Is there such a thing as sustainable seafood? There's no denying, overfishing from commercial fishing is a grave problem and unsustainable. However, the host of Seaspiracy, Ali Tabrizi, concluded by telling viewers to eliminate fish from their diet and that there is no sustainable means of fishing. This is not only one of the wrong claims, but it’s also unrealistic. There are many ways to fish sustainably, including but not limited to: rod and reel, consuming locally caught fish, small scale fisheries, spearfishing, etc. In fact, most of our US based fisheries, are one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Yes, there is still bycatch and sometimes observers on board are bribed; however, the amount of bycatch is far fewer and fishing operations are generally more regulated than other countries. Furthermore, the film made no effort to identify small scale fishing communities that use smaller boats, limited crew, and fishing methods that do not yield massive tons of fish, unlike commercial fisheries. Indigenous fishing communities tend to take little compared to commercial fishing operations; they further manage and maintain the vital ecosystems in which they take from so that many more can enjoy the plentiful bounties that these ecosystems have to offer.
Additionally, eating sustainable/less fish/going vegan, is a thing of privilege, which is something not many talk about when discussing sustainability. Not everyone has the financial means to get all their protein from veggies and fruit, or spending that extra dollar to support that more sustainably caught seafood option. The reason could also be that sustainable options are not offerred where they live.
In terms of bycatch, the film stated 48% was discarded bycatch, when in reality only 10% is discarded and 48% is the bycatch rate. This 48% bycatch rate consists of mostly incidental bycatch (bycatch in which has commercial value and is therefore sold and not discarded).
Another false statement the film claimed is that 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of discarded fishing line/nets. This is an often poorly interpreted fact: truly, the Pacific Garbage Patch is composed 46% of fishing nets by mass, not by amount. Microplastics make up 94% of the ~1.8 trillion pieces floating in this garbage patch, while only accounting for 8% of the total mass. This is due to micro plastics being very minute and low in mass. Therefore, in terms of numbers, micro plastics are the true culprits to polluting our oceans, not discarded nets. (Lebreton et. al., 2018). 80% of ocean plastics come from land based plastics (plastic water bottles, straws, single use plastics, etc.), while only 20% of ocean plastic pollution comes from marine sources.
Lastly, the host claims the oceans will be empty by 2048. This is another misinterpreted claim from an outdated study. The study had stated by 2048, the world’s exploited fish populations will yield less than 10% of their historically highest catches. There are plenty of fisheries that have “collapsed” but can recover; some fisheries like the US, emphasize stock rebuilding and help such collapsed fish populations recover. In addition, "collapsed" was based on catch data and does not exactly define fish populations, as stated by Dr. Michael Melnychuk, an expert in fisheries sciences from Washington University.
On the other end, there definitely are wasteful fishing practices. For example, the photo to the right is of Atlantic spiny dogfish sharks we found a few years back. These sharks were being used for lobster/crab bait. It's in these circumstances that we discourage buying lobster from grocery stores or markets, but rather implore you to dive and catch lobsters yourself, with the proper fishing licenses and season of course! If you dive for it yourself, there won't be a need for bait, and contributing to a more sustainable option.
It is true that all in all, commercial fishing is extremely detrimental to our oceans. Yes, Dolphin Safe tuna is not always dolphin safe and in any fishery there is no way to truly determine how sustainable it is (because observers can be bribed or thrown overboard even in our own US based fisheries; and regulating fishing operations worldwide is extremely difficult to do so). However true, you can continue to eat fish by choosing local, sustainable options:
caught by small scale fishing operations such as spearfishing or rod and reel
eating locally is also sustainable for other environmental reasons like reducing your carbon footprint and putting less fishing pressure on salmon, for example if you live in Southern California.
avoid eating farm raised fish, as a whole other set of environmental issues arise from that (read our blog post for more information).
for sustainable options you can check out seafoodwatch.org.
and if you have the means to skip out on fish or eat it less frequently, you should!
Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F. et al. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Sci Rep8, 4666 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w
Photos belong to Project Kolika, unless stated otherwise.