Fishing can be everything from a fun personal pastime, on a boat for the day with your sea fishing tackle, to a huge commercial industry that sourced over 90 million tons of seafood consumed in 2012. With global seafood consumption traditions being so strong, it’s clear that fishing will always be here to stay. Unfortunately, over 70% of fish stocks today are overfished or have crashed.
There are numerous heath and sustainability issues of eating fish. However, the use of sustainable fishing practices aims to preserve and maintain stable, healthy populations of fish and shellfish for the future. Eating seafood that has been sustainably caught supports the fisheries that catch their products in environmentally friendly ways and in numbers that don’t overexploit the populations.
Different fishing methods
Every fishing method has its pros and cons, and it really depends on the target species to determine what is best for sustainability. Better methods have lower bycatch, or animals that are caught during fishing that were not intended to be caught. Globally, an estimated 25% of all animals fished are bycatch, meaning one quarter of everything caught is wasted. Below are some of the more fraught and/or destructive methods of fishing; look for fisheries that use trolling, traps, or hook and line methods instead.
Nets – Though there are several kinds, gill nets, purse seines, and trawls are the most common. Gill nets are large enough for a fish’s head, but not body, to get through the openings of the net as it hangs down in the water, trapping the fish. Sometimes other local species (such as sea turtles) are at risk for getting entangled in the nets.
Purse seines are designed to encircle entire schools of fish and are cinched shut to trap the fish inside. However, any other fish or animals that are found nearby (for example, dolphins tend to swim near tuna) can be caught in the net as well.
Trawling involves towing a net behind a boat, catching everything swept up in it indiscriminately. It’s about the equivalent of bulldozing a forest to catch deer, especially bottom trawling which drags a heavy net with a metal base across the ocean floor, destroying the bottom habitat.
Long Line catching – Depending on how long the lines are (some can be several miles, with thousands of hooks) and how frequently they are checked, long line fishing can be well or poorly managed. Lines left out for longer tend to accrue more bycatch.
For even more sustainable fishing information, check out this National Geographic Guide.
What can I do?
Before you eat seafood, find out where and how it was caught. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide (they even have an app) is a great tool to help inform your choices. Alternatively, you can shop at retailers, like Whole Foods, Safeway, or Trader Joe’s, who have made commitments to sourcing as much of their seafood sustainably as possible.
Don’t let unsustainably caught seafood spoil your meals! Make informed choices and you can help contribute to conserving our ocean resources.