The world’s oceans are almost completely looted because industry and consumers can’t get enough of it. Experts warn: Fish stocks will collapse in the next few years if nothing changes quickly!
Whether sushi, sashimi or saithe rolls. Whether in the classy restaurant or at the fish stall. Fish has become a mass product. You can get it almost anytime, anywhere. The industry thinks of new products in tireless enthusiasm – portioned, deep-frozen, square, practical, although completely form-formed, but, hey, at least burred for quick enjoyment. Enjoyment? Well, at least that’s what you’d think, since we eat over a million tons of all kinds of fish products in Germany alone every year. Must be something. And something good in the packaging, after all, many of them praise their supposedly traditional and sustainable fishing methods with idyllic illustrations of lonely fishermen with fishing rods in a wooden boat nutshell.
But modern fishing has as little to do with romantic fishing boat trips at sunrise as rural cattle and pork farms with the picture book farm. It is even worse. She feeds the latter with fish meal from the massive by-catch, while pulling the staple food and income away from people worldwide. It knows neither animal nor species protection. And it takes what it wants, as much as it wants and when it wants – regardless of losses and without being interested in future stocks. After her the deluge. Because there is no sowing here. But it was harvested abundantly: 80 million tons of fish are caught worldwide every year. In kilos: 80,000,000,000! And the demand is growing unabated. Fish is chic. Fish is healthy. Fish is a lifestyle. At least in the First World countries, where far too few still see beyond the rice rim of their tuna rolls.
THE FISH STOCK EMPTIES
Speaking of tuna: it is particularly popular worldwide. In Germany it ranks fourth among the most consumed edible fish after Alaska pollack, herring and salmon. Whether in a fast-food form from a can on a quick lunch, as a juicy steak at a noble dinner with silver cutlery or in raw form between two sticks at the In-Japanese, that is completely irrelevant. Because the bill says: Six of the eight species of tuna, such as the yellowfin and the North Atlantic tuna, are now considered endangered or highly endangered. The bluefin tuna, which is particularly popular with sushi lovers, was even classified as endangered by the IUCN. It is fished anyway. And the market prices break all records.
Just like our hunger for more. In 1950, “only” around 400,000 tons of tuna were caught, now there are over five million. If we continue like this, experts estimate that there will be no more tuna in a few years. But they are by no means alone: According to the World Food Organization (FAO), 90 percent of the fish stocks used commercially worldwide, including our number one, the Alaska pollack, and depending on the fishing area, salmon and herring are exhausted. More use is no longer possible. At least in theory. But with more and more modern fleets, which often also receive government subsidies in the billions, increasingly sophisticated sonar systems and fishing methods are still possible.
Fixed nets, for example, form a fixed net wall by being hung vertically in the water or anchored to the ground and can be up to 30 meters high. The nets are designed so that fish of a certain size fit through the head but not the body. If they want to free themselves, they get stuck with their gills. A legal method, even though marine defenders are fighting for a ban. Because the nets are so fine that small whales cannot locate them. They get caught in it and drown, which has almost led to the extinction of the porpoise in the Baltic Sea. Purse seine, on the other hand, are nets that are placed around a large school of fish that has been located using sonar. The nets, which are up to two kilometers long and 70 to 100 meters deep, can be pulled together like a pouch on the water surface by means of a lacing device – the swarm sits in the trap together with its hunters like dolphins or other completely harmless and unsuspecting species.
These animals will die. It is a miserable death if they are caught far too quickly by the net from such depths: your swimming bladder bursts under the decreasing water pressure, the intestines and eyes bulge out. Those who are not yet dead then struggle for air for up to 30 minutes before they are processed alive. Scientists like Dr. Lynne Sneddon of Liverpool University found that fish have nociceptors all over their bodies – so they can feel pain.
“What we do with fish would not be acceptable if it were mammals or birds,” said Sneddon. She knows that her investigations are controversial among critics – not least because of economic interests. “If you would accept the pain sensation of the fish as a fact, commercial fishing would have to be completely changed for animal welfare reasons.”
