There are Plenty more Fish in the Sea… or are there?

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© metelevan / Adobe Stock

There are plenty more fish in the sea. While the saying is commonly used to refer to dating, the literal meaning has been thrown into doubt recently – with the revelation that the declining numbers of certain species of fish is causing concern.

So, are there really plenty more fish in the sea? The latest statistics suggest not. Yet if our marine population declines, this will have disastrous effects on the ecosystem. Scientists say our appetite for fish is greater than ever, so to ensure sustainability, we need to tackle the situation quickly.


Marine ecosystem

Despite efforts by various governments to manage fishing sustainably, it’s sometimes hard to believe that this is the case. Fleets of fishing vessels all over the world are catching thousands of tonnes of fish daily – processing, packaging and freezing it within 24 hours, so they’re ready to go out and do it all again the following day.

Fishing vessels are working round the clock. Until recent years, the abundance of fish made people feel like it was an inexhaustible supply of food. Humans felt that we had barely skimmed the surface of the ocean’s resources and there was always “plenty more where that came from”, but after a couple of generations of commercial fishing on a massive global scale, the illusion of a never-ending supply of fish has been shattered.

Modern theories on industrial-scale fishing serve to remind us that the sea is a functioning, natural ecosystem, dependent on wild species and their reproduction. It’s not a farm, where we can monitor the amount of livestock.

Scientists say that we must manage our fishing so that we don’t deplete the wealth of the oceans irreparably, so the marine life can be sustained for future generations.


Why is there a shortage?

The human population of our planet has tripled to 7.5 billion over the past 70 years. Our appetite for consuming fish has multiplied accordingly. Fish is a popular food because it’s a major source of protein and nutrients. During the second half of the 20th century, the annual amount of fish caught worldwide rose from 20 million tonnes to more than 90 million tonnes.

The amount of fish being caught has remained static since the turn of the millennium, despite an increase in the fishing fleets. Scientists say this indicates overfishing as the fleets are expanding, but the catch remains the same.

Back in 1975, fish stocks were considered to be 10% overfished, which didn’t seem a huge amount. Today, around 33% of stocks are considered to be overfished, which is beginning to take its toll.

Overfishing is highly detrimental to the ocean’s natural ecosystem — especially in coastal regions, where most trawler operations are located.


Effects of overfishing

Millions of people across the world, particularly in poorer fishing communities, depend on the oceans for their income and staple food. When overfishing depletes the supply of fish, it could eventually lead to some species being wiped out altogether, according to marine scientists.

They believe the threat facing our marine ecosystem from overfishing is greater than the threat of ocean pollution and predict that the marine life caught by the commercial fishing industry will end up extinct if the trend continues at its current rate.

Scientists blame the methods of commercial fishing for the decline in the ocean population. The species of fish living in the upper part of the sea are caught by drift netting – when the net is suspended by floats and spread between two fishing vessels. This method traps as many fish as possible.

Some get caught in the net and apart from a few smaller fish that may be able to swim through, they are dying needlessly if they are not of the correct size or species for the commercial fishing industry.

Deep sea fish are caught by trawling, when a giant net is dragged through the water, enabling it to trap every creature that passes its way. There are calls for very small mesh to be banned, so that the young fish can swim through and be spared, giving them a chance to breed and conserve the species.

Although there are rules governing fishing, with different nations implementing certain restrictions, marine scientists feel the legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect our ocean’s dwindling fish population.


Species most at risk

Certain species are suffering from overfishing more than others, according to recent research. Among the those at risk are sturgeon and roe, whose eggs are used for the luxury food, caviar, associated with the rich and famous. The majority of sturgeon come from the Caspian Sea, but they are said to be in “grave danger” of extinction through overfishing. The situation has become so serious that the US government has banned the import of beluga caviar.

The Chilean seabass, a popular choice in restaurants for its white, fleshy texture, is at serious risk of extinction. This is partly due to widespread illegal fishing of the species. Scientists say it shouldn’t be eaten at all because its numbers are so depleted.

As a popular Japanese sushi dish, eel is usually made with the anguilla japonica species, which is now endangered. The factory farming of the eels is causing environmental pollution, as waste from the pens and ponds isn’t treated before being discharged. Wild-caught juvenile and glass eels are being overfished, contributing to the decline of the species.

The flatfish species of halibut, flounder and sole are being overfished in the Atlantic. Consumers are advised to buy Pacific flatfish over Atlantic, where overfishing is said to have been an issue for decades.

Scientists say we should be doing more to create sustainability in the oceans and protect our natural ecosystems by controlling the commercial fishing industry.


Will Brexit affect fishing?

Claims that Brexit will impact on the UK fishing industry when we leave the European Union have been disputed by industry chiefs. However, it’s not good news in general, as economists say the EU regulations have never harmed small UK fishing companies in the first place!

They are blaming government rules that permit larger fishing companies to corner the quotas. In Britain, powerful trawler companies are gradually cutting out the small, environmentally-friendly trawler operators. So rather than blaming the EU fisheries policy, the British government is being targeted for allowing this to happen.

Some fishermen are now complaining they feel “used” and that their vote to leave the EU was “hijacked” by politicians making allegedly false claims about how they would be better off in future. A new fisheries white paper, drafted to set out the government’s proposals for an independent British fishing policy, has been much delayed.

It is anticipated it will outline “alternative approaches” to the future allocation of quota. However, it is also likely to recognise the existing “business model” that allows major fishing companies to buy out a disproportionately large share of the British fishing quota. The industry awaits with interest the final draft of the document.


Cold store

Central to the fishing industry’s day-to-day efficiency is the provision of high-quality cold stores to preserve the fish, keeping it fresh and preventing it from developing any harmful bacteria.

1COLD specialises in the design, construction and project management of temperature-controlled environments, such as cold rooms, industrial chillers and cold stores for the food and drinks industry.

Please contact us for details of our cold storage solutions.