Industrial fishing is destroying our planet

The fishing industry is responsible for some of the most environmentally damaging practices affecting our 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 (EC) estimates that around 10% of seafood imports could be illegally sourced (28).

Blue fin tuna is one of the most valuable fish on the planet and a fully grown tuna can command up to £60,800 at market. There is an increasing demand for its capture and one third of its catch is from the Mediterranean, arising from illegal and unregulated fishing (29). In September 2009 the EC supported a suspension of international trade in endangered Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna which was under threat of collapse from commercial over exploitation. Britain also indicated its support for an international ban on the sale of bluefin tuna. According to the EC blue fin tuna stocks have fallen by 85% since the 1950s.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea coordinate and promote improved research in the North Atlantic. One report advised that many stocks are too heavily fished and some stocks are depleted e.g. cod and sand eel in the North Sea (29). 

The 2012 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture stated that the oceans are overstressed and in imminent danger of collapse with 57% of world fish production taken from fully exploited fish stocks (1). One major study examined all the data on ocean species and ecosystems to understand the importance of biodiversity at a global scale. The results revealed that the global trend was of serious concern and predicted the collapse (90% depletion) of all species of wild seafood that are currently being fished by the year 2050 (30).

Fish farming is responsible for pollution, endangering wildlife and feeding carnivorous fish intensifies the pressure on ocean fisheries. It takes 5 tonnes of wild caught fish to feed each tonne of farmed salmon (31). Other concerns include the prospect of farmed salmon escaping into the wild and breeding. This could weaken wild salmon’s capability to survive. Fish farming also creates large quantities of waste. Salmon farmers in Scotland have reportedly breached pollution limits more than 400 times in 3 years (32).

Researchers are developing genetic engineering techniques for 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 the health and welfare of fish with higher levels of spinal deformities common (10). Scientific advisors say that the implications of genetic modification in fish farming are “too risky” and 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 (33).

Destructive fishing practices using dynamite and poison are common in some poor coastal communities. In the Philippines explosives are used on coral reefs to capture fish. The shock waves kill fish in a radius of 50m from the blast site. Dredging is used for harvesting oysters, clams and scallops from the seabed which causes damage to the sea floor and microhabitats (34).  

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