Looking out over seemingly infinite stretches of ocean rolling in waves from faraway horizons, we may find ourselves surprised that what the ocean can provide is, indeed, finite. There is a point at which we extract much faster than marine life recovers, a rate at which our demand is much too relentless for life to flourish. We have reached that point: the percent of fish stocks fished at sustainable levels has steadily declined over the past 50 years. And the margin for responsible fishing is narrowing as climate change decreases the amount of seafood that humans can sustainably harvest.
Global fish decline, while daunting, is not unalterable. Fisheries management has been proved effective in restoring and rebuilding fish stocks above target levels. We have seen the efficacy of fisheries management in the United States, where, as a result of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the number of overfished stocks hit a record low in 2017.
Fisheries are declining not only because of overfishing but also because of climate change. As ocean temperatures rise, many species are shifting towards warmer waters, placing undue stress on small scale fishermen. In North Carolina, fishermen are witnessing their fish move North.
Now, North Carolina fishers must take their boats on extended journeys to New Jersey and Maryland to capture the same species. Clearly, fisheries management alone cannot stem global fish decline. Management must work in tandem with climate change action.
If the Paris Agreement is followed and warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, global fisheries could generate additional billions in revenue. Action now is also critical to global food security, for fisheries provide 3.3 billion people with a substantial portion of their dietary protein.
Of course, evaluating the incredible variety of marine life according to its utility further detaches us from the mysterious world of fish, reducing fish to a commodity. This is the case for the endangered bluefin tuna, a species for which the catch quota has been increased despite the fact that its populations are heavily exploited and not fully recovered. Rachel Carson, who wrote in awe of the fascinating life cycle and migration of mackerel from shallow coastal waters to the luminescent depths of the open ocean, expressed empathy with creatures of the sea.
Individuals may ask themselves how they can eat seafood more sustainably. Groups such as Greenpeace and Monterey Bay Aquarium have created consumer guides on sustainable seafood. Generally, buying local seafood is a sustainable option because United States fisheries are well-regulated, and local options do not have to travel as far. Still, consumerism does not excuse industry inaction. The work must go deeper. For this reason, RCC supports sustainability and fish through advocacy for climate action, science-based fisheries policy, and protection of marine habitats that fish depend upon.
Latest News About Sustainability and Fish
Audubon Completes Phase 1 of Reef Project
Audubon North Carolina has used money paid by Duke Energy companies, which had pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act, to build its first oyster reef project on the lower Cape Fear River to help restore bird and fish habitat and improve water quality.
The state program of the National Audubon Society announced this week that work is now complete on the first $300,000 phase of the project at Shellbed Island near the mouth of the river.
The nonprofit conservation organization noted how oyster reefs provide a vital food source for birds while also helping to sustain important nesting habitat called onshore shell rakes. Rakes are banks of old oyster shells that wash ashore once the mollusk dies. These shell formations can be found throughout the lower Cape Fear River and are used by birds like American oystercatchers to nest and raise their young. Read more at Costal Review Online
Ocean May Be Key to Feeding World: Study
As population growth makes the expansion of traditional farming without severe ecological damage more and more challenging, scientists are looking to the sea as one potential solution.
A recent study published in Nature projects that the amount of food sustainably produced by the ocean could increase up to 74% by 2050. But researchers say that there are substantial obstacles to bringing in more food from the sea, obstacles that have little to do with fishing and more to do with policy and regulation. Read more at Coastal Review Online
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