Sustainable Fishing

Today’s common fishing practices are unsustainable and with the number of seafood eaters growing across the world, our seafood supply is readily depleting. This can leave a lasting impact on the health of our oceans as well as communities who rely on fishing for stability. Commercial fishing businesses must transition to more sustainable fishing practices.

This article discusses measures the seafood industry can take in order to limit their negative impact on our world’s oceans. In order for the fishing industry to become more sustainable they should take the following steps:

  • Eliminate bycatch
  • Adhere to the “Good Fish Guide”
  • Prevent ocean waste from plastic netting
  • Ban overfishing endangered species
  • Use lead-free fishing gear
  • Follow MSC certification guidelines
  • Reduce fossil fuel use
  • Become green business certified

How Commercial Fishing Impacts the Environment

From litter and pollution to overfishing and habitat destruction, today’s unsustainable commercial fishing has a significant negative impact on the oceans’ ecosystems. For instance, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California and roughly the size of Texas, contains 79,000 metric tons of plastic solely from abandoned fishing gear. Abandoned fishing nets, also known as ghostnets, travel through our oceans tangling over 100,000 sharks, whales and fish each year that are vital to ocean ecosystems.

1. Eliminating Bycatch

Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species. Every year a growing amount of sea turtles, dolphins and other wildlife are hauled up tangled in fishing nets only to be released while they are either dead or dying, jeopardizing many species populations especially those that are endangered.

Reducing bycatch can be possible without making drastic changes to fishing methods. A great example is the innovative idea that New England marine biologists came up with when they noticed the declining cod population while the haddock seemed to be thriving. To help lower the rate that cod were being accidentally caught, they designed a special net that released cod through the bottom while securing haddock in the upper compartment. The idea for the design came from the understanding that cod have a tendency to swim downwards when being approached by a net while haddock have a tendency to swim upwards.

Reducing bycatch may require some innovative thinking and adjustments to the current designs and methods of fishing.

2. Adhere to the “Good Fish Guide”

The Good Fish Guide, maintained by the Marine Conservation Society, provides important information on which species can be fished sustainably, which species to avoid and where these species populations are located. It even includes the method in which the species are caught (i.e. Bottom trawl).

The Good Fish Guide is helpful to both fisheries and eco-conscious consumers as it allows for more informed decision making. It should be a standard reference for all fisheries working to become more sustainable.

3. Prevent Ocean Waste From Plastic Netting

Fishing nets and lines are traditionally made from non-biodegradable, non-recyclable plastics, and all too often they are discarded, generating an accumulation of plastic waste.

One solution comes from a European project called BIOGEARS which has developed a prototype of biobased ropes. Made from natural materials, these ropes can decompose, offering a promising alternative to petroleum-based plastic.

It should be noted that preventing netting and lines from entering our oceans in the first place is key. Fisheries should implement a strict policy requiring all netting, lines and other onboard waste to be collected and disposed of properly.

4. Ban Overfishing Endangered Species

There is a running list of species that are endangered simply because of overfishing. Implementing annual catch limits is one way that the fishing industry can help conserve species populations. Despite strict fines and penalties, many fishing vessels continue to overfish simply because of how hard it is to enforce these laws over millions of square miles of open ocean. However, logically it makes more sense for fisheries to focus on catching non-endangered species as it will allow commercial fishing to continue for generations to come. But unfortunately, consumer demand and the seafood black market are fueling both overfishing and illegal fishing across the world.

Fisheries who truly want to be sustainable should support government motions to ban overfishing and illegal fishing. At the same time, fisheries can also implement their own policies such as annual catch limits.

5. Use Lead-Free Fishing Gear

When fishermen lose their gear, it often ends up on the seafloor, exposed to hungry fish and other sea life passing by. Lines can also be grabbed by seabirds looking for a quick bite. Sadly, gear made from toxic lead poisons wildlife that ingest it.

Fishing gear has historically been made from lead, however there are now lead-free alternatives that do not pose a risk to ocean wildlife. When shopping for fishing tackle, ensure materials are non-toxic and, of course, never dump used or broken gear overboard.

6. Follow Marine Stewardship Council Certification Guidelines

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the world’s largest certification and eco-labeling program whose mission is to ensure that seafood is caught sustainably. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 7% of the world’s seafood is caught in MSC certified fisheries. Earning MSC certification allows fisheries to stay relevant in a world moving toward sustainability. The public’s growing awareness and concern over environmental issues should urge fisheries to join MSC and enhance their brand as a trustworthy, sustainable company. Not to mention sustainably-caught seafood is often sold at higher prices, guaranteeing quality and guilt-free consumption.

7. Reduce Fossil Fuel Use

Fishing is one of the most energy-intensive industries and almost entirely relies on fossil fuels. In 2020, the world’s fishing fleets were responsible for roughly 1.2% of total global fuel consumption. Further, the shipping industry responsible for transporting seafood near and far has a higher rate of pollution than all but five countries. In 2020, the largest 16 vessels in the world produced  more sulphur than all the cars in the world.

A conference on energy efficiency in fisheries proposed some technical solutions to increase energy efficiency and cut fuel dependency and costs. One solution is to utilize innovative fishing gear and improve the efficiency of fishing techniques, particularly trawling, the most demanding fishing method. According to a study published in Nature, bottom trawling – a fishing method in which weighted nets are scraped along the seafloor to catch fish, shellfish and crustaceans – accounts for one gigaton of carbon emissions each year. That’s more than the annual emissions from aviation.

Another solution involved efficient propulsion and onboard energy generation. Reduction in cruising speed, the use of hybrid propulsion systems (electric + diesel) and biofuels, and optimizing hull and propeller design have all been calculated to generate fuel reduction and cost savings.

The startup, bound4blue, has re-invented the sail to automatically adjust itself to maximize exposure to wind. Inventions like this help the fishing and shipping industries reduce the amount of fossil fuels they burn.

Fuel and propulsion technology still have a long way to go but fisheries can still reduce their fossil fuel use onshore by optimizing energy efficiency within their facilities and migrating to hybrid or electric vehicles.

8. Become Green Business Certified

In conjunction with MSC certification, it’s valuable to earn a third-party green business certification and market all the ways your company is improving its operations. Green business certification allows you to measure and benchmark your sustainability performance, set and track goals and share your progress with stakeholders. Clickable, online seals like the one offered by Green Business Bureau serves as a badge of verification, showcasing your commitment and gaining the trust of potential customers, partners and employees.

About the Author

Nathan DeJongh

GBB Green Ambassador
Nate DeJongh is a content writer for Green Business Bureau who is passionate about exploring how companies can adapt to become better for the environment. Nate is currently pursuing a degree in Finance and Political Science at the University of Connecticut. Outside of his work and studies, Nate loves to spend his time boating, fishing and hiking.

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