29 July 2009

under the sea

The Earth's oceans are symbols of boundless living wealth. They have provided nourishment and avenues for exploration for millenia. Currently, three-quarters of all stocks of commercially usable sea fish and shellfish have been severely exploited, almost to the point of extinction. This has resulted from a combination of consumer demand, lack of initiatives of governments and fisheries to push through with countermeasures.

However, the time has come now to sit back and take stock, so to speak if we are to continue to eat from the seas. Fish and seafood are the most important sources of protein in the daily diet of almost half the earth's population. According to the FAO global fish consumption is set to grow atleast 2% per year. But this increase in consumption patterns cannot be supported for very long in the face of depleting fish stocks.

Migratory species and large predators are worst affected: tuna, swordfish, halibut and shark. 90% of these varieties have been wiped out in just five decades. This not only has catastrophic effects on world economy but also unpredictable effects on ocean ecosystems of the world. In addition to exceeding catch amounts, fishing methods like bottom trawlers devastate coral reefs and habitats for juvenile fish. Other trawlers comb the seas often using sophisticated technology to ensure catch. Due to their huge nets as big as 100meters, there is also a high amount of by-catch which is usually discarded. Overfishing combined with climate change is putting incredible pressure on our oceans but scientists claim there is still hope for recovery if measures are in place now.

The oceans belong to everyone and therefore to no one, so the is nobody to take responsibility for the problem of overfishing. Countries like the Netherlands have pledged to only supply 'eco-fish' supplied from sustainably managed farms from 2011 which is a commendable step. Australia and New Zealand have devised a sort of trading system between fishermen and introduced individual caps for them. Consumers can do their role by educating themselves on what species they can eat and what species to avoid. Additionally there are guides printed and the most popular one seems to be Seafood Watch published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California which gives information on recommendations for your plate.

Seafood provides many essential nutrients - especially omega 3, 6 fatty acids - needed for well being. However there are many other foods that provide the same benefits so cutting down on amount of seafood consumed is a good way to reduce demand. Many high profile restaurants have dropped endangered fish species off their menus so it is time that other consumers also demand fish sourced from sustainable fisheries or aquaculture farms that support eco-friendly practices.

In conclusion: fish for your consumer choice.

4 comments:

Daniel McDonell said...

I would like to point out that aquaculture is usually not sustainable - there is lots of habitat loss, extra resource usage and pollution associated with aquaculture.

Fresh caught, if managed correctly is more environmentally friendly, healthier and tastier. There are some very good bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) out there, but the governments must have the policies and enforce them.

In the end you are right though, what it boils down to is that we must educate ourselves about what we are putting in our mouth and where it comes from!

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Daniel - good to hear from you. I do agree that traditional models of aquaculture are unsustainable but adopting the sustainable model like the Netherlands will absolve some of the demand-supply problems.

Whilst fresh caught may be more environment friendly even with BRDs -- it does not entirely solve the problems of falling fish stocks. Also poorer economies may not be able to afford these devices as fishing in these communities is usually a local activity.

Finally, none of these solutions address illegal pirating which further contributes towards declining fish stocks.

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