Macro and micro-plastic waste is quickly turning our oceans into a toxic, inhospitable soup. Oceanic garbage patches sixty-six times the size of Massachusetts strangle and poison more than 800 marine species regularly. A recent study shows that there will be more plastic than fish by weight in 2050 if nothing drastic is done to curb plastic production. Yet, humans continue to produce an annual amount of plastic equal to the weight of the entire human race. While using paper straws and reusable grocery bags does reduce our reliance on environmentally harmful products, the bulk of this waste can be reduced through our eating habits. So, we need to put more pressure on the commercial fishing industry to make their practices truly sustainable, and our best tool for change can be found in the choices we make in the seafood aisle or fish market.
According to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average American consumes 19.2 pounds of fish per person annually. While American beef consumption is far higher than that of fish and far more carbon-emitting, 19.2 pounds is still far too high given the current state of our natural fisheries. You may have thought eating seafood is a more sustainable meat, but the issue is not that black and white. 70% of macroplastics (in excess of 20cm) found in the ocean, and around 50% of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is commercial fishing related. 70% of marine animal entanglements involve discarded plastic fishing nets. About 40% of fish caught worldwide are captured in fishing nets unintentionally and subsequently killed.
Unfortunately, buying less plastic-intensive farmed fish is not always a sustainable solution. A recent New York Times article states, “farms for catfish and shrimp often require a large amount of energy to recirculate water and can sometimes have a larger climate footprint than even beef.” As consumers, we have to start doing our homework, researching the validity of sustainable labels, the kinds of seafood that are sustainably farmed, the types of fishing equipment that were used to catch your dinner, and more.
Luckily for us, the consumer, there is a sustainable solution that benefits the planet, the fishermen’s livelihood, and our wallets. This solution is buying from a community supported fishery, or CSF. In the words of the Sword Seafood Company, “A community supported fishery is a sales model that allows customers to buy directly from fishermen… A CSF provides high quality seafood while benefiting both the consumer and the fisherman.” Sword Seafood is a small, family-run company out of Sitka, Alaska that produces little to no bycatch from their fishing practices of longlining and trolling. No nets are used in the fishing process, unlike the destructive trawlers used by bigger fishing companies. Since Sword is managed by the same people that fish out in the Gulf of Alaska every day, the profits are not diverted to some boardroom of executives for a gigantic seafood company. Since the profits go directly to this small, family-run company, they are able to sell their product for at least 20% less than retail seafood prices. Buying directly from the fisherman prevents you from buying mislabeled or fraudulent fish, an issue that affects 43% of salmon sold in the U.S. Also, seafood bought directly from the fishermen has five times less toxins, and the flash freezing process used by Sword arrests the fish’s degradation.
If you live in Gloucester, activism can be as easy as buying some salmon from Cape Ann Fresh Catch or the several other community supported fisheries in Massachusetts, because CSF’s are essential to a future with healthy seafood and plastic-free oceans.
Wills, L. (2019, August 22). The most dangerous single source of ocean plastic no one wants to talk about. Sea Shepherd Global. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/latest-news/marine-debris-plastic-fishing-gear/
(j_fiorillo), J. F. (2021, May 20). US seafood per capita consumption sets record, but that's not the full story. IntraFish. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.intrafish.com/markets/us-seafood-per-capita-consumption-sets-record-but-thats-not-the-full-story/2-1-1013749
Laville, S. (2019, November 6). Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report. The Guardian. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-fishing-gear-is-biggest-plastic-polluter-in-ocean-finds-report
What is bycatch, why it is a problem & how to prevent bycatch. Million Dollar Vegan. (2022, February 17). Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.milliondollarvegan.com/bycatch/#:~:text=Bycatch%20Statistics,caught%20as%20bycatch%20every%20year
Moskin, J., Plumer, B., Lieberman, R., Weingart, E., & Popovich, N. (2019, April 30). Your questions about food and climate change, answered. The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/30/dining/climate-change-food-eating-habits.html?mtrref=undefined&assetType=PAYWALL
Sword seafood: Sustainably-caught Wild Alaskan seafood. Sword Seafood Company. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://swordseafood.com/