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Sustainable Seafood & Fishing Methods

Fishing Boat

"Fishing Vessel" by Umnak is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0

Dale Mayo, April 22, 2022

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has established a well-earned reputation as a global leader in sustainability.  US fishermen abide by some of the most rigorous environmental measures in the world for both wild-caught and farmed species.[1]  Sustainable seafood is seafood harvested or produced in a way that supports productive fisheries and coastal communities and maintains healthy ecosystems. [2]

The Dangers of Overfishing 

Catching too many fish and depleting the breeding fish population – is the biggest threat to sea life.  Overfishing is often accompanied by destructive practices in which bycatch is returned to the sea maimed or dead.  In commercial fishing, bycatch describes the fish and sea animals that were caught in addition to the intended species - the wrong fish species, fish that are too small, other marine animals not meant to be caught (turtles, seals, birds).  According to NOAA, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing leads to unsafe and unsustainable practices and harms law-abiding fishermen around the world.  The good news is that there is an active program to stop IUU, and positive steps have been made in the fishing industry that helps both the fish population and fishermen.  Fisheries in Belize, Denmark, Namibia, and the US have instituted “fishing rights,” where fishermen are given a stake in the catch. Fishermen agree to catch-limits that allow fish populations to rebuild.  This rights-based management has turned around the health of struggling fisheries.  Since catch shares were introduced in the US in 2000, overfishing has dropped 60%.[3]

One issue for which a solution is still being sought is fishing debris or ghost fishing gear.  Not only is this a large plastic polluter in our oceans (10% of all plastic lost at sea), but lost and abandoned fishing debris is also harmful to marine life.[4] 

While overfishing still occurs and there are always people who break the laws and regulations that are intended to protect marine life, we are moving in the right direction.  Each commercial fishing method has pitfalls, but researchers are constantly looking for ways to mitigate or prevent damage to marine life and its ecosystem.  Some practices that are highly successful in preventing bycatch have been voluntarily adopted and even mandated.

Current Fishing Practices & Their Sustainability

Trawling

Trawling is a fishing method in which a net is typically pulled behind a fishing boat to catch shrimp along the seabed.[5] 

Trawling Depiction

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/bycatch/fishing-gear-bottom-trawls

Bottom trawling has a very high bycatch rate, sometimes even higher than the target catch. Using appropriate gear technologies and fishing practices has helped reduce or prevent bycatch.  For example, the “Turtle Excluder Device” allows turtles like the endangered loggerhead sea turtle (and sharks and other large fish) to escape through a grid of bars at the top or bottom of trawl nets.  At one Australian fishery, turtle bycatch decreased by 99 percent.[6]

Hook and line

Hook-and-line or bait-fishing is what many sports fishermen are most familiar with – it is also a sustainable method to catch many types of fish. Using circle hooks instead of J hooks minimizes bycatch and causes little to no habitat damage. Trolling is when multiple lines are dragged behind a fishing vessel.[7] 

Longlining

Longlining involves miles of fishing line connected by buoys. Hook-and-lines are attached intermittently along an anchor line.[8]

Longline depiction

"File:Ecomare - tekening visserijtechniek longline (longline)" by Ecomare/Oscar Bos is marked with CC BY-SA 4.0.

An Australian study revealed that circle hooks can increase longline catches of target species and reduce the risk of catching turtles. In 2001, reports of marine turtle catches resulted in the closure of major United States (US) longline fisheries in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The US fisheries reopened in 2005 with stringent measures to improve turtle survival, including the use of large circle hooks.[9]

Longline gear can also unintentionally catch birds that are attracted to the bait and pull them under water where they drown.  A successful way to keep birds from the lines is to attach brightly colored streamers that scare them off.  Bird scaring lines in South Africa reduced the bird bycatch by 90%.[10]

Nets

Gill nets that catch fish that try to swim through them have been used for thousands of years. Fish are caught when their heads go through the net mesh, but the rest of the body is too big - the fish becomes entangled by the gills.

Larger marine animals (dolphins, porpoises, sharks, seals, whales) can also get hung up in the nets.  Pingers emit a regular sonic noise that wards off cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and whales).  Netting vessels over a certain length are now required to use pingers.  Lost nets are a huge threat to marine life for which there is not yet a fix.[11] 

Aquaculture

 Humans have been breeding and raising seafood for millennia.  Aquaculture includes both landlocked ponds dug specifically to raise fish and pens in rivers or the sea where fish are raised. Aquaculture is not limited to fish, but also includes oysters, mussels, shrimp, and other species. 

