Welcome everyone to this episode in the series in which we will explore the fishing industry and related terms. Fishing is the last large scale hunting industry where animals living in their natural habitat are caught for human consumption. I am delighted to have Lulu with me to help with this episode.
Hello everybody, the fishing industry is very large globally and includes a lot of activities such as catching, processing, preserving, and selling fish or fish products. Fishing includes recreational or sport fishing; subsistence or traditional fishing which uses very small scale equipment and is for one’s own and local consumption; and commercial fishing involving larger boats and equipment and using methods that can be very destructive of the environment and disruptive to the natural life cycle of the fish. This is the sector of the industry that causes such concern about the declining number of fish populations in the oceans and many international agreements try to control the industry.
Let’s take a look at some numbers to get a sense of the scale of this industry. Globally, in 2014 155 million tons of aquatic animals (over two trillion individual fish) were harvested from the seas. World per capita annual fish consumption increased from an average of 10 kg in the 1960s to 20 kg in 2013, with continued growth predicted. The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2014 was about 4.6 million and Asia accounts for 75 percent of the global fleet. Employment in the industry is estimated at 35 million people globally with 84% of that in Asia. In common use the word Trawler refers to a commercial fishing vessel though technically it refers to a specific type of vessel which uses a ‘trawl’ net. Globally, there are 65,000 Super-trawlers in use – that is vessels over 24 metres in length. These are like fishing factories and their capacity, combined with the methods of harvesting which they use, is causing massive problems. The number of smaller vessels is much harder to estimate accurately and many of them are unregulated. Though individually the small vessels are not very destructive their combined numbers mean that collectively they are very problematic particularly for local fish populations. According to the World Wildlife Foundation the global fishing fleet is 2-3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. In other words, people are taking far more fish out of the ocean than can be naturally replaced. This is a complex problem and money of course plays a big part in all of this. A study by Ocean Canada in 2016 found that $35 billion in subsidies are put into fishery industries around the world every year. Given that the total global revenue from fishing is between $90 and 100 billion per year, a third of revenue is from handouts. Fisheries management draws on fisheries science in order to find ways to protect the fishery resources so sustainable exploitation is possible. Modern fisheries management is usually a system of government rules based on defined objectives and with systems of monitoring, control and surveillance.
In this context a fish stock refers to a fish population usually with a particular migration pattern, specific spawning grounds, and subject to distinct fishery practices. A Fish Stock Assessment is a technical term describing the process of collecting and analyzing biological and statistical information to assess and specify the present and probable future condition of a fishery. Stock assessments are based on resource surveys; knowledge of the habitat requirements, life history, and behaviour of the species. Stock assessments are used as a basis for determining the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) which represents the highest theoretical yield possible without interrupting the reproductive process of a particular species. The MSY forms the basis for the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) which is the limit of the catch permitted for a year or a season. The aim is to prevent over-fishing which is a term that means excessive harvesting of a fish population that leads to the collapse of the stock. These global, species wide numbers must then be allocated to countries, localities and down to individuals within the industry through a system called Catch Share. This is scaled down to Individual Fisheries Quotas which give individuals the right to catch a specific percentage of the TAC. More recently, these quotas have been replaced by what are called Limited Access Privilege granted to individuals or communities. Obviously, this whole process is full of political and legislative arguing and discussion which can go on for years whilst the stock levels continue to decline. Alongside these quotas, other management strategies can include curtailing destructive and illegal fishing practices; setting up marine protected areas; restoring collapsed fisheries; educating stakeholders and the wider public; and developing independent certification programs.
There are some specific issues that complicate the management of fish stocks –
By-catch – is the word use to refer to ocean animals that are incidentally caught when fishing for other targeted species. It first became an issue in reference to dolphins caught in tuna fishing nets in the 1960’s. By-catch can include many different types of catch such as different species of fish, undersized or juvenile fish, seabirds, sea turtles and other animals. Often the fish is thrown back into the sea but it is either dead or dying and so represents a significant part of the over fishing threat to fish populations. Some by-catch is used as fish meal for the farmed fish industry and more is ground to be used as fertilizer. The scale of the by-catch is truly phenomenal and is often several times the volume of the targeted catch. The rate of by-catch varies greatly between the different type of fish being targeted A 2009 report, co-authored by the World Wildlife Foundation reported that up to 40% of the total global fish kill is by-catch. However, within certain fisheries some estimates claim that for every kilo of targeted fish caught there is between 3 to 20 kilo’s of by-catch, depending on the fishing methods used. The most problematic are the shrimp and prawn fishing industries. Despite attempts at reducing this problem it is estimated that about 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed annually as by-catch.
It is important to distinguish between three different fishing practices that are very problematic. Illegal fishing is conducted by national or foreign vessels in waters under the jurisdiction of a state in contravention of the laws and regulations of that state. Unregulated fishing is a broader term which includes fishing conducted by vessels without any nationality and fishing in a manner which contravenes the regulations of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. Finally, Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities which have not been reported, or have been mis-reported, to the relevant national authority. Unreported fishing can be both intentional and unintentional. It may be that only a portion of a catch is reported in order to fall within quotas ; or the harvest of non-targeted species may go unreported ; or the catch may not be reported at all. These practices combined are a huge problem internationally and it is estimated that of the $1.6 billion in seafood entering Europe annually approximately 50% has illegal origins.
Aquaculture is the cultivation of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions in fresh or saltwater primarily for human consumption and this is becoming a very important part of the fishing industry globally. Often referred to as fish farming this is not without its problems like all intensive farming. There is the constant danger that disease and infections from the intensive farms will spread to the wild fish population where there is no ability to control them. Such farmed fish require a huge amount of feeding and the Feed Conversion Ratio describes how much feed is needed to produce a Kg of farmed fish. For carnivorous fish like salmon 3-5 kilogramme of fishmeal are needed to produce one kilogramme of salmon. The production of this fishmeal is now a big industry in itself. Fish species raised by fish farms include carp, salmon, tilapia, catfish and cod. Mariculture is sometimes used to refer to aquaculture practiced in marine environments where large net enclosures holding the farmed fish are placed in open sea environments. Other particular kinds of aquaculture include algaculture (the production of kelp/seaweed and other algae), shellfish farming, and the growing of cultured pearls.
The fishing industry is a very important part of feeding the human population but there are many dangers and difficulties associated with this. Much effort is being made to how best to manage the oceans. However, as Deborah Wright the author of Ocean Planet states “We cannot ‘manage’ oceans. We cannot ‘manage’ the Earth’s chemical and biological systems: they do that unaided and have done so for millions of years. We need only to manage ourselves and our activities in a way that doesn’t diminish nature….”.
That concludes this episode on the fishing industry which we hope you have useful and informative. My thanks to Lulu for her help with this and to you for listening. We look forward to you joining us for future episodes.