Sustainable fishing can be a broadly used term.
In this guide, we list what some of the most common sustainable fishing practices might be, along with a description of each.
Summary – Sustainable Fishing Practices
Sustainable fishing practices might be important for a number of key reasons, with just two examples being that we need fish as a key source of food protein, and animals species are important to the overall ocean and other water ecosystems
Sustainable fishing practices can be applied to recreational fishing or commercial fishing, but might have the most impact commercially because of the scale of it
Sustainable fishing practices aim to meet economic objectives, but also consider in the short term and long term – the environmental impact, impact on natural resources, and the impact on wildlife numbers, biodiversity, and other related factors
Sustainable fishing practices might involve practices, methods or activities that:
– Reduce overfishing, and maintaining healthy fishery populations
– Help protect certain species and certain geographical areas
– Reduce bycatching
– Reduce destructive fishing (of habitats and the ocean floor)
– Help responsibly manage fish farms
– Efficient use of resources for fishing activities, proper waste management, and consideration for environment
– And, look at post fishing activities, behaviors, and factors
It’s worth noting that although there are things that can be done to make fishing more sustainable, there are still trade offs, limitations and external factors (such as supplying enough food to feed a growing population) to consider.
What Is Sustainable Fishing?
Sustainable fishing might be any practice that:
– helps meet the commercial/economic objective of the fishing activity, but also considers the short and long term impact of fishing on the environment, on natural resources, and also on wildlife populations (including numbers, but also biodiversity, and more)
Recreational fishing can also be more sustainable by following the same principles.
Reduce Overfishing, & Maintaining Healthy Fishery Populations
Overfishing involves fishing past the critical threshold of total population numbers of a certain species.
So, sustainable fishing practices would involve:
– Staying within recommendations, guidelines, regulations and laws that specify catch limits (or quotas) per person, or per operation, over a certain time period. Catch and release might be part of this practice. Licenses can also help
– Being aware of fish populations that are already overfished, or recovering from from being fished to near depletion numbers. In some parts of the world, Bluefin Tuna might be an example
– Having better monitoring of fishing activities
– Addressing unreported and pirate fishing
– Having adequate punishments and penalties for those found violating regulations and laws
– Having a plan to manage invasive species may be something that fishery managers also need to work on in the future
– Target freshwater bodies of water, as well as the ocean – ‘Overfishing also occurs in freshwater ecosystems’ (nationalgeographic.org)
– Better overall fishery management using scientific data, and better enforcing of rules and regulations
– Better management of international waters, and imports and exports
– One way to reduce overfishing is for consumers to swap out some of the seafood or fish thy are eating to another meat
Help Protect Certain Species & Certain Geographical Areas
Some species are protected for a range of reasons, with just a few being that their numbers are close to extinction, they are an important species to the natural food chain, to preserve biodiversity, or to allow that species to stay at a sustainable population size given their breeding and growth rate.
So, sustainable fishing practices would make sure that protected species are not caught by accident, or on purpose, regardless of whether they are eventually sold or not.
As one example, some predator species sharks are targeted during fishing for their fins, to use in fin soup.
Another example is some types of whales that are targeted.
It’s worth noting that only a small % of the ocean in general is currently protected.
Bycatching is when non target species fish and other wildlife are caught using a specific fishing practice.
These non target species sometimes survive unharmed, but sometimes they survive and are injured, and sometimes they die.
Bycatching can lead to other problems like overfishing and protected species being caught.
So, sustainable fishing practices should reduce or eliminate the frequency of bycatching.
[Gillnetting and drift netting, some forms of longlining, and some forms of purse seining can be responsible for bycatching, whilst trolling can be more sustainable when fish and indirectly caught species are released right away] (cimioutdoored.org)
[In Australia, turtle excluder devices, bird bafflers, fish chutes, and long line depth release hooks might be used to reduce bycatch] (oceanwatch.org.au)
[Hook and line pole catching, harpooning, traps, trolling, purse seining and longlining, can all help reduce bycatch] (greentumble.com)
[hook and line, spearfishing, cast nets, and rod and reel might be ways to reduce bycatch] (nationalgeographic.org)
Fish farming is another way to largely eliminate bycatching.
Reduce Destructive Fishing
Destructive fishing practices destroy or damage habitats, and the ocean floor.
So, sustainable fishing practices should look to avoid this.
Specific forms of more destructive fishing might include some types of bottom trawling, and some types of drag net fishing.
Cyanide fishing and dynamite fishing can also be destructive, but are used less.
Specific forms of fishing that might be less destructive might be regular rod and line fishing, spearfishing, manual cast net fishing, fly fishing,
Help Responsibly Manage Fish Farms
Fish farms can be set up in existing bodies of water like fresh water bodies, and the ocean.
But, they can also be set up in ponds, tanks and enclosures on land.
The potential environmental impacts of farmed fish can be numerous – escaped fish, waste pollutions, and so on.
There’s also the wild fish that need to be caught to be used as fish feed meal, and the resources that go into running fish farms.
So, sustainable fishing practices would go into fish farming that aims to reduce environmental impact and increase resource efficiency.
Efficient Use Of Resources For Fishing Activities, Proper Waste Management, & Consideration For Environment
Fishing activities in general use resources or materials such as fuel for boats, plastic for lines, meat as bait, energy for cold storage, and so on.
So, sustainable fishing practices would seek to use these resources efficiently, or use cleaner fuel (or fuel from renewable energy sources) for example on fishing vessels
In the case of materials like plastic and fishing gear – it would also be more sustainable to make sure they are not dumped in the ocean, but properly managed as waste.
Ghost fishing is an example of fishing where nets and other gear are left or lost at sea, and they can entangle wildlife, or get caught on the ocean floor.
One more way that the environment might be considered in fishing activities is by using lead free tackle and weights.
*Post Fishing Activities, Behavior & Factors
People often think of fishing activities themselves when thinking about sustainability.
However, there’s post fishing activities, further down the supply and consumption chain, that can make fishing more sustainable:
– Sell/utilize as much of the body of the catch as possible – don’t use one body part (such as just the fin of a shark), and throw away the rest of the body
– Consider the full lifecycle assessment of fishing, inclucing processing, refridgeration, packing and logistics/transport, and how these areas might become more sustainable
– Label sustainably caught or sustainably produced fish and other water species food so consumers know when they are buying it
– Better consumer awareness for what sustainable fish and seafood is, and what it involves
– Restaurants and businesses that sell food caught from the water or farmed in the water may also consider whether they can source sustainably caught or farmed food
– Consumers shouldn’t waste or unnecessarily waste the seafood and fish farm consumer level food they buy, as this equates to indirectly wasted resources
Other Resources On Ocean Sustainability
We have previously put together guides that outline issues for the ocean and ocean organisms (including fishing and non fishing related issues), as well as what potential solutions might be here: