By James O’Donovan
The fishing industry is the leading cause of species and ecosystem destruction in the world’s oceans, killing trillions of marine animals directly and as by catch. Over the last year a substantial number of research papers have come out shining a light on this clandestine industry which is completely unregulated in the open ocean, and when operating within the National Exclusive Economic Zones it is recklessly (legally) destructive.
- Populations of marine birds have fallen by 70% as their food sources are eliminated by the impacts of global industrial fishing fleets.
- In the first detailed analysis of the contents of the pacific ocean garbage patch 46% of the ocean’s plastics came from abandoned fishing nets.
- In a recent article, researcher Joeseph Poore highlighted “the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such (farmed) fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas.
- According to a recent study in the journal Science Advances, the average distance industrial fishing fleets travel from their home ports to fishing grounds is twice what it was in the 1950s, expanding the total area of the world’s oceans that are fished from 60 to 90 percent. Despite ranging farther afield and fishing in new waters, however, the fleets of the top 20 fishing countries — collectively responsible for 80 percent of the global industrial fishing catch — are hauling in far smaller amounts of fish. Today, about 7 metric tons of fish are caught per 1,000 kilometers traveled by those 20 countries’ fleets, less than a third of the more than 25 metric tons they caught per 1,000 kilometers traveled in the 1950s. The report notes that, “While most countries continue to focus their fishing efforts on local waters, Taiwan, South Korea, Spain, and China have aggressively subsidized vessel and fuel costs to encourage their fleets to operate thousands of kilometres from their home ports.”
- In another recent study researchers found “that vessels registered to wealthy countries are responsible for 78 percent of trackable industrial fishing in the waters of less-wealthy countries and a whopping 97 percent on the high seas, international waters that are outside of any one country’s jurisdiction”. The rich industrial fishing fleets are in effect stealing the fish from the waters of poorer countries often legally through bilateral agreements that are unmonitored and unregulated. This analysis is especially timely given that the UN is set to convene the first intergovernmental talks for a treaty to protect marine biodiversity and govern the high seas in September.
- Jones et al. show that “Earth’s marine wilderness has been eroded by humanity, with 13.2% now remaining across the oceans. Despite holding high genetic diversity, unique functional traits, and endemic species, wilderness areas are ignored in global environmental agreements, highlighting the need for urgent policy attention.” The planet’s marine wildernesses are basically the areas not highlighted in the above maps.
FAO State of the World’s Fisheries
In July 2018 the FAO released its biannual report on the State of the World’s Fisheries. The report noted that:
- Total fish production in 2016 reached an all time high of 171 million tonnes with 91 million tonnes of wild caught species and 80 million tonnes of farmed fish.
- 20m tonnes of wild caught fish like mackerel, sardines and anchovies were converted to pellets and fed to carnivorous farmed fish species.
- Over half the fish eaten in the world now comes from aquaculture.
- 35% of global catches are wasted. About a quarter of these losses are bycatch or discards, mostly from trawlers, where unwanted fish are thrown back dead because they are too small or an unwanted species. The remainder is food waste from supermarkets, restaurants and homes. Environmental organisations like Oceana and WWF estimate global bycatch at 40% – much higher than the FAO figure.
When estimates for illegal fishing are included then research has shown that wild fish stocks are declining faster than FAO data suggest and half the world’s oceans are now industrially fished as can be seen in the below map of Global Fishing Activity. Two thirds of fish species are overexploited in the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the Southeast Pacific.
The FAO estimates that 93% of the world’s fish are either fished at the so called ‘maximum sustainable level’ (60%) or are overfished (33%). But when countries have fished at this so called ‘maximum sustainable level’ it has led to fish populations collapsing. It has also caused the elimination of 70% of the populations of marine bird species around the world. Perhaps they just mean ‘maximum sustainable profits’. Despite this, the FAO estimates that almost 20% more fish will be eaten by 2030 and many countries are unfolding their Blue Growth Plans which are in fact detailed expensive Blue Destruction Plans.
Despite the obvious signs that ocean ecosystems are being decimated the UN agencies continue to ignore how fishing is disrupting the ocean’s biodiversity and the climate which depends on the health of the ocean ecosystems. Knowing that all the ocean species are sentient and intelligent and deserving of our care and compassion it’s the easiest step in the world to go vegan. This could result in the entire ocean becoming an astonishing marine sanctuary. As consumers in the wealthy countries go vegan this will have a big impact on the fishing fleets of these countries which are by far the most destructive.
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