Most of us wouldn’t eat steaks made from tiger or mince made from rhino, yet we often eat rare or endangered ocean species without realising it. Demand for fish and seafood has doubled over the past 30 years, and three quarters of the world’s oceans have now been over-exploited, depleted or fished right up to their limit. For more information, see the movie End of the Line.
Today, around 5 per cent of the world’s entire fish catch, by weight, is tuna. The global tuna business is worth around $5.5 billion. All of the 23 identified, commercially exploited stocks are heavily fished; at least nine of these are classified as fully fished and a further four classified as overexploited or depleted. Three stocks are classified as ‘critically endangered’, three as ‘endangered’, and three as ‘vulnerable to extinction’. The magnificent and iconic southern bluefin tuna has been reduced by some 95 per cent of stocks before 1950. For more, see Behind the Label: Tinned tuna.
Sharks are some of the most threatened fish in Australia. Commonly sold as ‘flake’ in fish and chip shops, they are so slow to breed they are not keeping up with the numbers being caught. Other well publicised depletions include the orange roughy, bluefin tuna, swordfish, and toothfish.
Some fishing practices have greater impacts on other wildlife and on habitats than others. Dredging or trawling, where a net is dragged along the ocean floor, has the greatest impact. Free-floating nets will not destroy the ocean floor but may include bycatch (often up to 15 ton of discarded fish per ton of targeted seafood), while line fishing will have minimal impact.
- Ask where your fish is from. Avoid imported fish where possible (such as smoked cod)
- Choose fish lower down the food chain — such as sardines and anchovies
- Avoid sharks, shark fin products, and rays
- Use Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide to avoid overfished species such as tuna, or those associated with by-catch of birds or mammals
- Avoid buying tuna. See Greenpeace’s Canned Tuna Guide.
- Look for Marine Stewardship Council certified product
More information on how you can take action on Oceans and Fish