Marine biologist Simon Hilbourne from the Manta Trust and Oceans Festival UK are launching a new campaign called Fish Free February, challenging the public to protect our oceans by removing seafood from their diet for 29 days.
Fish Free February is a campaign organised by international marine conservationists to reduce our collective impact on the oceans and the life that they hold, in a simple and effective way.
#FishFreeFebruary will encourage people to discuss the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices, putting the wellbeing of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decision-making.
Not all fishing practices are bad - well-managed, small-scale fishing that uses selective fishing gears can be sustainable.
However, when it comes to the majority of our seafood, this is not the case. We mostly rely on industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the wellbeing of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges.
Fish Free February will shed light on these challenges, create wider discussion around these issues, and offer solutions.
We are taking more than our fair share of fish, so much in fact that populations can’t repopulate fast enough. 90 percent of global fish stocks are fished to their maximum or overfished with an estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish caught annually for human consumption.
Compare that to the 63 billion mammals and birds killed each year for food and it becomes clear that there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea.
Discarded fishing nets make up 46 percent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, far more than plastic bags or straws. This is when fishing gear is abandoned at sea.
This might be due to breakages, losing items overboard and in some cases old or broken fishing gear is purposely dumped into the sea. Just because there is not fisherman attached, doesn’t mean those nets, hooks and lines aren’t still lethal.
Large pieces of plastic pollution like fishing nets break down into microplastics which are then ingested by marine life. In 2018 a study found 100 percent of wild and shop-bought mussels to contain plastic.
Fishing often doesn’t just kill the species that you want to eat, bycatch and non-specific fishing methods (such as dynamite, long lines, trawlers, gill nets and electric pulse nets) mean that other species end up dead as well. Dolphins, sharks, turtles, corals and many other fish species – they’re all caught up in this mess as well.
That’s right, fish isn’t always what it says on the tin. A study by Oceana found that as much as one third of seafood samples in US restaurants and stores were not what they were labelled. This can have huge implications on the environment and also human health, but ultimately it highlights that we need far more stringent regulation and monitoring in this industry.
40 percent of the seafood we eat is farmed, but creating seafood farms often involves destroying existing habitats and therefore has a high carbon footprint. Chemicals and diseases associated with seafood farming also impact the surrounding waters and eventually affect wild populations.
The Scottish farmed salmon industry is highly wasteful, with around 20 percent of fish never reaching harvest due to mortalities and escapes during production, according to its own figures. If this level of waste remains unchecked, a large proportion of the wild fish sourced to feed its salmon is also being wasted.
Additionally, in regions of the world such as South-East Asia, forced labour and human trafficking is rife within the fishing industry. It is very possible that the imported fish in our supermarkets has made its way from the sea to the shelves as a result of modern-day slavery.
Companies in the fishing industry don’t always follow the rules. As you might imagine, it can be fairly challenging to monitor the high-seas and currently illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is widespread.
This exacerbates the negative impact of all of the issues associated with industrial fishing and means that companies continue their dirty work and there is no justice for our oceans.
Fish Free February aims to consciously reduce the amount of seafood in our diets to limit the degree of their personal impact. If continuing to consume seafood after February, people are encouraged to purchase items that are certified by an independent sustainable fishing moderator, such as the Marine Stewardship Council. People can also focus on trying to purchase seafood from small-scale, local and sustainable fisheries.
#FishFreeFebruary will send a clear message of protest against current standards of fishing and seafood farming. The ultimate goal is to generate a shift in the fishing industry and encourage a radical reduction in seafood consumption, opting for sustainable practices when fish is purchased.
Additionally, Fish Free February will strengthen the connection that the public have with their food and to drive them to thoroughly consider where it has come from and how it has made its way to their plate.
Simon Hilbourne, Manta Trust digital media & communication manager, said: “The fact of the matter is humans are taking far too many fish and other marine species from the sea. We simply must reduce the number of fish being caught. The best way to do that is to stop or greatly reduce eating seafood.”
Jasmine Tribe, founder of Oceans Festival UK, added: “We have the opportunity to tackle overfishing, plastic pollution and ecosystem collapse through the very simple act of eating less fish. If you weren’t quite able to commit to Veganuary or want another opportunity to do your part for the planet, please join the Fish Free February challenge!”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Manta Trust.
Image: Vegan fish and chips.