Hook, line, and sinker: Is sustainable fishing legit?

Modern consumers rightfully feel skeptical towards many corporate claims. From all-natural and ethically sourced to green and clean, many companies get away with slapping these labels on their products regardless of whether they have any merit. 


If you’ve watched the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, then you’re familiar with the environmental impact that large-scale fishing leaves in its wake. Ghost nets, plastic debris, dolphin hunting, and overfishing are some of the many side effects the documentary explores. It also makes the controversial claim that “sustainable fishing” doesn’t exist.


But is it possible to fish sustainably? Or is it nothing more than another label that companies can use to appease concerned consumers and climate activists?


The profitability of overfishing 

Before answering those questions, it’s important to recognize that most modern seafood does come from non-sustainable sources. That’s because while overfishing might cause immense damage to the environment, it’s also the most profitable business model.


Companies know that because of the demand for seafood, they can make a ton of money by catching as much fish as possible at any given moment. They have little regard for whether fish and other seafood populations will recover because their profit margins remain high in the short term. 


One fish that has seen its population decrease drastically is the bluefin tuna. Experts estimate that its current population is only around 21-29% of what it was in 1970. Other species that have seen severe population declines include the Chilean seabass and the beluga sturgeon—the latter of which people use to harvest roe, or caviar. 

The history of sustainable fishing 

Despite what documentaries like Seaspiracy might claim, sustainable fishing is a legitimate practice. It’s also one that many cultures across the world have practiced for centuries. 


For instance, Polynesians have had a close relationship with aquatic wildlife throughout much of history. They used tactics like spearfishing, cast nets, and hooks to provide their local communities with food, but they didn’t overfish to a level that caused wildlife populations to disappear.


Likewise, Southeast Asian cultures like the Tagbanua people in the Philippines have employed fishing practices that enable them to harvest and protect seafood populations. They only fish at specific times during the year and prohibit fishing in certain areas, like coral reefs. These simple practices allow wildlife populations to regrow naturally. 

How to protect aquatic wildlife 

One of the most straightforward ways to protect fish and other types of seafood is by abstaining from eating them altogether. It might seem extreme, especially if you enjoy dishes like tuna and oysters, but you get the peace of mind that goes along with knowing that you’re doing what you can to protect wildlife populations.


If cutting seafood out of your diet doesn’t seem like a realistic option, make sure the seafood you buy comes from sustainable fisheries. Get your fish from companies that care about the environment and not just their bottom lines. 


Resources like Seafood Selector can help you ensure that the seafood you buy comes from sustainable, eco-friendly sources. 

Be an informed consumer 

While it’s an exaggeration to say that all modern seafood comes from non-sustainable sources, it’s true that overfishing is a real problem that countries need to tackle. The best way to do that? By being an informed consumer who buys their seafood from the right places.

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