Everyone can make a difference for the health of our oceans. Choosing the right seafood is perhaps the easiest, the most meaningful — and, of course, the most delicious — action you can take. If sustainable seafood can be so tasty and simple, what's all the fuss? Five major concerns are associated with commercial fisheries.
1. Bycatch is marine life unintentionally caught and discarded during fishing. Nearly 25 percent of marine life pulled out of the water by commercial fishing vessels is bycatch, including marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds… even marketable fish like red snapper.
2. Overfishing occurs when fish are caught faster than they can reproduce. Long-lived species like orange roughy and Chilean sea bass are especially vulnerable to overfishing because they take a number of years to reach reproductive age. This means they have to dodge nets and hooks for several seasons before they are old enough to spawn. But even fish that mature early and have shorter life spans are not immune. Atlantic cod, a once-plentiful species, has been fished so heavily that scientists are concerned that certain populations may never recover.
3. Habitat destruction occurs when fishing methods damage the seafloor or when fish farms are built or operated in a harmful manner. Bottom trawlers drag heavy nets along the seafloor, literally bulldozing everything in their paths. Some farms are built with “open systems” that allow fish waste and other pollution to spill into the surrounding environment.
4. Aquaculture is the practice of fish farming. Fish farming can be done responsibly, but some fish farms use destructive methods. The best examples of aquaculture are those farms that are able to control their pollution and raise fish on sustainable diets. Some farmed species require animal protein to grow, which means heavily fishing wild stocks to meet the nutritional needs of the farmed fish. From a sustainability standpoint, that defeats the purpose of fish farming. On the other hand, aquaculture of species that eat a plant-based diet doesn’t drain the ocean’s dwindling resources.
5. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) undermines management efforts put in place to protect fish stocks and fishing rights. The United Nations estimates that up to 20 percent of the annual global catch can be considered IUU, placing huge pressure on already taxed fish populations. IUU boats often fish in the unregulated waters of developing countries, which can lead to food scarcity and economic losses for the coastal communities.
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