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The Growing Problem of Sustainable Fishing

We are waking up the damage we're causing with our fishing industries and a lot of progress is being made. Fingers crossed for a sustainable solution before the tide truly comes in.

Sustainable fishing has caught the public's attention on an increasingly regular basis. Maybe because we're Brits and we love fish and chips. Or maybe because the facts and figures of what's happening have been so ghastly that it's shook us up a bit.

Just recently John West Tuna has been in hot water from the media and the public, with their methods of sustainable fishing brought into question in a big way. It goes beyond just one brand though, and beyond one species.

Salmon, Tuna and Cod are the three that are most prominently pitied by the public. Being people's mostly favourite fish, they were always going to be the most threatened, but the extent of plight keeps being updated, and the numbers seemingly keep getting worse.

For Salmon, while met increasingly from farmed fish, the numbers have generally improved across the board. Farmed fish was embraced with open arms when it first became a commercial method. Over time, farmed salmon has left a bad taste in people's mouths for a number of reasons. Firstly, it quickly became evident that the quality of the fish was nowhere near as good as wild caught. They proved to have underdeveloped muscles and were smaller, with more bacteria and infection in their skin causing death of many supplies of the fish and lower birth rates, meaning the farms had to dip back into wild stocks. It also meant the quality of the meat itself was lower, due to the chemicals and anti-pesticides pumped into their diet. That diet came mostly from anchovies, of which it took 10 tonnes of to create just one tonne of salmon. Sustainable? We think not. Yes, wild numbers have somewhat increased, not by much, but at what cost? It's battery chickens all over again.

One of the biggest threats to Tuna comes from Japan. It is one of the staple fish of the Japanese diet, along with Salmon, which may be the cause of many Tuna species' downfall. Tuna are targeted as a game fish as well, given their size, strength and speed, as well as being farmed in net pens extensively. With Tuna we see the first example of the use of 'super trawlers'. These ships are vast in size with miles upon miles of nets, sweeping up everything in their path, Tuna and whatever else.

We're only just starting to pay attention to the issue of by catch, something that's epidemic with Cod fishing. Not exclusive to Cod by any means though. Almost no commercial fishing is free of by catch issues. The problem with it is waste, destruction of habitat and food sources and capture and killing of bigger species. For instance various species of dolphin and turtle often play victim to fishing by catch, not to mention the multitude of different fish species that we don't eat. These fish are more often than not just thrown back into the sea dead, unable to breed and unable to contribute to the eco system.

By-catch and over fishing are the two big pillars of fishing woe these days. By-catch destroys eco systems as it drains an environment and the crucial members of that environment to keep it thriving. Over fishing puts huge strain on an individual species, pushing them to the brink of extinction. Not only does this cause further grief to an eco system as a key contributor is lost, but if we think of ourselves only (as we often do when matters of the environment are concerned) then it diminishes economies and livelihoods.

An example of this would be the prawn and shrimp fishing industries. Whole towns across Scotland, Scandinavia, Canada and other parts of the world are mostly dependent on that industry, but as a result of over fishing and by-catch, the industry has teetered. Populations of the animals have gone down significantly, leaving huge strain on the local ecosystem and economy, totally decimating some towns.

Commercial fishing for Cod, Salmon, Prawn or whatever it might be is not sustainable. We've realised that now. Unfortunately, we've realised it too late.

Efforts to stem the tide have been active however. For instance a few celebrity chefs in this country have jumped on the bandwagon of preaching sustainable fishing, one suggestion on their part would be to grow the practice of eating other fish than the ones we traditionally have. Fish like Hake, Whiting or Pollock have been encouraged as alternatives to our traditionally popular Cod, but doesn't that just shift the problem onto somewhere else?

More long term solutions have been offered by governments and environment agencies, by changing quotas, areas that can be fished and times of year that can be fished in. This allows far more control over what and when we get our fish, allowing the eco-systems more leeway to sustain and repair themselves without our interaction.

Fish farming has proved a good idea, just a poor execution of that idea. So keep an eye on that for improved methods of practice, and improved longevity and quality as a result.

Changing our methods has to be top of the list however. Eliminating by-catch all together and causing no damage to environments are both achievable with revised methods of fishing, both of which have knock on affects to how we live here on land too.

Where fishing is concerned, it has gotten the same treatment as many other environmental problems, the idea of it being out of sight and out of mind. That mentality is coming home to roost now in more ways than just not having any fish in the ocean. Our diminishing fish populations give a good marker and are trackable as they give us solid examples of the cause and effect of our interaction with the environment.

We are waking up the damage we're causing with our fishing industries and a lot of progress is being made. Fingers crossed for a sustainable solution before the tide truly comes in.

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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