The information age is beginning to transform fishing around the world

By Nicholas P. Sullivan 6 minutes Lily

Commercial fishing, one of the world’s oldest industries, is an exception. Industrial fishingwith factory ships and deep-sea trawlers, which land thousands of tons of fish at a time, are still the dominant mode of hunting in much of the world.

This approach led to overfishing, stock depletion, habitat destructionthe senseless murder of undesirables by-catchand waste of up to 30% to 40% of fish landed. Industrial fishing has devastated pre-industrial artisanal fleets in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

The end product is largely a commodity that travels around the world like a manufactured coin or digital currency, rather than fresh local produce from the sea. travels 5,000 miles before reaching an attitude, according to sustainable fishing advocates. A portion is frozen, shipped to Asia for processing, then refrozen and returned to the United States

A researcher from the advocacy group Oceana uses GPS data to track fishing boat activity. [Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images]

But these patterns are starting to change. In my new book, The Blue Revolution: Hunting, Harvesting and Growing Seafood in the Information Age, I describe how commercial fishing has begun an encouraging evolution towards a less destructive and more transparent post-industrial era. This is the case in the United States, Scandinavia, most of the European Union, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and much of America from South.

Fish with data

Changes in behavior, technology and policy are occurring throughout the fishing industry. Here are some examples:

  • Global Fisheries Monitoring, an international non-profit organization, monitors and creates open-access visualizations of global fishing activity on the Internet with a 72-hour turnaround. This breakthrough in transparency has led to the arrest and conviction of owners and captains of illegally fishing boats.
  • The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceabilityan international business-to-business initiative, creates voluntary industry standards for seafood traceability. These standards are designed to help harmonize various systems that track seafood throughout the supply chain, so that they all collect the same key information and rely on the same data sources. This information allows buyers to know where their seafood products come from and if they were produced in a sustainable way.
  • Fishing boats at New Bedford, Massachusetts—the first American fishing portbased on total catch value – are equipped with sensors to develop a Marine database which will provide fishermen with data on ocean temperature, salinity and oxygen levels. Linking this data to actual stock behavior and catch levels should help fishermen target certain species and avoid incidental catches.
  • Annual catch limits, distributed by individual quotas for each fisherman, have made it possible to combat overfishing. Imposing catch shares can be very controversialbut since 2000, 47 overfished and closed US stocks have been rebuilt and reopened for fishing, through policy judgments based on the best available science. Examples include snow crab in the Bering Sea, swordfish in the North Atlantic, and red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • A growing “fishie” movement that mirrors the widespread “foodie” locavore movement has been gaining momentum for over a decade. Inspired by agriculture, subscribers to community supported fishing pay in advance for regular deliveries from local fishermen. Such engagement between consumers and producers is beginning to shape buying habits and introduce consumers to new types of fish that are abundant but not iconic like the cod of old.

Farming fish on land

Aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world, led by China. The United States, which has exclusive jurisdiction over 3.4 million square miles of oceanbarely holds 1% of the global market.

But aquaculture, primarily shellfish and kelp, is the third largest fishing industry in the Greater Atlantic region, after lobsters and scallops. Entrepreneurs also farm finfish, including salmon, branzino, barramundi, rainbow trout, eels and trevallies, primarily in large land-based facilities. recirculation systems that reuse 95% or more of their water.

Industrial-scale marine salmon farming in Norway in the 1990s was largely responsible for the perception that farmed fish were bad for wild fish and ocean habitats. Today, this industry has moved to deep water offshore enclosure or terrestrial recirculation systems.

Virtually all new salmon farms in the United States – in Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana and several planned in Maine and California – are earthly. In some cases, water from aquariums is circulated through greenhouses to grow vegetables or hemp, a system called aquaponics.

There are heated debate on proposals to open US federal waters, between 3 and 200 miles offshore, for ocean aquaculture. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that without a growing mariculture industry, the United States will not be able to reduce and may even expand its $17 billion seafood trade deficit.

A voracious China

This kind of progress is not uniform across the fishing industry. In particular, China is the world’s largest producer of seafood, representing 15% of global wild catches and 60% of aquaculture production. Chinese peach exerts a huge influence on the oceans. Observers believe that the Chinese fishing fleet could be up to 800,000 ships and its offshore fleet can include up to 17,000 ships, compared to 300 for the United States

According to a study by the nonprofit advocacy group Oceane based on data from Global Fishing Watch, between 2019 and 2021 Chinese boats made 47 million hours of fishing activity. More than 20% of this activity took place on the high seas or inside the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones of more than 80 other nations. Fishing in the waters of other countries without permission, as some Chinese boats do, is illegal. Chinese ships often target West African, South American, Mexican and Korean waters.

Most Chinese deep-sea vessels are so big they catch as many fish in a week as local boats from Senegal or Mexico could catch up in a year. Much of this fishing would not be profitable without government subsidies. Clearly, keeping China to higher standards is a priority for maintaining a healthy global fishery.

The restorative power of the ocean

There’s no shortage of grim information about how overfishing, along with other stresses like climate change, is affecting the world’s oceans. Nevertheless, I think it should be pointed out that more than 78% of the current landings of marine fish come from biologically sustainable stocks, according to the UN. And overexploited fisheries can often rebound with smart management.

For example, the US East Coast scallop fishery, which was virtually extinct in the mid-1990s, is now a $570 million per year sustainable industry.

Another success is Cape Pulmo, an 8 km coastal strip at the southeastern end of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Once a vital fishing area, Cabo Pulmo was barren in the early 1990s after intense overfishing. Then local communities persuaded the Mexican government to turn the area into a marine park where fishing was prohibited.

“In 1999, Cabo Pulmo was an underwater desert. Ten years later, it was a kaleidoscope of life and color,” says the ecologist Enric Saladirector of National Geographic Pristine Seas Project, observed in 2018.

The conversation

Scientists say that through effective management, marine life in Cabo Pulmo has recovered to a level that makes the reserve comparable to remote and pristine sites that have never been caught. Fishing outside the refuge has also rebounded, showing that conservation and fishing are not mutually exclusive. In my opinion, this is a good benchmark for a post-industrial ocean future.