What to know about sustainable fishing

We need fish. They form an important part of most people’s diets and come with several health benefits. Fish is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Eating fish reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure, and increases brain function. Fish may also help reduce the risk of cancer or Alzheimer's disease.


So, we know that we need fish and everyone knows what the practice of fishing is. Not everyone is familiar with the practice of sustainable fishing though.


The focus of sustainable fishing is to ensure that there will be populations of freshwater and ocean wildlife for the year to come. Species of fish form an important component of our diet, and the diet of many animals. While we have to eat, we also need to ensure a balance for the sustainability of the fish in our waters.


The reality is that mankind is depleting our oceans and the earth’s freshwater of both fish and shellfish populations. Increase demand and technology has only increased this depletion over recent years. How do we make sure we meet this demand but ensure the sustainability of our fish species? The answer is sustainable fishing.


What exactly is sustainable fishing?


Sustainable fishing is a practice that minimizes the environmental impacts of fishing. Fisheries that use sustainable practices will maintain healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. They will not exceed the capacity of the environment to replenish stocks. Sustainable fishing is where the number of fish taken from the ocean of freshwater is at a rate that allows the population of fish or stock to repopulate (1).


Some experts break it down into three areas, being ensuring we provide rebuilding, making sure that we preserve intergenerational equity and that we ensure long-term constant yield.


It’s more than just fish being removed from the waters. Trawling damages other marine life because the process collects species that are outside of their target catch. Sustainable fishing is about ensuring that fishing fleets use methods that don’t harm the marine environment. They must use methods that only capture seafood that they are allowed to target (2). This promotes the protection of our marine species. In fact, such bottom trawling is being phased out in many parts of the world due to its destructive nature (3).


Fish farming has been criticized for its pollution and health risks. It can be done sustainably though if it observes proper regulations.


How is sustainable fishing achieved?


One way that sustainable fishing has been implemented is by limiting the power of fishing boats so that they can only catch a certain amount of fish (4). 


Another way is through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). A Marine Protected Area is an area in which fishing and other extractive activities are banned. These areas can be designated by local laws. They can also be defined by international treaties or even just informal agreements between various groups (5).


The main issue with marine protected areas is that in order for them to work, they need monitoring and enforcement. The purpose of these MPAs is to maintain sustainable fishing by regulating how much fish can be taken out of the sea. This means that if the rules are not followed and enforced it defeats the very purpose of creating them in the first place.


Who is involved in sustainable fishing?


Sustainable fishing initiatives typically involve government agencies, scientists, and environmental groups. A growing number of businesses also promote sustainable practices among member nations. They do so to ensure that the entire industry becomes more economically viable in the future.


What about the way forward?


Maintaining sustainable fishing is important. It can also have negative consequences on those who rely on fish as a source of income. In order for this issue to be properly addressed, more needs to be done in terms of communicating the effects that sustainable fishing has on those who rely on fishing as their livelihood. Without this understanding, people will continue to resist MPAs and other forms of legislation such as quotas because they do not understand how their actions are negatively affecting the fish population.

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