Fishing for Innovations That Conserve Fisheries

By Abby Massey

It’s no secret that the oceans are running out of fish. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 80 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited or over exploited. But the Gulf of Maine Institute in Portland, Maine, has recognized that fishing can be profitable even as it supports conservation efforts, according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald.

In many poor coastal countries, fish and seafood remain an important source of protein. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

High in protein and omega-fatty acids, seafood has grown in popularity over the past decade among health-conscious consumers. And in many poor coastal countries, fish and seafood remain an important source of protein. As a result, fishers continue to scour the seas, over exploiting one of Earth’s limited resources. But the Gulf of Maine Institute is promoting more ecologically friendly catch practices, as well as working with restaurants and food retailers to create markets for under-used fish species.

Although cities like Portland have recognized the need for sustainable fishing, other regions have yet to understand that poor fishing techniques and overharvesting will mean no fish in the future. Fishers often use large trawling vessels, scraping the bottom of the sea and destroying marine habitats. Many fish, such as bluefin tuna, are dwindling in numbers but continue to be caught because they are in high demand.

Fish farming, an alternative to wild harvesting, can produce seafood more efficiently without overfishing the oceans. In fact, half of the seafood eaten today comes from farms. This might sound like the perfect solution, but aquaculture too can cause pollution and habitat destruction if not monitored adequately.

So does all this mean that we should stop eating fish? Not at all. If everyone stopped buying seafood, countless jobs would be lost, as well as a good source of nutrition. But consumers should remember to make thoughtful decisions, purchasing fish that has been farmed responsibly or seafood that has been caught sustainably. Fish lovers drive the market, and making educated decisions is just a first step to more sustainable fishing. Fortunately, communities like Portland are paving the way for other regions to follow, providing seafood that we can all enjoy eating.

For more information on sustainable fish production, see New Guidelines from Seafood Watch, “Greening” Fisheries Could Calm Troubled Waters, Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans, Farming Fish for the Future, and Vital Signs Online: Global Fish Production Continues to Rise.

Abby Massey is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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