I love sushi. In fact, I would not hesitate to call it one of my favorite foods (I only say this because it is impossible to have a single favorite food). Despite it being one of my favorite foods, I still try to not consume it regularly due to the environmental consequences that fishing has on marine ecosystems. Even though I do not wish to contribute the environmental decline, my taste for sushi has not been depleted, and according to recent data, the global taste for sea-food has only increasing. According to the BBC, just last year global fish consumption hit a record high of 17-kg/37-lb. per person per year (four times the consumption compared to 1950s), even though global fish stocks have continued to decline.
I understood that the fish market has declined in recent years; however, I was shocked to discover that “around 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted, fully exploited or in recovery from exploitation” (Vince, BBC). The depletion has been so significant that seabeds in the Mediterranean and North Sea resemble deserts due to the large amount of bottom trawling (a form of fishing where a net (trawl) is dragged along the sea floor, pictured below). Since these European resources have been drastically depleted, industrial fleets have moved outside of European water and are fishing in the West African Seas. This shift has only been detrimental, so much so that “All West African fisheries are now over-exploited, [and] coastal fisheries have declined 50% in the past 30 years” (Gaia, BBC). This over fishing has also led to an expectation that catches in tropical waters will decline by 40% by 2050. This poses to be quite a problem since roughly 400 million people in Africa and Southeast Asia rely on the amount fish that is being caught.
So how do we fix this problem? Recently, new policy has been introduced to subsidize large fishing fleets to catch smaller amounts of fish. While this does accomplish the goal, it does not prove to be a sustainable solution since governments are essentially “paying people to extinguish their own jobs in the long-term” (Gaia, BBC).
Another option is to turn to farmed fishing. The most common form of farm fishing is through the use of wild fisheries. And while wild-farmed fisheries are helping relieve pressure on the environment, it still does not produce enough fish to remedy the over-fishing problem. Since the global harvest from a majority of wild fisheries has already peaked, farmers are turning towards the aquaculture farming method to account for the demand of the growing population. Aquaculture (below) “refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean” (NOAA).
Aquaculture has proved such an effective method of seafood production it is now the fastest growing form of food production globally. “In 2012, farmed fish accounted for a record 42.2% of global output, compared to 13.4% in 1990 and 25.7% in 2000” (WSJ). Furthermore, 56% of global shrimp consumption now comes from farms, oysters are now commonly started in hatcheries, and a whopping 99% of Atlantic salmon production is farmed.
Increased fish farming looks to be the logical next step in fish consumption, and with improved farming techniques, more and more species of fish will be able to be produced via farms. The most recent technological advancement in fish farming is the process of farming blue fin tuna, one of the most endangered wild fish species. If the technology can keep up with production, humans may be able to keep up with their ever-increasing love for seafood. I sure hope that this is the case, not only for my taste-buds’ sake, but for the environment, and those who rely on the fish market in their everyday lives.