Fish Farm Ponds

"Fish Farm Ponds" by oatsy40 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Seafood is a key ingredient in the diets of many people – more than 3.3 billion people around the world get at least 20% of their daily animal protein intake from fish.  While human population and seafood consumption is rising, our global abundance of wild fish is not.  According to the FAO, fish consumption has risen over 120% worldwide in the past 30 years and has more than tripled since 1961 in developing regions fueled by expanding fish production and imports. Much of the recent increase in production has come from aquaculture, but this in turn is heavily dependent on wild fisheries as a source of feed.[12]  Scientists have found that farming fish is better for the climate than raising land-based animals.[13]  Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in ensuring a secure food system while we also address the challenges of climate change.[14]

According to a report on fishing and aquaculture by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2016, “In terms of global production volume, that of farmed fish and aquatic plants combined surpassed that of capture fisheries in 2013”.[15]  According to NOAA’s Fisheries division,

Seafood farming, if done responsibly—as it is in the US—is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally sustainable ways to produce food and protein. Farmed seafood requires far less feed than most terrestrial animals, and years of lessons learned have been put into practice in U.S. aquaculture farm management and regulatory requirements.[16]

Salmon Farm

"Salmon farm in Gunnister Voe" by eutrophication&hypoxia is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Unfortunately, not all farmed fish is raised responsibly.  Aquacultural pollution—nitrogenous waste—is now a widespread hazard in Asia, where 90 percent of farmed fish are located. The US currently imports about 90% of its seafood.  The FDA, which inspects about 2% of the imported seafood, has discovered banned substances (antibiotics and pesticides that are banned in the US, Europe, and Japan) in aquaculture shipments from Asia. As with any food supply, using sustainable methods with careful monitoring is part of providing good seafood and stewardship of Earth’s resources, whether harvesting wild or cultivated seafood.

Importance of Sustainable Fishing & Sourcing

Clearly, it is important to ensure that the seafood you’re eating is sustainable and responsibly sourced.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide can help you with responsible seafood choices.  Some questions to ask: Where is this seafood from? Is the seafood farmed or wild? How was it caught?  Sizzlefish provides the answers to these questions when you select a specific type of seafood on the website. For example, if you go to Wild Alaska Sockeye Salmon, you find informative logos - including our guarantee that it comes from sustainable fisheries - and sourcing information.

Eating high-quality seafood is not only good our customers, but also for the earth, with natural, sustainably sourced seafood.  You can trust us to supply you with pure natural fish portions, with tools and tips for quick easy preparation, and with honest information about the benefits you get from Sizzlefish products.

[1]  https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/5-things-you-should-know-about-sustainable-seafood

[2]   Hall, D. Sustainable fishing. Smithsonian Institution:  Ocean. https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/fishing/sustainable-fishing

[3]  https://www.edf.org/oceans/overfishing-most-serious-threat-our-oceans?gclsrc=ds

[4]  https://www.marinebio.org/what-is-the-problem-with-fishing-gear/

[5]  https://scaquarium.org/sustainable-fishing-methods/

[6]  Hall, D. Sustainable fishing. Smithsonian Institution:  Ocean. https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/fishing/sustainable-fishing

[7]  https://scaquarium.org/sustainable-fishing-methods/

[8]  https://scaquarium.org/sustainable-fishing-methods/

[9]   https://www.bmis-bycatch.org/system/files/zotero_attachments/library_1/H8PSD6NN%20-%20circlehooks1.pdf

[10]  Hall, D. Sustainable fishing. Smithsonian Institution:  Ocean. https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/fishing/sustainable-fishing

[11]  https://www.bestfishforward.com/fish-tales/2020/5/1/fishing-methods

[12]  Sustainable fishing, higher yields and the global food supply. MSC Insights January 2021. The Marine Stewardship Council.  https://www.msc.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/about-the-msc/msc-insights-january-2021.pdf

[13] Gunther, M. (2018). Can deepwater aquaculture avoid the pitfalls of coastal fish farms?  Yale Environment 360. January 25, 2018. https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-deepwater-aquaculture-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-coastal-fish-farms

[14] FAO. 2019. The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, J. Bélanger & D. Pilling (eds.).

FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Assessments. Rome. 572 pp.

http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/CA3129EN.pdf

[15]  https://www.alimentarium.org/en/knowledge/history-aquaculture

[16]  Aquaculture: Outreach & Education.  https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/aquaculture#outreach-&-education