Monday, July 5, 2010

Sustainable Fishing

The recent gulf oil spill disaster has turned the spotlight once again on the fishing industry and its sustainability. Fishing and aquaculture provide livelihoods for more than millions of people in the world.

Areas of major fishing activity
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) has divided the world into 19 major fishing areas, most of which are in the Atlantic (seven) and Pacific Oceans (Six). (See  for more details).

In 2007 (the latest data set we have from FAO), 140 million tonnes of aquatic animals were produced for consumption, of which 65% were captured production and 35% were farmed. The areas that are the most heavily fished are the Pacific Ocean (53% of which 25% alone are from the Pacific Northwest waters), Atlantic Ocean (25%) and the Indian Ocean (12%).

Major sustainability issues
As with other land animals, ocean fishes are not limitless. 70% of the world's fisheries are currently being harvested at capacity and are in decline. The major issues with world captured production are overfishing (both illegal and unregulated), habitat damage and poor by-catch (i.e. catching unwanted species) management.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, over the past decade, the halibut, bluefin tuna, swordfish, haddock and yellowtail flounder have joined the list of species that are surviving below their natural levels.

Although fish farming can be a great solution to overfishing in our waters, there are still ecological impacts that we need to be cognizant of. Good fish farming practices are those that minimize habitat damage, prevent the spread of disease and non-native species and also minimize the use of wild fishes as feed.

Although wild caught fishes are theoretically better than their farmed counterparts due to unknown farming practices, there are fish farms that are managed and operated in a sustainable and nutritionally friendly way, specifically, sustainable fish farms (from

1. Uses less wild caught fish (in the form of fish meal and fish oil) than it produces in the form of edible marine fish protein, and thus provides net protein gains for society
2. Does not pose a substantial risk of deleterious effects on wild fish stocks through the escape of farmed fish, amplification, retransmission or introduction of disease or parasites
3. Employs methods to treat and reduce the discharge of organic waste and other potential contaminants so that the resulting discharge does not adversely affect the surrounding ecosystem
4. implements and enforces all local, national and international laws and customs and utilizes a precautionary approach (which favors conservation of the environment in the face of irreversible environment risks) for daily operations and industry expansion

What you can do to help
Seafood is a healthy source of protein and other nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids (in fishes), vitamins Bs and A, iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc while being very low in saturated fats.

So don't eliminate seafood completely from your diet. Instead, be aware of and be better informed of the species that are more desirable for inclusion in your diet as a healthy source of protein.

For those of you in the US, the Monterey Bay Aquarium website provides a buying guide that lists the species that are ideal for consumption based on the sustainability of their respective production methods. Species to avoid are the ones that are currently overfished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. To download a pocket sized copy of the guide, go to

For those of you in Asia, check out the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific (NACA)( and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC)( websites. The NACA is an intergovenmental organization that promotes rural development through sustainable aquaculture. The SEAFDEC is also an intergovernmental organization that aims to promote sustainable fisheries development in the Southeast Asian region. Current member countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The above Monterey Bay buying guide can also serve well as a good starting point to find out where your seafood species are coming from. Determine whether that source is sustainable or not and make better seafood choices.

For those of you in Europe, check out the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) ( website. The MCS has a pocket guide to buying sustainable seafood too.

Additional resources for more information
For more information, check out the websites below.

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