500 TONS OF FISH IN A NET
Animal welfare also plays no role in longline fishing with its fishing lines up to 100 kilometers long, to which several 1000 lures are attached. In total there are around 1.4 billion hooks that are laid out worldwide each year and each of which has a piece of fish attached to it as bait – fish that was only killed as a means to an end. To attract larger predators. Depending on the place of interpretation, whether on the water surface, in the water or on the bottom, numerous sea creatures, especially sharks and turtles, die on the invisible lines. According to Greenpeace, around 40 million tons of animals are thrown overboard each year as unwanted by-catch, either dead or fatally wounded, or processed into fishmeal for agricultural animal fattening, victims of more than just these methods …
The main tools of mass fishing are drift, trawl and bottom trawls. Trawls are a catastrophe in the eyes of marine conservationists, they catch the funnel-shaped monsters with their mouths up to 23,000 square meters in size – this corresponds to the area of five soccer fields! – not just edible fish, but everything that crosses their path. A single network holds 500 tons of fish. Ground trawls, as the name suggests, are made with massive chains
or beams weighed down and plowed over the ocean floor to catch mainly flatfish. Fishing associations see no problem in this, after all, the farmer plows his field, so they argue. That the seabed is “plowed” up to 20 times a year and is thereby destroyed 150 times faster than the tropical rainforests, and that coral systems that are already threatened are destroyed. No matter. In the name of profit.
Drift nets are a kind of control net, only that they are not fixed in one place, but float freely in the current. An invisible death trap for animals. Dolphins, sharks, turtles – everything dies miserably on the net, which is why it has been banned for deep-sea fishing since 1992. Which doesn’t stop some nations, especially China, from using it. It’s hard to control on the high seas.
Where politics sees itself as powerless or maybe just closes its eyes, Operation Driftnet is fighting Sea Shepherd against such illegal driftnet fishing. When a Chinese fishing ship fled from them, leaving their four-kilometer network behind, the crew caught up with them. They were able to free 18 sharks alive. For hundreds of animals, including more sharks, dolphins, swordfish, seals and also the endangered bluefin tuna, all help came too late. “If we want to save our sea, governments have to wake up and face reality,” says Sid Chakravarty, Sea Shepherd captain of “Steve Irwin”. It was only in 2002 that the EU introduced a driftnet ban in its waters. It is not enforced rigorously, there are always exemptions. According to Greenpeace, more than 400 ships fish with illegal drift nets in the Mediterranean alone, and the organization considers the controls to be inadequate. A farce. The Mediterranean is practically empty. Beaches have to be closed again and again because masses of jellyfish disturb the carefree vacation. Because we have eliminated their natural enemies.
WHERE, PLEASE, ARE THE CHECKS ?!
How lucky, however, that there are other waters in the world. For years, the EU has been concluding fisheries agreements with various West African countries in particular: The EU pays money and is allowed to go hunting in its fishing grounds on a large scale. But also Russia and China – the whole world fishes off the West African coast. Fish stocks are getting smaller there too, the local Davids cannot keep up with the subsidized Goliaths in terms of quantity or price. The fish that the industrial giants catch usually do not even land there, but export it directly to Europe, Asia and North America. In addition, there is illegal pirate fishing, which turns over around ten billion euros a year. In Europe too. The WWF estimates that 25 to 30 percent of the fish that land on our plate was caught illegally. Are there no controls? Yes, there is. At least for those who have enough money. Where, for example, the EU fishes in a contract, it also supports the controls financially. Who wants to have the fish taken from the bowl? Better safe than sorry. Only not for the locals who are robbed of their livelihood by these political and industrial machinations. Prices are being cut, fishermen are no longer competitive – if they can still find fish.
