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 directly 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.
Overexploitation via wild capture fisheries and aquaculture is the number one way in which humans are harming the oceans to which we are inextricably linked, and upon which we depend.
Fishing and aquaculture can be detrimental to oceans in several ways:
Global consumption of seafood has doubled since the 1970s. In 2016, we consumed a record-breaking 20kg per capita. This is the most seafood humans have ever consumed in history. Improvements in fisheries-related technology have allowed us to remove organisms from the ocean more quickly and with less effort, facilitating large-scale exploitation. Roughly 1/3 of the world’s fish stocks now overfished. Simply put, our marine species cannot reproduce fast enough to keep up with the hunt.
Not all marine life that is captured by fishing gear makes it to the dinner table. An estimated 40 per cent of what is caught in commercial fisheries is unintended catch (bycatch) and discarded from the fishing vessel. Bycatch can include unmarketable species, undersized species, and endangered species. Unfortunately the majority of the animals tossed back overboard do not survive. It is important to understand how your seafood has been harvested as some fishing gear types, like pelagic or surface long-lining and bottom trawling can increase the likelihood and amount of bycatch incurred.
Certain fishing and farming practices can have negative impacts on critical marine or aquatic habitats. With the loss of crucial habitats such as spawning, nursery, breeding or sheltering areas, many species find it challenging to survive, let alone thrive. Communities such as coral reefs, kelp forests, mangroves and wetlands provide critical habitat for a wide array of organisms and damage to these key areas can have dramatic consequences for the environment.
Overfishing is a monumental, global issue. Ocean Wise Seafood is a conservation program that aims to tackle this crisis, 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.