Are you eating fish or plastic?

Imagine a world where our oceans had more plastic floating around than fishes? We are not too far away from living in one. A report published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation and World Economic Forum revealed that if we continue business as usual, our oceans are predicted to have more plastic than fishes by 2050 (by weight) (source). And yet, our seafood production has grown at an alarming rate, quintupling in the last 50 years (36 million tonnes a year to 200 million tonnes a year). To put into perspective, the world’s combined meat and dairy production is 315 million tonnes. This includes sheep, goat, beef, buffalo, pig and poultry.  

Why has seafood production surged at such a rampant rate. There are two commonly quoted reasons, population growth and seafood consumption, both of which has doubled during the same time period. However, the explosion of global seafood production is largely credited to the revival of aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations defines aquaculture as “farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants” (source).  

So, why did the world resurrect aquaculture? As more consumers were becoming health conscious, they started including more fish in their diet. This in tandem with how easy and quick it is to cook fish, seafood consumption catapulted in the 1960s. However, this excessive consumption was going to be a problem. It led to a harvest slump in wild catches, which in-turn drove over exploitation of our oceans in search of more fishes. It was clear that the world needed a quick fix to meet its thirst for more seafood. Enter the resurgence of aquaculture.   

Aquaculture is reputed as the blue revolution of the seafood industry. It has been so successful; aquaculture has surpassed modern traditional methods of catching wild fishes. As of 2015, over 50% of global seafood production comes from aquaculture (Aquaculture – 106 million tonnes and wild catches – 92 million tonnes). So, did resurrection of aquaculture serve its purpose and reduce the over exploitation of our oceans fish population? Not entirely.  

Source of data – 

As you can see, aquaculture has only been able to stem the bleeding. Over-exploitation of our ocean’s fish stock is still on the rise; however, aquaculture has slowed it down.  

While aquaculture is a good alternative, we shouldn’t blindly trust it either. There has been enough research and examples around the world which demonstrates the environmental and health problems created by aquaculture. Some of the major problems include cutting down coastal mangrove forests, introducing invasive plant and fish species that endangers the local wild aquatic life, excessive use of anti-biotics and genetic modification.   

What can we do? Should we all stop eating fish. If we lived in an ideal world, that maybe the answer. But we don’t. Yes, we can reduce our fish consumption patterns, but what else can we do? For us fish may just be food, but for a lot of communities, it is their livelihood. So, we can show our support by directly buying from local fishermen. However, only 20% of global fish catches come from small scale fisherman, the rest comes from large scale industrial organisations. Plus, not all of us live near the coast. Therefore, we should demand our fishing industry to be more sustainable – avoid over-fishing, invest in fishing communities, better fishery management, etc.   

If you are like me and are interested in learning more about sustainability and sustainable development, you can keep yourself up-to-date by browsing our blogs, courses and events in our online platform SDG Plus and Swiss Learning Exchange.

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