Hussh | Overfishing and warming seas are putting species at risk

Overfishing and warming seas are putting species at risk

I love fish and chips. There are few culinary delights in the UK that can match a humble battered cod and paper-wrapped soggy chips on a warm, summer afternoon. But this holiday-maker treat is under threat by the very people making it possible.

The topic of fishing often comes up in the climate debate. Multiple pieces of research have suggested that climate change threatens to wipe out significantly more species of fish than previously thought. If average global temperatures rise by five degrees Celsius — that’d be a global warming nightmare scenario — then New Scientist reports that 60 percent of all fish species could go extinct by the year 2100. It’s grim news, as previous studies predicted that fish would be far more resilient. 

But it’s not just the warming temperatures that are pushing fish populations into decline.

Overfishing and undervaluing

Overfishing and intensive methods such as ‘bottom trawling’ are fast impacting our oceans. We recently had the pleasure of listening to a talk by Clare Brook (CEO of The Blue Marine Foundation) at the Blue Earth Summit, who explained how bottom trawling involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor to scrape up large quantities of fish in one go. 

The problem with such methods however, is that they are indiscriminate in what they catch. Everything in the way gets swept up, resulting in an extremely large bycatch with many non-target species being caught in the process. 

This naturally is having a large impact on the biodiversity of the ocean, and means many species are in danger of overfishing as an indirect result, rather than being intentionally targeted. Large volumes of carbon dioxide previously stored in ocean bed sediment are also being released at the same time as removing the ecosystem for carbon sinks such as native seagrasses — which have been shown to absorb carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. 

Whilst a campaign led by Sir David Attenborough has led to bottom trawling being banned in 40 protected marine areas around the UK, as a nation we still have a long way to go to rectify the damage our fishing industry does as a whole.

An unsustainable scale

Bottom trawling alone isn’t to blame for the shrinking fish stocks felt globally, which got us thinking about some of the wider issues. The ocean is one of the largest carbon sinks on Earth, making the need to keep its ecosystems healthy, critical in tackling the dangerous risking temperatures we’re feeling as a result of CO2 fast-tracking climate change projections. 

For thousands of years, the human species have relied on the abundance of fish and seafood in the ocean for their diets, originally via small-scale and local fishing. However, one of the biggest drivers of marine biodiversity loss today is industrial-scale fishing, which comes as a direct result of mass consumerism particularly in the West, but also in South East Asia. 

Fishing at the scale we’re at today, can take out of the ocean in a day what a small boat might remove in a year. This overfishing doesn’t allow stocks time to recover, has put many on the endangered list and is threatening the social and economic well-being of many coastal communities. 

At present, half of the world’s fish stocks are being overfished. In Europe, for example, native cod numbers have been so depleted that scientists are dramatically recommending that ships stop fishing them for an extended period of time. Even Alaska has had to cancel its famous Snow Crab fishing season due to the population collapsing. 

If the vast reductions in fish volumes wasn’t enough to raise concerns, fishing vessels are also known contributors to the release of toxic greenhouse gases as a result of burning fuel to power engines and nets. Recent reports have shown that CO2 emissions from global marine fisheries have quadrupled since 1950. In Europe, fishing fleets emit as much CO2 as Malta every year, while benefiting from tax breaks on fuel.

We can all take action

We don’t believe it’s for us to tell anyone how they should live their lives, and we subscribe to the idea that whilst individuals can do their part, large political change is needed to fix these issues. However, we would encourage our readers to clue up on the impact their choices have when it comes to eating fish — particularly when thinking about where it has been sourced and the way it has been caught. 

With sustainable options becoming more readily available, we’ve never been so spoilt for choice. A team favourite at hussh, is Fish4Ever — a canned fish brand that is leading the way in sustainable fishing by supporting local boats and using the most precise methods possible to reduce bycatch. Each can has its own code which you can enter into their website and trace your fish back to the boats that caught it. 

Of course, we appreciate that for many, fishing is a livelihood and isn’t something they can simply stop doing. Arguably the most mindful, responsible and sustainable method of sourcing fish remains in supporting your local fishing communities and buying independent, line-caught options. 

If we’re to save the humble cod and chips, we’re going to need radical, but do-able, change.