Written by: Anna Cloherty
Coming from a small fishing town in Massachusetts, I grew up eating seafood. Lobsters on the Fourth of July and pan seared cod were just a few of my favorite dishes. But as I grew up, the problems with industrial scale fishing exposed itself more and more. I care about the ocean I grew up next to and was horrified by the reality of how some forms of commercial fishing are destroying our planet. Being so deeply disturbed by the truth, I no longer eat seafood. I researched sustainable alternatives and changed my lifestyle to reflect my own values. Some seafood can still be considered sustainable, but there are plenty of seafood-free dishes that satisfy just the same! Check out this blog post that I wrote where I talk about my favorite sustainable options.
Now let’s talk about the problem with industrial scale fishing. This form of fishing is destroying our planet in a few different ways. Some obvious, some more surprising.
Industrial fish farms can create toxic water conditions. Many fish that we find in supermarkets come from fish farms. Approximately 50% of fish consumed globally are raised in this type of environment. The goal of these farms is to raise the most fish within the smallest space. This results in overcrowding which in turn creates extremely toxic water filled with sick and dead fish, antibiotics, pesticides, parasites, and chemicals. This doesn’t just affect the fish within the farms; it affects the local fish populations as well, often killing the native fish. Read more about industrial fish farming here.
Bottom trawling is indiscriminately destroying ecosystems. The fishing industry wants to “reel in” the most fish while putting in the least amount of effort. Bottom trawling is a method in which large, weighted nets are dragged across the seafloor, scooping up and killing whatever gets in the way, including turtles, dolphins, and corals. The excess marine life that gets caught is also known as bycatch. The damage that bottom trawling causes to ecosystems is often irreversible. Once coral and sponge communities are destroyed, commercial fish and other species dependent on them for spawning, shelter, nurseries, protection, and food, may also disappear.
Longline fishing is a silent killer. Longline fishing is a technique used by the fishing industry in which ships drag fishing lines that are lined with hooks. According to NOAA, the average U.S. longline set is 28 miles long. Similar to bottom trawling, longline fishing results in a high level of bycatch. Fish, turtles, whales, dolphins, birds, you name it. They are all victims of longline fishing.
The fishing industry leaves waste in our oceans. Fishing gear is commonly lost, thrown overboard, or forgotten about. Even after the fishing vessel has sailed away, the waste that is left behind will continue to kill wildlife. It’s not just a small amount of waste either; abandoned fishing gear is the biggest plastic polluter in the ocean. In fact, 86% of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage, also known as the Gyre, consisted of fishing nets. Ocean inhabitants commonly get tangled in this forgotten fishing gear, which sadly leads to a drawn-out death.
Industrial scale fishing is not sustainable. Practitioners of industrial scale fishing that put profit over ocean health are leading to dwindling catches, decreased biodiversity and ultimately ecosystem collapse. It’s important to know where all of your food comes from (not just seafood!) and how it’s obtained. The choices that you make every day have a bigger impact on our planet than you may realize. You are in control. By choosing to eat sustainably, you can lower your impact on our precious planetary systems