Catch 22: Sustainable fishing produces massive carbon emissions

By Louis Gore-Langton

- Last updated on GMT

Buying sustainably caught fish may be bad for the environment ©iStock
Buying sustainably caught fish may be bad for the environment ©iStock

Related tags Fish Seafood

Whilst smaller scale sustainable fishing practices protect the oceans from depletion of marine life, they are vastly more detrimental to the environment, say researchers

A report by researchers at University of California Merced (UCM) last month revealed that sustainable tuna fishing may have enormous consequences for other aspects of the environment.

Use of ‘selective’ fishing techniques reduces the amount of fish caught by traditional techniques like seine fishing but selective processes require up to four times the amount of fuel.

Seine fishing sweeps large areas of the sea and often decimates the population and catches other species by accident.

However, by selecting ‘economic zones’ for sustainable fishing, more boats are required and carbon emissions increase rapidly.

It is estimated that catching a tonne of tuna today requires three times the amount of fuel it did 25 years ago.

Rising sea levels are a major threat to the fishing industry, and current sustainable practices may be inadvertently speeding the process up.

Hook, line and sinker

Consumers globally are increasingly calling for more clarity on the origin of their seafood.

A series of reports released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposing the mass depletion of sea food, widespread illegal fishing and mislabelling, caused a public outcry in 2010.

Besides fears for the eco system, consumers face increasing awareness that the fish on their plate may be mislabelled. A review released last year showed up to a third of fish in supermarkets and restaurants is incorrectly marked - often substituted with cheaper varieties.  

As a result, labelling for sustainably caught seafood has become rife, helping the eco-conscious diner select ocean-friendly and reliable products more easily.

However, no such standards are yet in place for carbon emissions.

Carbon labelling

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit organisation, has developed an international labelling system to mark all fish products guaranteed as sustainably caught and correctly labelled.

Today the MSC boasts 10% of the world’s commercial fish are certified by its blue label, with 281 global fisheries adhering to its standards.

A spokesperson for MSC told FoodNavigator it currently has no plans to include carbon emissions as part of the standards required for receiving the blue label.  

However, with the revelations of increased carbon emissions, Austral Fishery in Western Australia, an MSC certified fishery, has taken it upon itself to become the first ‘carbon neutral’ fishery in the world.

MSC chief executive Rupert Howes said: “Climate change is the biggest single sustainability challenge humanity faces. I congratulate Austral Fisheries for their bold and innovative initiative”.

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