It is all the hype that eating seafood is healthier for you, but could our desire for it actually be harmful to the oceans and us?
Not only do 3 billion people around the world rely on fish to provide them with protein, but 10-12 percent of the global population is supported by the aquaculture and fishing industry (Hance). In the Pacific Islands alone, 50 to 90 percent of their protein is sourced from fish (O’Gorman). Clearly, the seafood industry is a staple in the livelihoods of many inhabitants across the globe and with the global seafood demand expecting to grow to 50 million tons by the year 2025, the conditions of the ocean need to be addressed (O’Gorman).
In 2015, the Living Blue Planet released a report with shocking results showing that between 1970 and 2012 the marine populations of fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals have declined by 49 percent (Marshall). Do you like bonito, tuna, or mackerel? Well, their populations have seen a decline of 74 percent between 1970 and 2012 (Marshall). Many factors can be attributed to these declines. Climate change is warming the oceans and causing habitat loss due to acidification and plastic pollution is finding its way into marine animal systems (Marshall). The most detrimental factor leading to these declines though is that of overfishing and illegal fishing. According to Wyatt Marshall of The Vice, around 29 percent of the fisheries across the oceans are overfished, 61 percent of the fisheries have been completely exhausted, and 12 to 28 percent, or $23 billion worth, of the global fish catch is attributed to illegal fishing (Marshall).
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) collects fish catch data from nation’s across the globe annually, but doesn’t include data from sport fishing, illegal fishing, or bycatch (Carrington). New studies have shown that the FAO’s numbers are far from what they should be due to this exclusion of data (Carrington). Damian Carrington of The Guardian says that new studies show that the amount of fish catches are decreasing globally at rates three times more than what FAO’s research provides (Carrington). At the fore front this sounds like people are fishing less, creating a decline in fish catches per year, but Professor Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia assures that this decline is caused by countries overfishing and exploiting their fisheries (Carrington). Professor Callum Roberts of the University of York (United Kingdom) suggests that overfishing and fishery exploitation by large fishing industries is having a detrimental effect on developing countries whose people rely on fish for their nutritional and financial livelihoods (Carrington).
Not only are the oceans being depleted of fish and other marine animals, but much of the seafood caught is being wasted. Each year the United States catches 4.7 billion pounds of seafood and an astounding 44 percent, or 2.3 billion pounds, of that seafood is wasted (Kessier). If those numbers don’t mean much to you, take into consideration that those 2.3 billion pounds that are wasted each year could actually provide 12 million women or 10 million men with the protein that they need each year (Kessier). If we break down that 2.3 billion pounds of waste by culprit we find that 51 to 63 percent is wasted by people throwing away unfinished or old seafood items, 16 to 32 percent is wasted as bycatch, and 13 to 16 percent is wasted when unwanted portions are thrown out during distribution and retail operations (Kessier).
As marine animal numbers decline and seafood demand increases, the outlook for the ocean doesn’t seem too bright. A variety of measures can be taken to help reduce the decline of fish and other marine animals in the oceans as well as reduce the amount of seafood wasted. Establishing areas of the ocean as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), improving marine management, and encouraging sustainable aquaculture and fishing industries are a few of the solutions to the loss of marine animals (Hance). Some of the measures to reduce waste include encouraging the consumption of parts that are not commonly eaten on a fish and implementing programs to reduce bycatch (Kessier). The ocean is a significant resource for humans, providing food and contributing to our livelihoods, but if we just dive in and take whatever we want without considering the consequences, we may find ourselves in a world of trouble.