The Horrors of the Fishing Industry

By Julia Kemp

With the growing numbers of vegan-era youth in California, you might have heard of the horrors of the meat and dairy industry. Sensitized by stories of slaughtered baby cows and piglings, many view vegetarianism and veganism as a movement of saving the animals. With the notion of animal cruelty in mind, many don’t view the fishing industry as one of the most harmful food industries. Though fish might not be the smartest or cutest animals on the planet, it’s the environmental consequences, not the animal rights consequences, that make the fishing industry so horrible. 

Fish are captured and sold through one of two ways: fish farms or commercial fishing. Commercial fishing occurs in wild oceans or rivers where vessels capture fish in the wild to sell in commercial markets. Commercial fishing, however, does not consist of an old fisherman with a white beard and a fishing rod. Ginormous ships with hundreds of employees set off in natural waters and capture hundreds, if not thousands, of fish at a time through mesh nets. This massive scale of fishing leads to overfishing, in which fish are captured at a much higher rate than can repopulate, and ocean ecosystems become unbalanced. According to CBS News, the world’s oceans will be completely fishless in the year 2048. Not only does commercial fishing push the biological limits of the ocean’s ecosystem through overfishing, but through bycatch as well. Commercial fishing vessels accumulate bycatch through the massive mesh nets that they use to catch commercial fish. While the nets allow fishermen to catch commercial fish with ease, it also leads to the entrapment of wild organisms, like dolphins and sharks, in the fishing nets where they are killed. According to the World Wildlife Organization, approximately 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each year as a result of bycatch, making bycatch the highest cause of death for small cetaceans. With fish and cetacean populations decreased as a result of bycatch, the oceans’ ecosystem will change completely. The necessary functions of the ocean, like regulating weather patterns and oxygen production, will be destroyed along with the world’s rich environment. Through the depletion of fish populations and unbalancing of ocean ecosystems, commercial fishing has a detrimental effect on the worlds’ oceans and the environment.

As an attempt to soothe the destructive environmental effects of commercial fishing, fish farming (or aquaculture) has become a popular form of fish production. In fish farms, fish are bred and kept in confined areas within a natural body of water where they are raised until harvested. While fish farming does prevent natural waters from ecological disruption, the waste, pesticides, and chemicals released into natural waters can be just as harmful to the ocean’s environment. Not only are fish farms breeding grounds for disease and waste, but fish farms take up much of the ocean’s natural resources. In order to feed the commercial fish in the fish farms, many of which are carnivorous fish, farmers use commercially fished ocean life as food. So, not only do fish farms provide as much harm to the environment as commercial fishing, but fish farms use products of commercial fishing for food supply. In addition to fish farms using large amounts of commercial fish is fish farms’ use of large amounts of natural water. To raise one ton of farmed fish, eight tons of natural ocean water is used. According to PETA, a two-acre fish farm produces as much food, water, and chemical waste as a town of 100,000 people. Overall, fish farms produce massive amounts of waste, take up tons of natural ocean water, and still use unethically sourced commercial fish; aquafarms are not an ethical solution to the atrocity of commercial fishing.

The worst part about the fishing industry is that it is almost impossible to find sustainably sourced fish. Since rich, massive companies monopolize the fishing industry through unethical practices, fish from small-scale vessels rarely ever make it to our usual markets. The system in which fish are farmed and caught needs to change if there is any hope for our ocean’s ecosystem and our environment to survive.