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Sustainable seafood is not only about healthy stocks

Industrial fishing has expanded significantly over recent decades. Fishing companies worldwide have introduced advanced technologies, exploring new waters…

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Industrial fishing has expanded significantly over recent decades. Fishing companies worldwide have introduced advanced technologies and explored new waters in order to keep up with the increased demand for seafood. As a result, most fish have been captured before they have had a chance to reproduce – the official term for this phenomenon is ‘overfishing’.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Programme (FAO) almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are either ‘fully exploited’, ‘over exploited’ or ‘significantly depleted’. Overexploited fish stocks account for more than 25% of all the stocks worldwide. In the long-term overfishing can lead to two serious problems. First of all, the stability of the ecological communities of our oceans would become severely stressed. Not only might we lose more species, but entire ecosystems as well, as their balance is disturbed to the extent that certain species are removed. The disappearance of certain species in turn has a negative impact on many other species, such as sea mammals or seabirds, as they become vulnerable owing to their lack of food. Secondly, we are also at risk of losing a valuable food source. In fact, currently over 2.5 billion people worldwide depend on oceans as their main source of food.

Although overfishing is one of the major issues in unsustainable fishing practices, there are some other key impacts. The fishing industry relies on numerous types of equipment to catch different types of target species: trawls, dredges, seines and hook and lines are among the most used gear types worldwide. Unfortunately, many fishing operations are not selective and can accidentally trap non-target species of fish, commonly referred as ‘bycatch’. Some of these bycaught organisms might be included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered species. As a result, along with targeted species of fish, many other species, including dolphins, turtles and seabirds, are accidentally caught and sometimes killed in the fishing gear. Up to 95% of bycaught species worldwide are eventually discarded at sea. However, many of these do not survive. The bycatch problem arises due to the use of non-selective fishing gear, but the problem is exacerbated by overfishing. As a consequence, many accidentally bycaught species are also threatened with extinction.

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