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Our Seafood Policy

Fisheries are on the verge of collapse.

Industrial fishing leads to significant bycatch deaths of sharks.Industrial fishing leads to significant bycatch deaths of sharks.High tech, industrial fishing fleets and years of overfishing have done their damage; the oceans are in demise. Many scientists believe commercial fisheries will collapse worldwide by 2048, although regionally, thousands of fisheries have already collapsed, starting as early as the mid 1800's. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), almost 80% of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity – with more than 50% of fish stocks considered fully exploited.

More than half of the world's catch is dominated by industrial fishing fleets that can decimate entire areas in a matter of minutes. In fact, 1% of the world's industrial fishing fleets account for 50% of the world's catches – taking in over 100 gross tons. "Supertrawlers" can deploy nets the size almost a mile in diameter and process 300 tons of fish daily. The romantic notion of family owned fishing businesses are no longer. To date, over 72,000 jobs have been lost because of dwindling salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest alone.

And our governments, instead of solving the issues, feed the problem. As global fishing fleets are 250% larger than the oceans can sustainably support around the world, national and local governments provide subsidies of over $15 billion a year to fisheries. Laws often support the fishermen and until recently, the oceans, for all practical purposes, have been within their control.

Shark caught in gill net with Julie Andersen.  Photo: Paul Wildman, builtbywildman.comShark caught in gill net with Julie Andersen. Photo: Paul Wildman, builtbywildman.comGiven the stakes and money involved, much fishing is done illegally; an estimated $9 billion of illegal fishing occurs yearly, devastating local populations and ecosystems. Much of the seafood we consume in Europe and the United States comes from "pirate" vessels who do not adhere to what limited laws to protect the oceans exist. Sadly, until recently, these issues have been largely ignored.

Technology has also resulted in irresponsible—and often illegal—forms of indiscriminate fishing ranging from longlines and trawls to gillnets and drift nets. The result? 43 million tons of wasted bycatch and the complete decimation of an area equivalent to twice the size of Europe – every year. In fact, trawlers are so devastating, their smoky trails can be seen from space. Within the last two centuries, at least 1200 marine species have been totally destroyed, forcing the development of new fishing technologies that allow the harvest of species that live 1000 feet deep or more. This year, over 1 million tons of these species will be consumed. In the last decade, many of these species are already either being over-exploited or their stocks have been drastically reduced, all before we have even had a chance to study them and even set realistic catch limits.

It is no secret many species have been relentlessly hunted down and exploited. Because of this abusive harvesting, the stocks of species that were once common household dinners, such as hake and cod, have collapsed. And critically important fishing areas, like the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, are at the brink of complete collapse. At this point, for the most part, the term "sustainable fisheries" is a contradiction. Very, very little fishing is sustainable and as more species are depleted, the cycle simply continues, with fishing vessels "fishing down the food chain" until all that is left will be jellyfish.

All this to feed our insatiable desire for fish.

Stop eating fish – save the oceans. Protect the sharks.

Photo: Gary StokesThe answer is simple. Every day you can make a statement with your consumer dollars. You have the power to make a difference and stop creating demand for fish. And in doing so, you also help increase the chances of survival for sharks as well, who are in the middle of this perfect storm.

Stop buying and eating fish.

Sea Shepherd is not taking an animal rights position on this issue when we say that people must stop eating fish. Our position is based solely on the ecological reality that commercial fishing is destroying our oceans – and our life support system.

Take responsibility of the issue and help contribute to the solution.

If you must eat fish, know Sea Shepherd believes that we must completely stop our collective consumption of commercially caught seafood – whether from the oceans or from freshwater sources. Additionally, the large majority of farmed seafood needs to be avoided as well. We need to stop eating fish – not change our source.

Aquaculture is not (always) the answer.

With the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimating that an additional 40 million tons of seafood will be required by 2030 — just to maintain current levels of consumption, while wild stocks are plummeting, many have turned to fish farming or aquaculture as an easy solution. Sadly, aquaculture often does not represent a simple solution. Often aquaculture causes a myriad of economic and environmental issues. In fact, aquaculture can be more environmentally damaging than exploiting wild fisheries due to issues that include waste handling, side-effects of antibiotics, competition between farmed and wild animals, environmental destruction, and the amount of wild fish required to sustain farmed fish.

Many of the farmed fish species require a significant amount of wild fish as food – more than their own weight in fact. For instance, each pound of farmed salmon require up to 6 pounds of wild fish. Aquaculture can also be extremely destructive; 20 percent of the world's incredibly important ecosystem, mangrove forests, has been destroyed since 1980 due to shrimp farming. And, the waste from aquaculture is staggering... and toxic. A farm with 200,000 salmon discharges more fecal waste than a city of 60,000 people. This waste is discharged directly into the surrounding aquatic environment, untreated, often containing antibiotics and pesticides.

Isn't any fish sustainably caught or farmed?

There are indeed ways to catch fish sustainably, certain species that are not yet overfished or contaminated with toxic methyl-mercury, and aquaculture techniques that have a very small footprint. The problem is, as a consumer, we often need a degree in fishing and farming techniques, not to mention a background in investigation in order to determine what fish can be safely consumed. For this reason, we recommend avoiding seafood entirely. Most of us can't take the time to educate ourselves properly on the issue, let alone do the necessary detective work to determine where a fish is from, how a fish was caught or farmed and by whom, and if it is actually labeled correctly, as it is common that fish is mislabeled to fool the consumer. Sadly, there are also no international or even nationally accredited labeling programs that can be reliably counted on to responsibly deem a fish "sustainable."

If you must eat fish, against our recommendations, then do your homework, be an informed consumer and limit your impact. Research the issues and become educated. Know what you are ordering, how it was caught, and where it came from. It isn't always easy to get answers – but insist upon them before buying or ordering. And be aware that many restaurants and grocers will answer your question without having any real knowledge of where and how they fish they are selling were caught. Or, the seafood in their cases and kitchen may even be miss-labeled.

If the fish or crustacean was wild caught, ensure it:

  • Is from the local area
  • Was caught by hand (either a hand method or hand line)
  • Is not a species in decline – there are certain species that must be completely avoided due to their status
  • Is not a species that is high in mercury

If the fish or crustacean was farmed, ensure it:

  • Was farmed in a closed environment
  • Is a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian fish such as tilapia and catfish or filter-feeders like mussels or clams
  • Was farmed in an environmentally sustainable manner
  • Is organic – and was not exposed to pollutants or antibiotics

When in doubt, make a different choice. Use a guide to make decisions that are less destructive and better informed. Choose your guide carefully though, as some guides may be affected by commercial interests (including the fisheries.)

Thresher shark, often caught as bycatch, but sold as shark steaks. Photo: Gary StokesWhen traveling, be sure to carry a guide specific to that region, as names of fish often change from place to place, further confusing your decisions. You may be able to download a cool iPhone App or widget. You can even SMS a database of choices that are less destructive when out and about in South Africa, so no matter where you are, there are no excuses not to make informed decisions and minimize your impact on the planet.

Think this is too much work? Then simply avoid all seafood like we do.

And please, no matter what, avoid not just sharks, but tuna as well. Cut out sushi forever and the oceans will be a far healthier, Shark Friendly place—and we will all feel the benefits.