Our world’s oceans are essential to life on earth. The oceans cover 70 per cent of the surface of the globe and are an irreplaceable part of the planet that humans call home. They maintain earth as we know it by regulating the climate, supplying oxygen to the atmosphere, and by maintaining the lives of the millions of organisms that make up the complex marine food web; from tiny planktonic creatures to massive blue whales. Beyond the animals that live in the ocean, the marine ecosystem also supports terrestrial creatures such as bears, birds, and humans. Humans need the ocean as a source of food, for our livelihoods, as part of our cultures, and for a healthy life.
Unsustainable practices within global wild capture fisheries and aquaculture are two critical ways humans are negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems upon which we depend. When so much depends on our oceans, it’s critical that we do our part to care for them.
Fishing and aquaculture can be detrimental to oceans in several ways:
Wild Seafood Impacts
Wild capture fisheries for fish like tunas and salmon or invertebrates like shrimp, clams, and scallops is hunting on a massive scale. Once thought to be a limitless resource we now know that humanity is having large impacts on the oceans, and the species that call it home.
Global seafood consumption has doubled since the 1970s. In 2018, we consumed a record-breaking 20.5 kg per capita, the most seafood humans have ever consumed in history. Improvements in fisheries-related technology allow us to remove organisms from the ocean faster and with less effort, facilitating large-scale exploitation. Across the globe there are fisheries where management does not exist of is ineffective. Although approximately 80% of marine fisheries landings come from biologically sustainable stocks, large-scale overfishing and significant differences in management practices globally highlight the need to replicate successes and confront sustainability challenges to protect the natural world, contribute to food security, and protect livelihoods.
Aquaculture – Also known as fish farming, aquaculture has potential to feed humanity’s growing appetite for seafood. In fact, more than 50% of our seafood comes from farms. Though aquaculture can be highly sustainable, its ecological impact is dependent on the species farmed, the farming location, and the aquaculture method used.
Impacts of Fishing and Farming Methods
How we raise or catch the seafood we eat has directly affects ocean health. Some methods of fishing and farms are highly damaging to aquatic environments by depleting populations of targeted or bycatch species, causing habitat degradation or destruction, or having effects on the larger ecosystem.
Bycatch: Not all marine life that is captured by fishing gear makes it to the dinner table. Globally about 10% of all fishery catch is discarded as bycatch. Unfortunately, most of the animals tossed back overboard do not survive and this global estimate includes fatal interactions with over 20 million endangered, threatened, and protected species such as sharks, marine mammals, sea birds, and turtles. Not only is bycatch wasteful, but it threatens populations of many species, especially already vulnerable species. It is important to understand how your seafood has been harvested as some fishing gear types, such as pelagic or surface longlines and bottom trawls can increase the likelihood and amount of bycatch incurred.
Habitat Damage: Certain fishing and farming practices can negatively impact critical aquatic habitats. For example, bottom trawls or dredges can destroy sensitive seafloor habitat as nets are dragged across the ocean bottom. Aquaculture practices can damage ecosystems in many ways such as through escapes of non-native species, disease transmission to local ecosystems, or if excess nutrients and/or chemicals such as antibiotics are allowed to enter local waters.
Unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices are monumental, global issues. Ocean Wise Seafood and our partners make the commitment to clearly label all Ocean Wise Seafood choices so consumers can make sustainable choices. If you see the Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item, you know that option is the best choice for the health of our oceans. Learn more about Why We Exist.