Dangerous Waters: Are We At A Major Risk Of Overfishing?

Fishing isn’t just a job. It’s a way of life, woven deep into the cultural fabric of coastal towns and settlements right across the world. The estimated number of fishermen currently working worldwide is around 38 million, more than ever before. But this enormous human presence is not without its risks.

A recent study commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that by 2050 the ocean could contain more plastic than fish by weight; a horrifying prospect. Also, according to Forbes two-thirds of the world’s seafood is overfished.

This begs the question, are we at a major risk of irreversibly depleting the world’s fish?  

An alarming rise

The global demand for fish is extremely high. It’s the main source of animal protein for over one billion people with consumption at around 20kg per person each year. This continual rise has led to a depletion of the ocean’s predators.

In just 55 years, 90% of the top predators – sharks, bluefin tuna, marlin, and swordfish – have been wiped out. Governmental programmes across developing countries are contributing to this decline by providing up to $16billion in overfishing subsidies.

A combination of this overfishing with equipment being dumped in the ocean is at odds with sustainable practice; the decomposition of a fishing line can take up to 600 years and an estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear has been left in the ocean.

There is a clear case for companies to promote sustainable fishing.


Changing methods

In light of these concerning figures, the fishing industry has adopted methods of improving sustainability. Just last year, nine of the largest fishing companies all agreed to work in tangent to protect the ocean by signing the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS),

“We will work towards full traceability and transparency throughout our supply chains. We also pledge to work actively together with governments to improve existing regulations for fisheries, for aquaculture, and for the ocean.” 

The initiative will work to reduce illegal fishing, improve plastic pollution and make the fishing industry more sustainable. In addition to this, British fish companies such as Young’s continue to lead the charge with programmes like their Fish for Life initiative which is founded on Ten Principles for Responsible Fish Procurement.



Millenials to the rescue

In a world becoming increasingly health conscious, to such an extent that gang wars are breaking out over avocados, it’s no surprise that millennial consumers have a clear preference to eat sustainably caught fish.

In 2017 research led by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) found that 52% of 18-34-year-olds would choose sustainable seafood compared to 37% for over 55-year-olds.

This has resulted in a huge increase in purchased MSC certified seafood. Last year, the UK saw £754million spent on sustainably caught fish, a 48% rise from the year before, £509million. The rise in spending on this type of seafood meant £1 for every £5 goes on MSC certified sustainable fish.

“The fact is that UK shoppers value sustainable credentials above price and brand. We are delighted that the younger generation care about sustainable seafood – they are the shoppers of the future. With this year’s increase of restaurants, brands, and supermarkets using the MSC blue fish label, we can all help to drive sustainable fishing.”

— Toby Middleton, UK programme director for MSC

Looking forward

With UK supermarkets looking to continue the support of sustainably caught fish, the quantity of MSC certified products is up 20% year on year.

More encouragingly, as recently as 2015, 16% of American waters were overfished, a figure down from 25% in 2000.

There is, therefore, promising signs that overfishing has become a genuine concern of leading companies in the fishery world and that consumer preference to purchase sustainably caught fish is at the forefront of buyers’ decision-making.

With major fishing companies taking a serious approach to sustainably caught fish and with programmes such as Blue Planet ever-growing in popularity and brilliance, the safety of the ocean can hopefully remain in-tact for many of years to come.