What Is Commercial Fishing?
Commercial fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry that provides seafood to consumers around the globe. In recent years, public interest in commercial fishing, particularly with regard to popular fish such as tuna, has intensified. Canadians are increasingly aware of the health benefits of eating fish and seafood, yet information spotlighting diminishing fish stocks means that consumers have an interest in knowing how fish and fish products are sourced. (WWF 2011a) The commercial fishing industry obviously has a huge stake in managing fish stocks in a responsible way, so it comes as no surprise that sustainability has become a key consideration for responsible industry leaders.
Overfishing and Other Problems
A handful of demersal and pelagic species such as herring, mackerel, anchovy, cod, haddock, and tuna account for the majority of commercial fish catch. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is concerned that stocks of these fish are rapidly decreasing; it’s estimated that 85% of the world’s fisheries (WWF 2014b) are either fully exploited, over-exploited, or recovering from depletion.
Increased efficiency in the industry led to the problem: commercial fishing vessels grew larger, more numerous, and more effective during the latter half of the twentieth century. Some modern trawlers measure more than 120 meters in length (UNFAO 2014) and may be out at sea for a year at a time. More than 170 billion tons of fish and shellfish (NG, 2014) are caught annually, and much of it is caught illegally.
Unfortunately, destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling have wreaked havoc on delicate ocean ecosystems. The largest trawl nets, for example, can reach two kilometers down to the seabed. (WWF 2011c)
As well, “bycatch”– the unintended capture and killing of ocean animals such as dolphins, seabirds, turtles, and other fish along with the target species – is a regrettable consequence of commercial fishing. (WWF 2014d)
Helping Global Fish Stocks Thrive
Because fish, particularly larger species such as tuna, are highly migratory, it will take global efforts to conserve stocks. Fortunately, there are strong initiatives in place to help mitigate these problems and secure the health of fisheries around the world.
It’s a complex problem, and there are myriad aspects to consider with regard to the sustainability of global fisheries, including nations coordinating efforts through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). (RFMO 2014) However, much of the important work is done through industry initiatives in cooperation with conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (WWF 2014d) and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) (ISSF 2014a). Industry leaders such as Clover Leaf, a founding partner of the ISSF, are actively working with ISSF and other organizations to preserve the fisheries and help them grow and flourish.
Some of the areas targeted to improve sustainability include:
Science. Having accurate scientific evidence on which to base decisions is key. Reliable monitoring of fisheries allows stakeholders to make the right decisions. In addition, advances in technology designed to minimize bycatch are making an impact in some regions. For example, deploying lines and nets at varying depths, using specially designed lures and hooks, and using turtle excluder devices help reduce bycatch (Phys 2014).
Advocacy. Working politically to advance the cause of sustainability can make a great impact. This includes work at all levels; from lobbying governments to eliminate inappropriate subsidies (UNEP, 2011), as well as funding the recovery of long-term fisheries, helping jurisdictions introduce regulations on net mesh sizes, quotas, permitted fishing areas, and launching bycatch mitigation measures (ISSF 2014b).
Traceability. Illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing practices continue to plague the commercial fishing industry. Getting fishers, sellers, buyers, retailers, and other stakeholders to implement the procurement of sustainable, traceable fish is expected to effect a tremendous reduction in overfishing.
Clover Leaf is one industry leader that is committed to sustainable fishing practices in each of these areas. The majority of Clover Leaf products, including tuna, are traceable from ship to the plate, and fisheries management programs are in place for 95% of the species they sell. Clover Leaf also funds scientific research that helps the company continuously assess and improve its approach to sustainable fishing of various species. (CL 2014)
Working toward commercial fishing sustainability is challenging — but companies such as Clover Leaf are proving that unwavering commitment and bold action can help to ensure the present and future health of our fisheries.