February is the month where many people go Fish Free.
But is it possible to Eat Fish & Be Sustainable?
What is Sustainable Fishing?
Put simply, sustainable fishing is leaving enough fish in the ocean to maintain the ecosystem, respecting habitats and ensuring locals who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.
How can you support sustainable fishing?
We cannot recommend buying local more than when it comes to fish. If you head down to a fishmongers, or market to buy your seafood you can pick out fresh which is often caught that same day, bring your own tub or container to take it home and you can cut out any plastic packaging too! Sometime you are even able to speak to the fishermen that caught the fish and that way you can find out more about their fishing practices and if they are committed to sustainability.
If you want to do your part to protect fish populations and support sustainable fishing methods then one of the easiest ways you can do this is by looking for the blue label on seafood products:
The label above is from the MSC - Marine Stewardship Council. By choosing seafood with the blue MSC label you are supporting independently certified sustainable fisheries. Their practices help ensure fish stocks and habitats are healthy as well as fishing community livelihoods are secure. Annual audits ensure that they maintain these standards.
"We're on a mission to end overfishing. Ensure future generations can enjoy the wild seafood we love by choosing certified sustainable seafood with the blue fish label."
Sign The Petition!
Overfishing is putting many species of marine life at risk and is throwing the eco system beneath the waves out of balance.
Steven Casas has set up a petition to President Trump demanding that change happens to protect species from the tyranny that is overfishing.
"It is time we demand a change to our unstable fishing habits; we must crack down on illegal fishing, and subsidies for fishing companies. The solutions to these problems will allow fish to reproduce and replenish the population so we do not destroy our ecosystem and marine life."
What are some of the Fishing Methods and How do they impact the ocean?
There are a number of different fishing methods, some more sustainable than others, but the general consensus is that many forms of fishing can be sustainable if done correctly and with care. We have compiled a list of some of the most commonly known ones:
Hook & Line
When you think of fishing you likely think about hook and line fishing. This method of fishing uses hand held or mechanically operated poles with baited hooks attached. It targets naturally schooling fish which are attracted to the surface through use of lights or bait.
Hook & line fishing is not commonly associated with bycatch and generally doesn't cause any harm or damage seabeds or marine habitats.
Longline fishing techniques use a long length of line with smaller baited lines coming off it. This method can target surface fish and those lower down. The larger longlines can be tens of kilometres long but small ones typically can have less than 1000 hooks.
This fishing method has caused some issues with bycatch of seabirds, sharks and sea turtles. However, this risk can be limited with the use of weighted lines can reduce the number of seabirds caught, and different shaped hooks have proven to reduce the number of sea turtle and sharks caught. Typically this method does not drag along the seabed so won't cause any damage to marine habitats.
Pots & Creels
Pots and creels are baited traps that are left on the seabed, primarily to capture shellfish. This is seen as a pretty selective method of fishing as it allows smaller creatures to escape the traps, plus anything that is caught is brought to the surface alive and can be released if they are unwanted.
They may sit on the seabed, however they don't typically cause too much disturbance or damage to the sea bed. As previously explained they do not pose much of a risk for bycatch, because anything unwanted is usually released unharmed. That said, this fishing gear if left unchecked or lost can play a huge part in the ghost gear problem and as they aren't usually made from biodegradable materials they can continue to catch fish and sea life.
Trawling - 'Pelagic/ Mid-Water'
Pelagic refers to the zone of water in the ocean near to the surface. Pelagic or Mid-Water trawling uses a funnel shaped trawl net that is hauled along either by one or two boats. Typically these trawlers will fish for only one specific species.
As these trawlers target the upper area of the ocean, they don't come in contact with the sea bed so do little to no damage to the marine habitat. Methods are being brought in to reduce the risk of bycatch, but vulnerable species such as dolphins can be swept up in the nets. However, it is worth noting that there is less bycatch in pelagic & mid-water than there is in demersal trawling.
Trawling - 'Demersal'
Demersal trawlers fish along, or just above, the seabed to catch the bottom dwelling fish. There are generally 3 types of nets associated with demersal trawling, the funnel shaped nets dragged along by one or two ships. The beam trawlers, which have a net either side of the ship kept open by weights and metal beams with the net size up to 12m - this method also uses 'tickler chains' which are attached to the gear and designed to disturb the fish under the surface to encourage them into the nets. And finally seine netting, this is a net that is vertical in the water with long ropes attached leading back to the boat. The ropes drag on the ground, stirring up sand and mud clouds and herding the fish into the nets.
This is one of the main fishing techniques associated with ocean habitat damage, as they are stirring and unsettling the seabeds. Delicate habitats such as corals are very susceptible to long term damage.
As many bottom dwelling fish species gather together in mixed communities it is very common for bycatch to occur with demersal trawling. Along with the accidental capture of juvenile which can impact fish populations drastically. More is being done to reduce these risks, different size mesh is being used to prevent the capture of young or non-targeted fish. Lighter materials are being developed to reduce damage to the seabed. These efforts have seen various levels of success.
Drift, Gill & Set Nets
Drift, gill and set nets are examples of passive fishing. These nets are not dragged by fishing boats, instead drift nets are placed to drift on the current, set nets are staked to the seabeds and gill nets are hung from buoys to be suspended in the mid-water.
As these methods do not involve dragging the nets they are not generally associated with damage to marine habitats. However, these nets are known for bycatch, in fact an example of this is with the plight of the vaquita in the Gulf of Mexico, they are very commonly caught in illegal gill nets. These nets can also contribute to ghost gear problem. If they go unchecked or get lost then they continue to carry on catching fish.
There have been restrictions put on the size and location of these types of nets to protect sea life. Also research is being done to reduce the amount of plastic in the nets and regulations to keep netting accounted for to reduce the amount of ghost gear.
Instead of nets, dredging uses metal-frame baskets made with criss-crossed steel rings and sets of metal teeth which are used to rake out shellfish from the sand and gravel on the seabed. A metal net covering is attached to collect the catch.
This method of fishing is well know for the damage it can cause to the seabed, because this heavy equipment is dragged along the ocean floor. Some fisheries are beginning to use toothless dredges in an effort to reduce their impact on the seabed. This technique does also have the potential to bycatch, non targeted fish.