People eat over $140 billion worth of seafood each year. Abetted by government subsidies, worldwide fishing catch rose from 20 million tonnes in 1950 to a peak of 93 million tonnes in 1995, where it has hovered since, with fluctuations of a few million tonnes.
1950–2015, the global fishing fleet doubled: from 1.7 to 3.7 million vessels. The trend has been to larger motorized ships capable of larger hauls. Fishing fleet expansion continues despite declining productivity.
Over the last 65 years, more and more fishing vessels are chasing fewer fish. ~ Australian marine ecologist Yannick Rousseau in 2019
Fished-out species have been replaced by others which were once considered non-commercial. The exploitation is unrelenting.
Though industrial techniques haul in more fish, fishing fleets have become less efficient. Ships now use at least twice as much energy to catch a tonne of fish as they did in 1950.
Commercial fishermen have specific species in mind when they go out. Unwanted sea life is discarded.
Chucking away valuable species is routine. Sardines are not appreciated in some European countries, and so are discarded. Meanwhile, fleets from other countries go out to catch sardines.
Specific species quotas to prevent overfishing are ineffective in making fishing sustainable. If a vessel hauls in more than its quota, it throws back the rest.
Discards also happen because of a nasty practice known as high-grading, where fishers continue fishing even after they’ve caught a boatload of fish that they can sell. If they catch bigger fish, they throw away the smaller ones; they usually can’t keep both loads because they run out of freezer space or go over their quota. ~ Australian marine conservationist Dirk Zeller
All told, at least half of what is caught is jettisoned. 75% of the fish thrown back perish. For every kilogram of shrimp caught, over 10 kilos of marine life is lost.
The waste is growing. Fish stocks are exploited faster than they can regenerate. Thus, the catch increasingly comprises smaller fish, which are thrown back, creating through waste a vicious cycle of productive decline.
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27% of the fish caught never make to anyone’s plate. 90% of the fish used for fishmeal is suitable for human consumption.