According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Americans consume close to 5 billion pounds of seafood a year. That’s approximately 16 pounds of fish and shellfish per person, annually.
The total harvest of wild fish from the world’s oceans is approximately 90 million tons.
Unfortunately, as a result of our love of seafood, we are no longer living in a time with bountiful oceans. Overfishing was not an issue during the time of Jesus when fish were plentiful.
87% of the world’s assessed fish stocks are classified as overexploited or fully exploited.
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, took 10 years to complete and revealed that since the 1950’s we have reduced the number of large fish in the ocean to less than 10%. This means that of all the large species of open ocean fish, (tuna, swordfish and groundfish) 90% have disappeared from the world’s oceans in the last 50 years.
The 1950’s marked the boom of commercial fishing and industrialized fisheries.
These grim statistics can be attributed to overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss.
The scientists that conducted this study have estimated that if we continue down the path we are on, in less than 50 years there will be virtually no fish left. This is a very sobering prospect.
According to The World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people worldwide depend on fish as their primary food source.
The incident in Newfoundland Canada in the 90’s is an ominous sign of things to come.
For over 500 years, Newfoundland communities relied on the plentiful cod stocks. When the cod population fell to 1% of its earlier level, the government put a moratorium on fishing. Overnight 35,000 workers from over 400 coastal communities became unemployed.
The well-being of many other coastal communities relies on fish; not just for food, but for their livelihood.
Somalia is a perfect example of a country that has been devastated by commercial fishing. After losing their government and coastguard in the 90’s, international fishing fleets have been freely fishing their coastlines.
It is estimated that around $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country's coastline each year.
Many Somalis that once supported their families with fishing, no longer have a way to make a living. Some Somali pirates have blamed commercial fishing for their career choice.
Approximately half of the seafood consumed worldwide is farm-raised.
Roughly 67 million tons of farmed fish are produced every year, and fish farming is currently the fastest growing agricultural industry in the world.
It is a common misconception that eating farmed fish takes pressure off of wild populations. The practice is actually extremely harmful to wild fish populations, and it is very similar to the factory farming of livestock.
Farmed fish are packed together by the thousands, with almost no room to move or swim freely. This unnatural overcrowding results in the spread of disease and parasites.
Sea lice infestations in fish farms are treated with toxic chemicals that spread to the natural habitat of wild fish. When sea lice spread outside of fish farms, it can cause mass-killings of wild salmon.
The loss of these wild fish also affects many wild animals that depend on them for food; like bears, birds and whales.
To prevent the spread of bacterial diseases, fish farmers dump antibiotics into the water and add them to the fish food. Farmed fish are fed more antibiotics than any other livestock farmed in the US.
This is a serious cause for concern, because the antibiotics used on farmed fish are also used to treat human diseases. Use of antibiotics in fish and livestock create resistant strains of bacteria, making it harder to treat the diseases in humans.
The most shocking aspect of fish farming is the amount of wild fish it takes to feed farmed fish.
Every year, millions of tons of smaller wild fish like sardines and anchovies are caught and used as food for farm-raised fish.
Some farmed fish can live on vegetarian diets. The fish that we eat the most of, like tuna and salmon are carnivores. A farmed salmon can eat upwards of five times its weight in wild fish.
This means that it takes five pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farm-raised fish.
Many believe that this depletion of wild fish for fish farms has contributed to the decline of whales, seals, penguins, and many other species that rely on these small fish as their main food source in the wild.
Never eat farm-raised fish. It is much more sustainable to eat smaller, wild fish that are lower on the food chain and are not classified as overfished.
If you are wondering how the ocean got to this point so quickly, the answer can be found in the fishing methods that are used today.
Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace.
The current global fishing industry is 2-3 times bigger than what the oceans can support.
Technology has played a huge part in overfishing. 100 years ago fishermen had to rely on their instincts and skill to find schools of fish. Today, with the use of electronic fish-finding devices like sensors and sonar, schools of fish don’t have a chance.
Current fishing methods are also a huge part of the problem. The two most destructive methods are bottom trawling and long lining.
Bottom trawling uses enormous nets that are dragged across thousands of miles of ocean floor. These nets stir up sediment, rocks and coral and capture every animal in its path.
Longlining uses lines sometimes over 50 miles long with hundreds of thousands of baited hooks. Both of these methods indiscriminately kill dolphins, birds, sharks, whales, and sea turtles.
Shrimp trawling is another devastating fishing practice that is particularly dangerous to sea turtles and marine mammals. For every pound of shrimp, up to 15 pounds of other animals are killed.
To help our oceans become more sustainable, three things need to happen.
The first step, is that more marine protected areas need to be established. Around only 1% of the oceans are protected areas and the majority of them allow fishing. More protected areas need to be established so that fish and other species can have a safe place to repopulate.
Secondly, illegal fishing needs to be stopped. Most countries have established guidelines for how much can be taken out of the ocean; but these rules are rarely followed. Illegal fishing accounts for 20% or more of the global catch. This high level of overfishing is quickly driving the ocean to the breaking point.
Thirdly, if you choose to eat seafood, you must eat sustainably.
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