Publicizing abuses

Species awareness plus pirate-fishing and finning

Public awareness of popular fish-stocks at risk of collapse must be heightened – at the same time as concerted action is taken to stop pirate-fishing and finning abuses


Public awareness of popular fish-stocks at risk of collapse must be heightened – at the same time as concerted action is taken to stop pirate-fishing and finning abuses. Importantly, the media can play a crucial role in fully-informing public opinion in those countries that eat types of fish whose stocks are at risk of collapse. Without that, no government will take extreme action – and no fishing fleet can be expected to support it. In contrast, if consumers stop buying increasingly-endangered species, then there will simply no longer be an economic reason to overfish them. Given the growing international emotions around things like finning sharks and slaughtering whales and Giant Bluefin – corporations within major economies like Japan and China have an important role to play in encouraging transitions within their countries that avoid what otherwise risks turning into an international backlash against them.

In addition, the media and retail outlets have a powerful influence over educating the public about alternatives to species like cod, tuna and salmon. Trying other tasty types of fish such as mackerel, gurnard, pouting and dab relieves the pressure on the ‘bulk standard’ species that most of us otherwise buy without thinking. But broadening our tastes also takes advantage of the huge proportion of a fishing-fleet’s catch (sometimes more than half) that is thrown back into the sea – already dead – because there is no market for it. Even more absurd is when popular fish are caught, killed and then discarded because quotas prevent them being landed. That is the most wasteful situation of all.

Advances in fishing techniques can also have a major impact. Nets that maintain a mesh of square holes rather than distorting into diamonds make it easier for smaller species and immature fish to escape – although even now some fisherman use tricks to lessen the escape of fish from ‘regulation’ nets, so in parallel that sort of abuse needs to be made harder to get away with. In addition, some designs of trawler net are more selective of the species they capture – leading to reductions in the ‘by-catch’ that is then discarded. Such designs need to be improved and standardized. Similarly, public pressure is already forcing a rethink of how tuna are caught. Previously, fishermen used a combination of FADs (floating platforms called Fish Aggregation Devices that attract the smaller fish that tuna like to eat) and huge purse-seine nets. But that approach can also catch lots of turtles and sharks and sometimes even dolphins. Ultimately, if things get too bad, rod and line fishing may become the only sustainable approach to commercial fishing of tuna.

Finally, pirate-fishing that abuses quotas needs to be aggressively clamped down on at a global level. For instance, every commercial vessel can be granted a unique ID – similar to the number on the engine-block of an automobile – so that it cannot change identity just by changing name or flag. Then, every vessel convicted of pirate-fishing or finning or any other abuse of Collective Sustainability, can be black-listed and refused unloading access at commercial ports. If necessary, systems can be created so that factory-ships illegally operating in protected waters are monitored by satellite.