted in tuna, cod, swordfish and marlin populations declining by 90% during the last century(29). Blue fin tuna, for example, is one of the most valuable fish on the planet. There is an increasing demand for its capture with almost one third of its catch from the Mediterranean alone, arising from illegal and unregulated fishing(30). In September of 2009, the European Commission gave its backing for a suspension of international trade in endangered Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna – expressing grave concern regarding the status of the species, which is under threat of collapse from commercial over exploitation. Britain also indicated its support for an international ban on the sale of bluefin tuna which is threatened by over-fishing. Blue fin tuna are considered a highly valued delicacy in many parts of the world where a fully grown tuna can command up to £60,800 at market. The European Commission tabled a proposal for this species to be listed at a meeting of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which took part in March of this year, the proposal was defeated. According to the European Union Commission, blue fin tuna stocks alone have fallen by eighty five per cent since the 1950s.
In a report released in October 2006 by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), they stated that the overall state of fish stocks has not improved much from 2005 to 2006(31). ICES are an organisation that coordinates and promotes more research in the North Atlantic. The report advised that numerous stocks are too heavily fished and that some stocks are depleted, e.g. cod and sand eel in the North Sea.
The 2008 World Review of Fisheries and Aquaculture stated that 19% of major commercial marine fish stocks monitored by the FAO are overexploited, 8% are depleted and 1% ranked as recovering from depletion (31). The existence of many species is threatened by society’s appetite for fish flesh. A major study in 2006 predicted that all commercial fisheries could die out by 2050 (32). This four-year analysis was the first to examine all existing data on ocean species and ecosystems in order to understand the importance of biodiversity at the global scale. Results revealed that the global trend is a serious concern and projects the collapse (90% depletion) of all species of wild seafood that are currently being fished by the year 2050.
Ministers for the European Union reached an agreement for 2009 fishing quotas. In the UK, fishermen secured greater quotas of some types of fish with increased catch limits including; 30% more North Sea Cod, 32% more mackerel, 13% more North Sea Plaice and 8% more Monkfish for the West of Scotland, along with a reduction in the prawn quotas (2). The number of fish caught is likely to decline further for several decades to come, not because we are eating less fish but because they simply aren’t there to be caught.
Fish farming is responsible for pollution and endangering wildlife. Farmed fish have to eat, and the feeding of carnivorous fish intensifies the pressure on the oceanic fisheries. For example, it takes 5 tonnes of wild caught fish to feed each tonne of farmed salmon(33). Other concerns include the prospect of farmed salmon escaping into the wild and breeding, thus weakening the wild salmon’s capacity to survive. There is also the issue of the large quantities of waste which fish-farming creates. In Scotland alone, for example, it has been reported that over 3 years alone salmon farmers have breached pollution limits more than 400 times(34).
Researchers are constantly trying to develop genetic engineering techniques in the hope of producing fish with greater economical value. The addition of an extra set of chromosomes (triploidy) is often used to produce sterile all-female fish which will not interbreed with wild populations if they escape. This genetic modification affects both the health and welfare of the fish with higher levels of spinal deformities being found in triploid rainbow trout(10). Scientific advisors to the UK government say that the implications of genetic modification in fish farming are “too risky” in that fish should not be farmed in pens set in rivers or the sea. There is the possibility that fish might escape into the environment with unforeseeable consequences(35).
Destructive fishing practices have spread in some poor coastal communities, for example, the use of dynamite and poison. In the Philippines, explosives are used on coral reefs to capture fish. The shock waves can kill fish in a radius of 50m from the site of blast. The use of dredges also causes changes in the bottom structure and microhabitats. Dredging is used for harvesting oysters, clams and scallops from the seabed(36).
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