What do you think about diving without any fish?
Not that interesting right?
Choosing sustainable fish is important if we want to maintain healthy fish populations.
As divers, we should lead the way.
Plenty more fish in the sea
The old saying that “there are plenty more fish in the sea” is increasingly becoming just an empty saying.
A large number of fish species have been over-fished to the point of collapse. While others are caught using practices that endanger other inhabitants of the marine areas, putting these species under threat, too. And unfortunately, a number of the most popular fish for consumption are the ones that are under the greatest threat.
The Tale of The Tuna
One example of a species that has been consumed by its own popularity is the bluefin tuna. One of the larger members of the tuna species.
It produces high-quality flesh, which is prized by sushi lovers in Japan and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, this popularity has caused fishermen to hunt the fish to a point where the population has been reduced to alarming small numbers. In fact, the population of bluefin tuna has been reduced by as much as 96 % in some areas.
The low availability drives up prices which in turn makes the fish all the more attractive for fishermen, causing them to go to greater length to find them. And even bringing up juvenile specimens, who are strictly speaking too small and immature to make for sustainable catch.
The result is that in a few years, we may have lost this amazing fish completely.
Overfishing and Population Collapse
For fishing to be considered sustainable, we need to limit the amount of fish caught to an amount where new fish are being born to substitute the ones we catch and consume.
Overfishing, such as in the example of the bluefin tuna above, can reduce the size of a species population to a point where they are unable to sustain a healthy population, leading to collapse. A collapse happens when there are so few members of a species left that they are not able to reproduce quickly enough to replenish the population as other members die off for various reasons.
As fishermen become increasingly desperate to catch a given fish, they start picking off younger members, even juvenile ones that have yet to reproduce, worsening the scenario. As population becomes smaller, inbreeding also becomes a threat to the species.
Damaging Fishing Methods
Most people are aware of the problems of dynamite fishing in southeast Asia. This damaging process of fishing by dropping lit sticks of dynamite on to reefs, letting the shockwave of the explosion kill of every living creature in the vicinity. This leaves them on the surface for the fishermen to scoop up. This doesn’t kill the fish intended for consumption, but every other fish, as well as any corals and other marine life nearby.
Thankfully, the practice has been greatly reduced through education and legal proceedings.
Another, equally damaging approach involves dropping cyanide into the water. Cyanide consumes the oxygen in the water, effectively suffocating an entire area. The effects of this practice can be seen many places in Southeast Asia, including in the famous Komodo Strait in Indonesia.
Don’t think your fish are any better
But damaging fishing methods aren’t limited to such obviously unsafe practices. The common method of trawling, used many places in the world including Europe and North America, has a lot of the same negative effects.
A trawl cannot distinguish between sustainable species and bycatch, creating huge collateral damage.
A heavy trawl net dragged along the bottom or over a vulnerable reef causes great and often irreparable damage.
A natural line of thought is that an obvious solution is to eat only farmed fish, as these are kept in large, submerged pens in the oceans, and grown for the purpose of consumption. Also, they’re not caught using any of the methods above.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Farmed shrimp, for instance, are often fed large amounts of growth stimulants and antibiotics to stave off disease, which then bleed into the surrounding waters and contaminating them. Also, the large size of some fish farms produces large amounts of natural, but nonetheless damaging, pollutants.
Finally, some farms are in areas where the oceans can contain large amounts of pollutants, making the fish unsafe to eat.
What To Do
So what’s the average, scuba diving, concerned citizen to do?
One option is to forego fish and shellfish altogether. I know a number of divers who do this, deciding that they’d rather watch fish than eat fish.
However, there are a number of advantages to eating fish, including health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, the fact that fish is a very lean protein. And the environmental aspect that fish produce much less CO2 compared to land-based animal proteins. Completely abstaining can be a choice, but a very personal one, and I wouldn’t force that on anyone. I myself enjoy fish, both for the taste and the health benefits.
But if you are to eat fish, make sure you’re eating the right kind. A number of alternatives exist to those species that are overfished or farmed or caught using damaging methods.
Both the Monterey Aquarium and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) have published guidelines for choosing fish, breaking them into “Good choice”, “Good alternative”, and “Avoid”, with the corresponding colors green, yellow, and red. The WWF even has a smartphone app available in some countries.
The “Good choise”
Fish marked “Good choice” is safe to consume, both from a health and a sustainability point of view. “Good alternative” are not optimal choices, and some consumer discretion can be necessary. Those labeled “Avoid” should not be consumed at all.
In addition to these guides, look for the blue MSC and the green ASC labels, which tells you that the seafood in question was either caught (MSC label) or farmed (ASC label) in a sustainable way.
It is not a matter of whether your actions can make a difference. It is a matter of every action you take making a difference, so make sure you take the right actions.
What do you do for sustainable fishing?
Have you taken the pledge to swear off fish, altogether, or how do you make sustainable choices? Share your mind on sustainable fishing and what we, as divers, can do to ease the issue.