How much do we really know about industrial fishing and its impact on the environment? The answer is probably not much.
The common understanding is that there are a lot of plastics and micro-plastics in our oceans, put there by humans one way or another, which is having a negative impact on our aquatic ecosystem and that the fishing industry take out too many dolphins when trying to catch tuna.
Most of us are also probably aware that one can purchase “sustainable” fish products by reading the label on the tin (when it’s in a tin of course), and that there are several companies out there that sign up to sustainable fishing or that what you are about to purchase is a dolphin-free product.
But peel back the layers a little and you may find that the story is quite different.
I watched Seaspiracy this weekend, a new documentary on Netflix which follows a roving reporter whose initial scope was to find out how plastic discarded from humans was impacting our largest bodies of water. It quickly turns over some startling and sobering facts about where the vast majority of plastic comes from and how large scale industrial fishing severely impacts the health and well-being of the seas, its inhabitants and the environment in general.
It is alleged that almost half of the plastic in our seas is due to industrial fishing, that bottom trawling decimates wildlife and the seabed on a scale much higher that deforestation, and that the deaths of other wildlife being caught in the process known as bycatch (dolphins, sharks, whales and sea birds) is both huge and wasteful.
I literally had no clue about any of this and have never given a second when purchasing fish. I knew that commercial fishing probably had a negative impact on the seas ecosystem, but not to this extent.
Clearly one cannot just take the word of a single reporter and that of Netflix as gospel, fact checks (as far as one can do that) are required and there are of course several anecdotes and counterclaims bringing into question the validity and accuracy of the data and insights presented.
So much in the same way I did for Cowspiracy and the rather biased Planet of the Humans (sponsored by Michael Moore), I found that whilst some of the film making and segments may have been taken out of context and subsequently refuted by interviewees, I still came away with the notion that we have a big problem here and we need to make some informed and personal choices when buying fish. Like other sustainable goods and services (cars, energy, meat etc), the buck starts with the consumer and works backwards. If we make the decision to purchase or acquire a specific product, then the rules of supply and demand will kick in, as long as we are in a fortunate position to choose, sadly some are not.
I intend to do just that from now on. I typically only eat salmon, trout and tuna so going forward I will look to only buy line-caught products as advertised. I know this may not be the whole truth and I will pay more for the privilege, but I’ll take that chance. If I do eat such, I will look to have it endorsed by those affiliated companies (again on the basis that something is likely better than nothing).
A final thought did occur to me. In my youth I was an avid young angler, but only course fishing so catching carp, tench and the odd pike for sport.
My wife always said that firstly it was a boring sport just sitting there waiting for hours on end (which I counter-argued on several points), secondly it hurts and could potentially kill the fish (agreed) and lastly why did I not bring it home for the plate (those fish mentioned above you wouldn’t typically eat).
This got me to thinking that once again, the only person I can trust in this crazy world is myself. I have been fly fishing twice in my life, and it is quite majestic, the art of casting and the chasing trout/salmon in pursuit of dinner that evening an exciting one. I also live two minutes away from the sea wall, which is fully occupied by anglers when the tide is high, all catching for their supper.
So in an effort to confirm that my fish are indeed line-caught, I will take it upon myself to catch them personally, thus taking another baby step to off-grid living…