We harvest but we don’t sow. Not possible either. But what is possible are reforms and catch quotas so that stocks can recover. Of course there are. If we had no quotas, there would probably no longer be any fish, since the industry behaves like a toddler at the chocolate drawer. Self-control? Reason? No, mom and dad have to put a stop to that. There have already been some attempts to do this, but all too often contrary to any scientific recommendation. For the catch quota that was established for bluefin tuna in Europe in 2008, for example, scientists recommended that no more than 10,000 tonnes be fished per year to give the exhausted population a chance to rebuild. The EU and other fishing nations agreed on 30,000 tons. Over 60,000 tonnes were actually fished.
Great buzz was also made in 2013 when the European Parliament decided that from 2015 excessive fishing quotas should no longer be possible. To this end, the discarding of edible by-catch into the sea should be gradually phased out by 2017, so that fish stocks can recover according to plan by 2020. And then? Do we start again when Mother Nature has filled the chocolate drawer? If this happens at all: Despite all the fishing quotas – where is the control? Ex-employees of the fishing industry keep unpacking, telling how even today tons of fish that have already been caught are thrown overboard again if one encounters more financially interesting fishing grounds. This is called high grading – upgrading a catch. This is forbidden, but can hardly be proven. When inspectors come, they often register hours in advance, evidence can be hidden or destroyed, unofficial fishing diaries disappear in drawers. In addition, the inspectors are often bribed. The last discussion was whether video surveillance could be a reliable control measure. Sharks have to move to breathe. They suffocate painfully in the nets.
FOOD FISH FOR FISH FARMING
The ideas seem as absurd and powerless as those that could be used to relieve wild fish stocks with aquaculture. But breeding is no more than another coffin nail for our oceans. Most of these fish are predatory fish. Means: You want fish. To breed a kilo of salmon, you need five kilos of freely caught fish as feed. How should the fish stocks in the sea be relieved? A milkmaid bill. In addition, there are tons of medicines that are thrown into the water to protect the fish in the confined space from diseases and infections. Medicines that end up in the water cycle. No, aquaculture cannot be an alternative.
But what is it then? The World Food Organization estimates that most fish stocks will have collapsed by 2048 if nothing changes. A complete collapse threatens at the latest in 2060. The simplest solution would be to stop eating fish, but at least to reduce consumption considerably. “Basically, it’s okay to eat fish,” says Dr. Rainer Froese, marine biologist at the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel. “But once a week is enough.”
Seals should provide information about which fish species can be eaten relatively safely. The best known, MSC, stands for protection of fish stocks, minimal impact on the ecosystem and responsible management. ASC, on the other hand, is a seal of quality for farmed fish, although we know that it cannot help to remedy overfishing in the world’s oceans. The Friend Of The Sea seal certifies fishing from both wild and aquaculture. Only products that do not come from overfished stocks and whose catch does not destroy nature will be awarded. The dolphin logo of the organization Dolphin Safe on tuna products says that when hunting tuna, no dolphins are hounded, encircled, injured or killed, and no drift nets are used. While this is good for the dolphins, it says nothing about the tuna, which does not necessarily have to come from sustainable fishing.
OUR VOICE IN THE SUPERMARKET
Yes, all seals are criticized again and again and are by no means a free ticket to limitless and carefree fish consumption. Again and again it is said that the seals could also be purchased against corresponding payments. “There is currently no seal on the market that you can trust completely,” says Greenpeace expert Dr. Sandra Schöttner.
“However, it is still the lesser evil to buy fish with a seal. Certification is an important step in a movement to deal more consciously with fish consumption. And that undoubtedly has a positive effect. ”You shouldn’t trust the seals blindly. Every conscious consumer should, no, have to feel obliged to inform himself about fishing areas, methods and fish species. Fish apps, for example from Greenpeace or the WWF, can be helpful and provide an overview of the shopping jungle. Demand determines the market. “Our shopping list is our ballot,” says marine biologist and environmentalist Robert Marc Lehmann. “With him, we vote for or against saving the oceans.”
By: Stefanie Ann Will