Issues > Food & Drink > Animals > Overfishing
Seafood is a key part of many cultures, economies, and communities worldwide, Australia included. But have you ever stopped to think about the impacts of what you're eating? For decades now, the global demand for fish and seafood has increased. It has had a significant impact on our ocean ecosystems. 90 per cent of global fish stocks are fully exploited or overfished. Pacific bluefin tuna populations are estimated at under 4 per cent of their pre-fishing levels. Oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by 71 per cent since 1970, and around a third are threatened with extinction. The primary cause of all of this? Overfishing.
There are many ways in which the fishing industry adversely impacts aquatic life. The most straightforward is fishing a population beyond a sustainable level. This means that animals are being fished faster than they're replenishing, resulting in a population decline. Aquatic life is often thrown back after being fished, usually because they are too small or not the correct species. However, even this often causes injury or death because of rapid decompression, air exposure, and the stress of being captured. The plastic from fishing equipment is another issue. 45 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in weight is discarded fishing nets.
This can be combated in a few ways. The most obvious is limiting how much fishing is done in the first place, particularly for species that are at risk. Government-mandated fishing quotas help, and we can do our bit by cutting or reducing our seafood intake. If you continue eating seafood, you should ensure that what you eat is sustainably sourced. Unfortunately, this isn't always easy. Manufacturers often name their products to obscure the underlying animal, such as using "flake" to describe shark. Aggregate products like fish sticks or patties also tend to include unsustainable seafood without the consumer realising. It's important to check the label and learn what products and species are sustainable choices.
What can you do?
Eliminate or reduce your seafood consumption. Tofu is a great protein-rich alternative. If you are concerned about omega-3, flaxseed, walnuts and algae oil are great substitutes.
When buying seafood, use GoodFish: Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide to help you find the most sustainable options.
Avoid species most at risk, such as shark products, rays, bigeye tuna, and southern bluefin tuna. Choose fish lower down the food chain, such as sardines and anchovies.
Look for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logos. These certify that the seafood production occurred in a reasonably sustainable manner.