As Plentiful as the Fish in the Sea?

OPS, May 2007

There are huge concerns about the depletion of the earth’s oceans and particularly the over-fishing of many species.  For instance:  Orange Roughy has been a very popular seafood choice.  But it turns out they have a reproductive cycle of 20-plus years (some reports indicate 35 years).  They mate and reproduce later in their lives than most humans and they have already been fished to “economic extinction.”

Other species, which are abundant, like tuna, are caught with methods that kill thousands fish of other species in the process.  While some tuna is caught using dolphin-friendly systems, so that dolphins are freed, many other species are caught in nets along with other fish species.  These are considered “bycatch” (or to use a war metaphor, ‘collateral damage’) and are discarded back into the ocean to die if they are not already dead. According to research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture , worldwide fishing operations throw away 25% of  their catch.  Tons of fish are tossed out, dead or dying, because they’re not the kind the fishermen wanted to catch. The discarded animals may have no market value, or there may be no room on the boat to bring them to shore. Or the bycatch may be a marketable species, but too small to sell. Sometimes, fish are discarded because the fishermen lack the proper permits to land them. Dolphins, sea turtles, seals and whales all get caught by accident in fishing gear and drown. Seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, drown when they snatch baited hooks and are pulled under water.  Sharks, swordfish and red snapper are harmed by accidental kills. Bycatch often takes young fish that could rebuild depleted populations if allowed to grow up and breed.

The animals we catch and throw away have important roles to play in marine food webs. By killing these animals, we’re taking food away from tunas, salmon, swordfish, dolphins, sea lions and other ocean wildlife.  Still other species are ‘farmed’ using methods that pollute the surrounding ocean.  Meantime, we are being encouraged to increase our consumption of fish for our health.  Below is a Seafood Watch brochure from Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  This one is specific to the Central U.S. It is a guide to which fish species are being harvested or raised in an environmentally friendly way and those which are endangered or are harvested in a way that is environmentally destructive.  Each of the entries on the guide has a corresponding website.  You can even order free guides to share.  Learn more.

Good Seafood Chart