If we aren’t careful, soon there may not be many fish in the sea
Overfishing our oceans: a real possibility
The prospect of an overfished ocean is a truly scary thing; what we once thought were an inexhaustible resource has fallen to overconsumption and greed. The oceans are being abused, and everything from sharks, to tuna to humans will feel it. Just looking at the stats, at the rate we are going we may only know the massive effects of overfishing practices until after it’s too late.
Unsustainable (and illegal) Fishing Practices
We’re not talking about the occasional hobbiest taking a pole to the pier or even a deep sea fishing charter. The real issue are unsustainable practices like drift nets and long-lines consisting of up to a thousand hooks. Commercial fisheries will cast out either a net or line in the hopes of catching a certain type of fish. While these practices are phenomenal at catching the target species they also can snag just about all marine life without discrimination. Called bycatch, these unwanted animals can include females and juveniles, not to mention species like dolphins, turtles, and sharks. The fishing boats will wait for hours, sometimes days before pulling in the catch. By this time their nets and lines are full and most of the unintended catch is dead only to be thrown overboard. Some reports find that bycatch equals to about 63 billion pounds of wasted food per year.
Although long lines and drift nets round up a large amount of bycatch, they are in fact legal. Believe it or not, there are actually more unsustainable methods out there, including bottom trawling (where the net scrapes the bottom of the ocean destroying fish habitats and coral), blast (dynamite) fishing, and cyanide fishing. Unfortunately, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices consist of 14–33 percent of the fishing market today.
What Is Being Done About IUU Fishing?
Leonardo DiCaprio is well known for his conservation efforts, but recently he has stepped up his game. Teaming with Google, Oceana, and Skytruth, Leo unveiled the newest iteration of a global heat map application depicting the locations of large fishing efforts from multiple companies and countries. The Oscar-winning actor donated over half of the budget for the 10.3 million dollar project, stating humans “are … pushing our oceans to the very brink,” and “treating our oceans as an endless resource and a dumping ground for our waste.” Called Global Fishing Watch, the technology allows for anyone in the world to see the oceans fishing activity in real time, putting power in the hands of the general public to combat unsustainable fisheries.
Is Farmed Fishing The Answer?
In chef Dan Barber’s TED talk from six years ago he addressed ocean sustainability announcing that “it’s hard to overstate the destruction”. He goes on to explain that in theory, farm raised fish could be the easy solution. However, aquaculture is not without it’s drawbacks. The large concentration of fish pollutes the surrounding areas which poses a huge issue when close to water sources. However, in order to farm bigger fish like tuna and sea bass they must be fed hundreds or even thousands of pounds of bait fish like sardines and smelt, which are of course caught from the sea. The average ratio is 15 lbs of wild fish to create 1 lb of tuna, making the entire process remarkably counter-productive. Just when you may have given up hope, he then talks about a fish farm that has created a sustainable ecosystem of it’s own (Honestly, if you haven’t seen this talk do so right away).
Enter Spanish Biologist Miguel Medialdea and his farm Veta La Palma. As perhaps one of the few sustainable aquaculture farms in the world, Miguel proves that farming fish is not only possible, but can also enhance the surrounding environment. His farm is sourced by nutrient rich soil and water which with the ample sunlight create algae. This algae is eaten by shrimp, which is eaten by the fish. Sounds familiar? Yeah, it’s a process that has been around for millions of years, talk about sustainable.