Did you know that fish are social? These aquatic creatures interact with each other. Here is another interesting fun fact, fish form relationships; including inter-species relationships with other fish. Over 3.2 billion people around the world rely on fish for protein.
Fishing is on the rise as a result of the continuous surge in demand for fish. The global yearly demand for fish is estimated to be over 150 million tonnes. On the other hand, there is a gradual decline in fish population in rivers, lakes, and oceans. This decline has become more apparent in the past few decades.
In 2018, the UN (United Nations) warned that fish consumption is unsustainable. Other institutions and agencies have embarked on different sensitization efforts while advocating for sustainable fishing.
Millions of people rely on fishing and fishing-related activities to earn their livelihood. On the other hand, billions of other people rely on fish for their daily nutritional needs. While fish is undeniably important, our demand surpasses the existing supply, and this begs the question; is fishing bad for the environment.
environmentUnderstanding fishing and how fishing can harm the environment
Simply explained, fishing is an activity that involves the catching of fish either for food or sport. People who fish for personal consumption practice something that is called subsistence fishing. We also have commercial and sport fishing which involve the catching of fish for sale and the catching of fish for “leisure/sport” respectively. Now that we have mentioned the three main types of fishing, let us proceed to explore the impact of each fishing method on the environment.
How does commercial fishing impact the environment?
As earlier mentioned, billions of people rely on fish for food. Different types of fish are consumed by people from various parts of the world. A fishing vessel that catches animals or fish that live near, under, or on the seafloor might earn its crew a lot of cash. While the profits are enticing, the damage left behind by commercial fishing vessels that use bottom trawling to catch aquatic and marine life is of significant proportions.
Most commercial fishing vessels rely on trawling. This fishing technique leaves a trail of destruction which scientists believe is identical to the trail of destruction left behind when clear-cutting old/aged forests. Trawling sometimes results in the dragging of large boulders on the seafloor. When this happens, seafood, marine life, and the aquatic ecosystem are destroyed.
Besides posing a serious threat to marine and aquatic life, commercial fishing can sometimes result in fishing. The use of trawlers can also result in the unintentional catching of specific fish species; something known as by-catch. There are different ways in which commercial fishing negatively impacts the environment. Scientists believe that bottom trawling results in the largest disturbance on the planet’s ocean sea bed.
The effect of subsistence fishing on the environment
Subsistence fishing is the fishing activity that is done for personal consumption. A lot of people might argue that this type of fishing doesn’t affect the environment in any way, but this is far from the truth. Subsistence fishing also harms the environment.
The main way subsistence fishing affects the natural environment is through pollution. Some fishermen rely on gas-powered boats which spill their fuel into the water bodies. These spillages might happen regularly in some regions, and this might lead to the destruction of the aquatic or marine ecology. Most of the packaging material used by fishermen is made of plastic. The huge amount of plastic debris and packaging left behind by individuals fishing for personal consumption is also destroying aquatic ecology.
Unlike commercial fishermen, individuals who practice subsistence fishing do not undergo rigorous assessments. This is the reason some of these fishermen use inappropriate fishing gear which significantly contributes to overfishing. Most fishermen in developing countries can’t afford proper fishing equipment. This has resulted in the use of nets with very small gauges; something that leads to the catching of young fish. These regions are more likely to suffer from a significant reduction in fish population.
How does sport fishing affect the environment?
While some of you might be acquainted with sport fishing, we believe that others are coming across the term for the first time. If you are one of these individuals, then you are in the right place because we will be demystifying sport fishing while also looking at how it affects the environment.
Sportfishing is an activity that involves the catching of fish, not for personal consumption, or food, but sport. Can sport fishing affect the environment? Yes, it can. A fisherman who catches a few fish over the weekend then releases some fish back into the water before leaving with the rest of the catch might not dent or harm the environment.
On the other hand, fishermen fishing for sport, let us say 40 million of them, during the weekend can negatively impact the aquatic ecosystem or the natural environment. First, the fish released back into the water do not have a 100% chance of surviving. Secondly, we live at a time when the fish population across the world is declining. Sportfishing, no matter how small scale, will impact the environment negatively.
Can technology help promote sustainable fishing?
As you have seen above, fishing negatively affects the environment irrespective of the type of fishing. Fortunately, we live in a modern age where we can leverage technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing the global fishing and fisheries sector. Below are some of the ways technology can be used to promote sustainable fishing practices.
Tracking and monitoring of fishing activities
Close to 3.5 billion people across the world rely on fish as a primary source of protein. Here is a shocking fact you probably didn’t know about; close to 80% of the world’s fishing waters are over-exploited. With tracking and monitoring technology, the relevant authorities will be able to facilitate the monitoring of and tracking of fish catches via mobile technology. These authorities will also have the ability to control the fishing of a particular fish species, overfishing, or monitor the presence and behavior of invasive fish species.
Reporting unregulated or illegal fishing
While overfishing is one of the biggest threats to aquatic and marine life, unregulated and illegal fishing also poses a significant threat to fisheries as a whole. Illegal fishing is rampant around the world, with most cases being reported in developing countries where the population is more vulnerable.
Technology can be leveraged to develop robust systems for reporting both unregulated and illegal fishing. The penetration of smartphone technology should be seen as an incentive to develop reporting apps that can be downloaded to Android, iOS, or other smartphone software.
Dissemination of information and education
We can reduce the negative impact fishing has on the environment. Since information is power, more information on the best fishing practices, fishing sustainability, and marine life conservation needs to be made available to the public. Information alone is not enough. Mass sensitization and education campaigns on the importance of following fishing guidelines should also take place.
The digital age requires digital solutions. We are already very connected thanks to social media. Many of us also regularly communicate with our friends and loved ones via digital channels. Similarly, we should find ways of sharing information on the best fish handling techniques, best fishing practices, or even the current market value of different fish species since this information will help in the reduction of the negative impacts of fishing on the environment.