Most governments encourage people to eat fish for its health benefits. However, promoting increased fish consumption ignores its negative environmental impacts. Unlike the fast decline in meat consumption, due to its environmental impact, fish consumption remains high and at harmful levels. Worse still, despite scientists stating that fishing levels are already too high, they continue to increase fishing targets. For example, 2/3 of European fish stocks are overfished and 85% are below healthy levels.
There are attempts to create sustainable fisheries but this is a difficult task. Firstly, 2-5lbs of fish-food is needed to breed carnivorous fish such as salmon. This is akin to the meat industries resource demand, especially as fish-food is often made of smaller fish. It means more fishing to provide food for fish-farms. Thus, wild stocks are still at risk to provide farmed fish.
Secondly, these fish are kept in similar conditions to battery farmed chickens. Because of the close conditions, disease is rife and means chemicals are pumped into the water to fight things such as sea lice. These chemicals can then leak into the ocean, and can absorbed by farmed fish, wild fish and other species. These chemicals also pollute the surrounding ecosystems, and can be in the fish that reaches your table.
Everyone knows about the decline in fish stoc,but even when fishing is stopped it is extremely difficult for some species to ever recover; such high levels of fishing are having a permanent effect. Species decline disrupts the ecosystem and can enable outbreaks of ‘pest species’, such as the crown-of-thorns starfish, which is difficult problem to solve. What is worse still, illegal fishing goes unpunished and continues to damage the environment. The losses from illegal fishing amount to £18.4 billion and are a constant force against fish stocks. The lack of Political protection is also evident in the lack of marine reserves, which is at 3.4% of the world oceans, well below the 2020 target.
Can we recover?
Things could be helped with more local fishing, smaller fishing boats and less demand. But, with current EU legislation, small scale fishing boats only make up a tiny amount of the fishing quota, and this is unlikely to change soon. If fish intake and demand is reduced, it is possible that fish could increase in both number and size, but this is unlikely to happen.
What you can do is decrease your fish intake, and get the vitamins and benefits of fish, from other sources. Similarly, eating less fish would also result in a diet that creates less greenhouse gas emissions, as the fish market is a high contributor. You could also buy herbivorous fish, as they are not fed caught fish the way carnivorous fish are. The fishing industry is plagued by environmental degradation and crime; so unless certain that the fish is from a sustainable source, it may be best to avoid it.
By Arran Houston