Sustainable fishing and consumers responsibility in determining the future of fisheries.

Sustainable fishing

Sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean and protecting habitats and threatened species, however the subject has come to media attention again after the release of recent documentary film Seaspiracy on Netflix in March 2021.

According to ourworldindata.org fish and seafood consumption per capita worldwide, between 1961 to 2017 has grown more than double and has increased from 9.01 Kg to 18.98 kg, during the same period the world population has grown from 3.16 billion to 7.76 billion. So, not only there are more people, but we consume more fish and seafood per capita. Swedish use much more fish and seafood than the average world population, in Sweden the average fish and seafood consumption per capita was 32.81 Kg in 2017.




50 percent of the fish in the global human food chain is farmed, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But where does the fish that people in Sweden eat come from? According to a RISE Rapport in 2019 by Louisa Borthwick, Kristina Bergman & Friederike Ziegler, it’s mostly imported. 72% of Swedish seafood comes from imports and 28% from domestic producers. Swedish commercial fishers account for 21% of domestic production, with the rest coming from recreational fishing and aquaculture. Swedes import fish and seafood overwhelmingly from Norway, Denmark, and China. (90% of the total imports)

In 2013 for several months, French journalists Nicolas Daniel and Louis de Barbeyrac studied the fishing industry from the inside. They went all the way from Norway to Vietnam, visited Sweden and Denmark. The result of their investigation was the film, revealing the truth that tries to hide the “fish lobby”. The investigation they started from the West of Norway, where in the countryside there are many fish farms that are engaged in artificial cultivation of salmon. The journalists met with the Norwegian activist, environmentalist, and the founder of Union of nature protection of Norway Kurt Oddekalv, who believes an outrageous fact, which was hidden under the waters of the fjords. They also revealed a toxic pesticide Ethoxyquin that been added to fish feed as an antioxidant which can have harmful effect on human and its use was legal and there were no limits for ethoxyquin in fish. However, sense that, country such as Japan have set limits for ethoxyquin in fish, but it took EU 4 years to change the regulation and 7 years to stop the practice completely in 2020 within EU.

This is probably another example of how good investigating journalists and environmentalist activist can make difference. However, the use of Ethoxyquin has stopped in EU but not worldwide and all other environmental issues remain in place when it comes to fish farming and over consumption.




But what can we do for a sustainable solution? The obvious thing is that we all should reduce or consumption of meat, fish and seafood and use more vegetarian option. But if we cannot completely stop the consumption of fish and seafood, we may start using wild fish, however that has also big environmental affect on oceans ecosystem as currently 85% wild fish of world’s fisheries are being overtaxed, meaning wild fish are being caught at a faster rate than they can reproduce, so if we continue with that, we will have dead oceans soon and no fish left for future generation.

Other problem with wild fish, is some fishing methods catch all kinds of additional sea life that end up dying as result, this is called bycatch for instance trawls get dragged along the ocean floor disrupting the ecosystem and catching sea turtles and unwanted fish or long lines fishing tons of innocent bycatch as well these methods are definitely not sustainable. A wild fish is sustainable if it’s caught in a way that doesn’t threaten the long-term survival of its species or the ecosystem it’s a part of. Hook and line fishing harpooning and some uses of traps are often more sustainable methods of catching fish with these methods bycatch is minimal and unwanted fish can be released.

The documentary made by French journalists in 2013 indicated, that we cannot leave the control of sustainable fishing to the industry as most companies are driven by profit maximisation and some of them may ignore sustainability for short time profit growth. Further even politicians have shown that they cannot be reliable when it comes to sustainability as even if we ignore corruption and conflict of interest in some cases, the political system has shown that in practice their decision-making process can be very slow to act. This leaves huge responsibility on us as consumers to educate ourselves, adjust our shopping behaviour and monitor the industry, consumers play a big role in determining the future of fisheries and keeping our oceans healthy. EU a new Common fisheries Policy that is based on respecting the oceans ecosystems this should help to keep our oceans healthy and to support the livelihood of fisherman for future generation. However, in EU average consumption is 22 kilos of fish per person per year, European appetite for fish can no longer be covered by European fishing boats alone. EU import nearly two-thirds of its fish much of this from unregulated fishing fleets, 20% of fish sold in EU come from unregulated fishing fleet. That is why transparency of the supply chain is become increasingly important and the role of organisations such as Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council become vital as they work globally beyond EU borders.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent non-profit organization which sets a standard for sustainable fishing and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is an independent non-profit organisation and labelling organization that establishes protocol on farmed seafood while ensuring sustainable aquaculture. Overall, the report states several positive effects of those organisations work, even authors such as Jared Diamond and Andrew Balmford claim the work of MSC as good examples of collaboration among environmentalists and businesses for a sustainable economy and a successful strategy for achieving conservation goals through a collaborative, market-based solution but also there are some criticisms and some aspects that make the MSC a weak certification. Currently MSC looks at three principles; first whether the targeted stock is overfished, second what impact the fishing has on the wider ecosystem and last the strength of the fisheries management. But the MSC has seen criticism for example for certifying fisheries with a high percentage of bycatch who may not reporting bycatch or do not scrupulously comply with MSC arrangements. So, that means if you have the MSC label you can’t always be sure it’s sustainable. But in more cases than not, it is better than a non-certified seafood at least if you are in the North American or European region. So, as a consumer the least that you can do to support sustainable fishing is to purchase labelled and certified fish and seafood in shops and restaurants. The more public pressure there is for sustainable seafood products, the faster that unsustainable fishing practices will be eliminated. Anyway, the video below will explore some other things that you can do to help cut down overfishing.



Useful links to help you with understanding of sustainable fishing