Animal Aid

Future of the World's Oceans

Posted 3 June 2009

The planet’s oceans will be celebrated on June 8th for World Oceans Day, which provides an opportunity for people to think about their connection to the oceans and how we as individuals can help to protect them and the diversity of species that live within them. Until we realise that the oceans do not exist to provide us with an everlasting source of food we will continue to plunder (and destroy) one of the Earth’s most essential ecosystems. The oceans generate most of the oxygen that we breathe, regulate our climate and clean the water we drink. Research suggests that at the current fishing rates, in less than 40 years there will be no more fish left in the sea, which would have a devastating impact on the health of our oceans and therefore the planet and us!

Seventy five per cent of the world’s fisheries have been identified by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as being either, fully exploited, overexploited or significantly depleted. Tuna, cod, swordfish and marlin populations have declined by 90 per cent during the last century. There may still be fish populations that are sustainable, but for how long? Those species that are now on the unsustainable and depleted lists were also once sustainable.

Whenever action is proposed, those who make their living from catching fish claim their position will be dangerously compromised, even though present practices are leading the industry to oblivion. To appease the industry the government introduced quotas. These don’t work, as many fishing fleets practice ‘high grading’, where they continue to catch vast hauls of fish and throw away ones they don’t want until they achieve their quota in premium size fish. According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, 24,400 tonnes of cod were landed in the North Sea in 2007, 23,600 tonnes were thrown back dead and another 14,600 tonnes were unaccounted for as fishermen strove to keep within their strict EU landing quotas.

Late this year, the Scottish government will begin a trial of installing CCTV technology in seven volunteer boats. Just as in a similar Danish trial already under way, the fishermen will be given catch quotas rather than landing quotas, meaning that every fish caught will be counted rather than simply every fish brought back to shore.

But commercial fishing doesn’t just damage fish populations. An estimated 300,000 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), 100 millions sharks, 100,000 albatrosses and other sea birds die in fishing nets or on long-lines every year.

And fish farming is not the answer. Many of the smaller fish species caught on commercial fishing boats are not for human consumption but are processed into pellets for factory farmed salmon and trout, where up to 250,000 fish can be kept in one underwater cage. It takes around five tons of wild caught fish to grow one ton of farmed fish. Disease is often rife within the cages and thousands of these fish escape into the ocean where they transfer lice and disease to wild fish populations. ‘Genetic pollution’ from farm escapees breeding with wild fish can also have a detrimental effect on the survival of wild populations, as farmed fish have been selectively bred for fast weight gain and are not adapted to life in the ocean. The removal of large numbers of small fish also leads to a shortage of food for their ocean predators.

There is now a scientific consensus recognising that fish are sentient creatures who can feel pain and yet no welfare standards exist for the handling and killing of ocean-caught fish. When hauled up from the deep, fish undergo excruciating decompression. Frequently, the intense pressure ruptures the swimbladder, pops out the eyes, and pushes the oesophagus and stomach out through the mouth. Factory ships slaughter and process the fish at sea. Most fish are gutted whilst still alive or are left to suffocate.

The only sustainable and ethical answer is to stop eating fish altogether. There are plant-based alternatives to all the nutrients fish can provide and they don’t come laden with PCBs, dioxins and mercury that are present in the planet's polluted oceans. These toxins are regarded as some of the most dangerous known to man, and have been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans. Making small modifications to your everyday habits will greatly benefit the planet and, therefore, you.

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