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Overfishing is widely acknowledged as the greatest single threat to marine wildlife and habitats. Many fish stocks are reported to be in a state of serious decline.
For example, in the North-East Atlantic unique cold-water coral formations known as the Darwin Mounds showed significant damage from trawling activity. Since August 2003 they have had emergency protected status that will become permanent in August 2004. Stocks of orange roughy, a deep-water oceanic fish and one of the longest lived fish known – it may live for 125 years – are being wiped out by unsustainable fishing and lack of adequate measures to protect them.
In addition to pressures from overfishing fish stocks are also affected by climate change and pollution from other human activities associated with exploitation of both marine and land-based resources.
Every year hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, turtles and seabirds are killed needlessly in fishing gears all over the world. In many cases these deaths could be avoided, or at least reduced, by introducing the use of ‘dolphin’, ‘turtle’ and ‘seabird-friendly’ devices, or by banning the use of damaging practices and the introduction of areas in which fishing is prohibited.
As the crises of over-fishing of our seas deepen, the need for consumer education to increase demand for responsibly produced seafood, is becoming more urgent.
Consumers can contribute to the responsible management of fish stocks by demanding that the fish we eat is from sustainably managed stocks and that the way in which it is caught or farmed causes minimum damage to the marine environment.
If you are concerned about declining fish stocks and the welfare of our seas, this website can help you identify which fish are from well managed sources and/or caught using methods that minimise damage to marine wildlife and habitat.
You can also show your support for marine protected areas around the UK at: www.mcsuk.org/mpa
The Green revolution, consumer awareness, ethical consumerism – the role of the consumer in dictating and driving the market towards greater sustainability and fair trade is known by many names. When did we, as consumers, become aware of the impact and power of the choices we make? What has made consumers realise that we could vote with our purses and wallets? How will consumers help to save our fish stocks?
Consumer awareness became more widely known in the 1980’s and 1990’s with environmental organisations leading big corporate campaigns and Oxfam making us aware of Fair Trade issues. Companies, such as the Body Shop that were also “doing it right” in terms of Fair Trade and non-animal testing, also served to highlight those that were not.
Green consumer guides have been published since the 1970’s, and in 1988 Elkington & Hales wrote the International best selling Green Consumer Guide. Now a plethora of guides are available worldwide offering advice on purchasing a range of products from food to furniture. But when did seafood become a focus for consumers?
It is not scare mongering or exaggeration to say that fish stocks are in crisis. It is well documented that over 70% of fish stocks are either fully or overexploited, but what does this actually mean? It means that we are fishing many fish stocks so heavily that some stocks are at risk of collapsing and disappearing off the menu for ever, and that others are fished so hard that additional pressures such as climate change make them very vulnerable to collapse. We only have to look at the Newfoundland cod fishery to realise this is a possibility. This large, profitable fishery collapsed in the 1990’s due to poor fisheries management – after a 15 year closure of the fishery it still hasn’t recovered.
Two of the first organisations to produce information on sustainable seafood was US based Audubon Society which published, “What is a fish lover to eat?” in the late 1990s and Monteray Bay Aquarium in California which produced a list of sustainable seafood as part of their Fishing for Solutions exhibit in 1997 –1999.
In the UK the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) led the way with the publication of the Good Fish Guide in 2002, the first guide dedicated to educating consumers about how fish is produced and the issues related to fish consumption. This was written in response to consumer demand - people wanted to know how the choices they made could make a difference and support sustainable fisheries. Featured in the Guide is a list of Top 20 species to be avoided, which includes species listed by IUCN - the World Conservation Union as threatened; species which are particularly vulnerable to fishing such as orange roughy, skate and sharks; and species from depleted stocks such as cod from the North Sea. It was the first time that a specific Fish to Avoid list was compiled in the UK.
MCS soon realised that a web-based version of the Good Fish Guide was vital to reach a wider audience, and provide up-to-date advice. The Fishonline website was launched in 2004 and is fast becoming the one-stop-shop for consumers concerned about the sustainability of the fish they eat and now provides information on almost 150 species.