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The world is speaking up about the dark realities of the meat and dairy industries, why are fish being ignored?
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Industrial fishing in action

Marine biologist Simon Hilbourne and Oceans Festival UK are challenging the public to protect our oceans by removing seafood from their diet for 29 days.

They have created Fish Free February – a campaign organised by international marine conservationists – to reduce our collective impact on the oceans in a simple and effective way.

Throughout the month of February, #FishFreeFebruary will encourage people to discuss the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices. The campaign will put the wellbeing of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decisions.

Well-managed, small-scale fishing that uses selective fishing gears can be sustainable. However, when it comes to the majority of our seafood, this is not the case.

We mostly rely on industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the wellbeing of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges.

The problems with fishing

We are taking more than our fair share of fish – so much in fact that populations can’t repopulate fast enough.

90% of global fish stocks are fished to their maximum or overfished, with an estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish caught annually for human consumption.

Compare that with the 63 billion mammals and birds killed each year for food and it becomes clear that there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea.

‘The fact of the matter is humans are taking far too many fish and other marine species from the sea. We simply must reduce the number of fish being caught. The best way to do that is to stop or greatly reduce eating seafood.’

Funder of Fish Free February

Plastic pollution

Discarded fishing nets make up 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – far more than plastic bags or straws.

Fishing gear can be abandoned at sea due to breakages, items lost overboard and in some cases old or broken fishing gear purposely dumped into the ocean.

Nets, hooks and lines remain lethal even when not attached to a fisherman. Large pieces of plastic pollution like fishing nets break down into microplastics which are then ingested by marine life. A 2018 study found 100% of wild and shop-bought mussels contain plastic.

‘The ecological balance of our oceans is under huge stress from overfishing and I’ll be championing #FishFreeFebruary to highlight this. With such a vast amount of ocean plastic coming from the fishing industry this is also a great opportunity to highlight the ‘hidden’ plastic pollution in our food chain.’

Founder of City to Sea

Mislabelling and bycatch

Bycatch and non-specific fishing methods (such as dynamite, long lines, trawlers, gill nets and electric pulse nets) mean that other species end up dead as well. Dolphins, sharks, turtles, corals and many other fish species are all caught up in this mess.

Fish isn’t always what it says on the tin. A study by Oceana found that as much as one third of seafood samples in the US did not match their labels in restaurants and stores.

This can have huge implications on the environment and also human health, but ultimately it highlights that the industry needs far more stringent regulation and monitoring.

Aquaculture and waste

40% of the seafood we eat is farmed, but creating seafood farms often involves destroying existing habitats and therefore has a high carbon footprint.

Chemicals and diseases associated with seafood farming also impact the surrounding waters and eventually affect wild populations.

The Scottish farmed salmon industry is highly wasteful; according to its own figures, around 20% of fish never reach harvest due to mortalities and escapes during production.

If this level of waste remains unchecked, a large proportion of the wild fish sourced to feed its salmon is also being wasted.

Modern-day slavery

In regions of the world such as South-East Asia, forced labour and human trafficking is rife within the fishing industry. It is very possible that the imported fish in our supermarkets has made its way from the sea to the shelves as a result of modern-day slavery.

Companies in the fishing industry don’t always follow the rules. As you might imagine, it can be fairly challenging to monitor the high-seas and currently illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is widespread.

This exacerbates the negative impact of all of the issues associated with industrial fishing and means that companies continue their dirty work and there is no justice for our oceans.

Give fish a break

You can help with all these issues by dropping fish from your diet completely or consciously reducing the amount of seafood you consume over the next 29 days.

Another way to take part in Fish Free February is by joining conversations around seafood and fishing practices to increase the level of knowledge in public consciousness.

‘We have the opportunity to tackle overfishing, plastic pollution and ecosystem collapse through the very simple act of eating less fish. If you weren’t quite able to commit to Veganuary or want another opportunity to do your part for the planet, please join the Fish Free February challenge!’

Founder of Oceans Festival UK

Ask questions about where fish people are being sold or served came from. Hold retailers and restaurants responsible for the products they sell will to pressure on them to source seafood from sustainable fisheries.

If you continue to consume seafood after February, buy items that are certified by an independent sustainable fishing moderator, such as the Marine Stewardship Council. You can also focus on trying to purchase seafood from small-scale, local and sustainable fisheries.

The ultimate goal is to generate a shift in the fishing industry and encourage a radical reduction in seafood consumption, opting for sustainable practices when fish is purchased.

Click here to read our article on the truth about ocean plastics.

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