Fishing and fish farming are damaging the ocean’s ecology. More than a third of the fish stocks around the world are being overfished and the problem is particularly acute in developing countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a recent report. “While developed countries are improving the way they manage their fisheries, developing countries face a worsening situation,” the FAO said. In 2017, 34.2% of the fish stocks of the world’s marine fisheries were classified as overfished, a “continuous increasing trend” since 1974 when it stood at just 10%.
This is not surprising since worldwide per capita fish consumption set a new record of 20.5 kg (45.2 pounds) per year in 2018. This compares with 9kg (20 pounds) per person in 1961. The scope of this problem can partly gauged by the fact that there are now over four million commercial fishing vessels combing the world’s oceans, depleting fish at a rate that’s considered much faster than is sustainable.
Did you know that at least one third of the fish that are caught in commercial fishing nets are thrown back into the sea, dead or dying? Known as bycatch, this may be because they are a fish species that is not valuable to the fishing industry, but it can also be because they are mammals that just happened to get caught in the nets. Bycatch when fishing for tuna in particular is one of the leading causes of death for dolphins and other cetaceans, and their numbers are in steep decline as a result.
“Between 1950 and 2018, the fishing industry unintentionally caught around 4.1 million dolphins”, says Dr. Putu Liza Mustika, who worked on the study. A research team—led by Dr. Charles Anderson of the Maldivian Manta Marine organization—looked at bycatch rates in the Indian ocean to draw its conclusions.
They estimate that the dolphin population in the Indian Ocean stands at 13 percent of what it was in the 1980s. Mustika notes that the figures in the study are “ball-park figures,” and therefore have a lot of uncertainties. But what they do confirm is the magnitude of the problem.
The study includes a number of dolphins and whale species, including Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, humpback, Risso’s, and common dolphins. The study states that although tuna catches are increasing, dolphin bycatch stagnated in the 1990s. [It] has since declined, and is therefore unsustainable and impacting populations, according to Dr. Sarah Dolman from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).
It’s not just dolphins that end up as bycatch. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says, “entanglement in fishing gear is the leading threat for whales and dolphins around the globe. [It’s] estimated to cause at least 300,000 deaths per year.”
According to Dolman, fishers caught 75 percent of toothed cetaceans in gillnets in the past 20-plus years. Sixty-four percent of baleen whales have ended up as bycatch in the same time period, as well as 66 percent of pinnipeds (that’s animals like seals, sea lions, and walruses).
Dolman notes that authorities have taken some action to mitigate the situation, including fishing bans and gear modifications. “There is much that can be done to better monitor, mitigate report, and enforce dolphin bycatch.” She adds that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently producing best practice guidelines to prevent and reduce marine mammal bycatch. She notes: “this would be a good place to start.”
However, all the fishing regulations in the world will not prevent these beautiful creatures from dying as long as there is a high demand for fish, especially tuna. One thing you can do is to give up eating fish, or switch to vegan substitutes for fish products. We wrote last month about some of the new vegan seafood brands that are available. It’s also easy to make your own “tuna salad” from chickpeas. See recipes
There’s still slavery in the fishing and seafood industry. We had hoped that the problem of slavery in the fishing industry, once recognized, would be solved but it hasn’t. A new report by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) details cases of slavery, debt bondage, insufficient food and water, filthy living conditions, physical and sexual assault and murder aboard fishing vessels from 13 countries operating across three oceans.
A new report, Blood and Water, details numerous cases of abuse, on vessels flying the flags of both developing and developed nations, from the E.U. and U.S. to Asia and South America. It includes recent investigations revealing serious abuses on vessels ranging from Taiwanese long liners fishing far out at sea for high value tuna, to desperate Vietnamese trawlers illegally entering Thai coastal waters because of the collapse of their own fisheries.
As in other industries where the use of forced labor has been uncovered, forced labor in fisheries is, to some extent, driven by the motivation to reduce costs. Fishermen can be lured into situations of modern slavery by seemingly legitimate employment opportunities, but once recruited find themselves unable to leave because of the threat of violence towards themselves or family members, physical confinement on and off shore, the withholding of wages, and the debts they incur through the recruitment process. Violence is all too common.
But now for the good news. While governments, industry and retailers have not solved this problem, there is something you can do: go veg. The seafood industry not only hurts the fish themselves, and the ocean’s ecology, it also hurts those in the fishing industry. We don’t need to eat fish, and in fact, it’s better for our health if we don’t. When people stop eating fish they’ll stop selling it. It’s time to stop eating fish!
Our taste for salmon is killing the orca whales. The southern resident orcas which inhabit the waters of the Salish Sea between the US and Canada, and the outer coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, are starving to death. They just can’t find enough of their primary food source, chinook salmon, to keep themselves well-fed. There are currently only 74 of them in the three pods of this group, down from a peak of 98 in 1995. Struggling to survive in hostile waters, the southern residents have not successfully reproduced in three years. Read more
Fishing and fish farming are destroying the ocean’s ecology. In fact, according to the United Nations Environmental Program, the ocean’s ecological crisis is “greater than anything witnessed on land.” According to the UN, almost 90% of the fisheries are now at either their sustainable limit or beyond.
The scope of this problem can partly gauged by the fact that there are now over four million commercial fishing vessels combing the world’s oceans, depleting fish at a rate that’s considered three times more than is sustainable.
The seafood industry in Thailand suffers from widespread worker abuse amounting to slavery, according to a recent report by the nonprofit organization Verité. Virtually all American and European companies that buy seafood from Thailand are at risk of receiving products tainted by slavery, according to this report, which was released on Monday. The report catalogs deceptive recruitment practices, hazardous working conditions and very severe violence on fishing boats and in processing factories.
Most of Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants from neighboring Cambodia or Burma, brought into Thailand illegally by traffickers, provided fake documents and often actually sold to boat captains, the report said. On fishing boats, these workers routinely face limited access to medical care for injuries or infection, work 16 hour days, seven days a week, endure chronic sleep deprivation, and suffer from an insufficient supply of water for drinking, showering or cooking, the report found. They are not free to quit or leave. Often they are “kept” for year or even extended periods of time. The evidence of abuse is often just buried at sea. One Burmese worker said, “When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”
We reported on this sad state of affairs two years ago with the hope that conditions would improve. The Thai ambassador to the US says they take the problem seriously, but while they have clamped down a bit, it’s still not nearly enough.
Other human casualties of the animal products industry include those who work in slaughterhouses. While there’s no suggestion of slavery, slaughterhouse workers also face well documented abuses and very dangerous working conditions.
While authorities try to improve these problems, the best answer is to go veg. You’ll not only stop supporting worker abuse, but you’ll help the animals and the environment as well.
We’ve often written in the past about the health, environmental and animal welfare problems associated with meat production. But at this time of year, let’s take a moment to remember the workers who often face very exploitative and harsh conditions in that industry as well. Please visit our posts on slaughterhouse workers, fishing boat workers and the famous labor leader Cesar Chavez to learn more.
We’ve written in the past about just how miserable it is to work in a slaughterhouse, given all the abuses and injuries that take place there. This article takes a look at worker conditions at the slaughterhouse’s counterpart on the world’s oceans and in seafood processing plants.
Most of us live and spend almost all of our time on land. All too often, what goes on in the ocean is out of our sight and therefore out of mind. But the problems and abuses on fishing vessels and at seafood processing plants are just as bad or even worse than in land-based slaughterhouses, and many of the workers are nearly slaves, often literally sold by human traffickers. You may have thought that slavery was a thing of the past – think again! Read more