News / South Africa

5 minute read
21 Nov 2018
2:27 pm

Give a thought to marine life this World Fisheries Day


Despite the importance of oceans and sustaining marine life, pollution and lack of funding is resulting in a slow, painful death of this essential life source.

Image: Twitter/@GlobalFishWatch

Today is World Fisheries Day.

You are forgiven for missing it, as it didn’t even make the cut of being a Twitter trend – a depressing reflection on how unimportant this vital life source is to the rest of the world.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Pledge to ditch plastic this World Oceans Day

So, why should we care about World Fisheries Day? Any chance to reflect on the debilitating damage humans have inflicted on this delicate ecosystem is a valuable opportunity to change at least one person’s mind, make them think twice before eating an endangered fish, and hopefully try to make a change.

In order for us to make a change, however, we must first learn some unpleasant facts about exactly how bad overfishing is, and how this disturbs individual species that are integral to marine life.

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) has been contributing to the conservation of marine and coastal resources in the Indian Ocean since 1951. Based in Durban, they have committed to educating communities about how important it is to be educated on the plight of overfishing.

Irresponsible fishing and overfishing

70% of the world’s fisheries are either fully or over-exploited, according to a SAAMBR fact-sheet. Considering that almost 80 million tonnes of fish are caught around the world each year, this a worrying figure.

Even more troubling is by-catch, which is what happens when fishermen discard sea life they have fished out of the sea but do not want to keep. This amounts to millions of tonnes each year, something that is preventable with responsible, sustainable fishing practices.

This by-catch is often made up of large predatory fish, and between 70 and 100 million sharks, which are killed each year.

Another integral part of sustainable fishing is to prevent fishing gear from getting lost in the ocean. Losing one gill-net may not seem bad, but in actual fact, these nets continue to trap fish and a host of other animals, who often die slow and painful deaths.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has revealed in a new study that a year after a gill-net is lost, it still catches nearly five times as many fish as an active net does.

Turtles get caught in nets left behind by irresponsible fishing. Image: Twitter/@MoveTheWorldUK

Habitat destruction

More than half of the world’s human population lives within 100km of the coast. Poor agricultural, fishing, and mining practices may change this figure drastically, however, with increased soil erosion filling up estuaries and breaking down sand dunes.

Coral reefs, coastal wetlands and swamps, and seagrass beds are especially susceptible. This is exacerbated by fishermen dragging massive trawl nets on the ocean floor, displacing and destroying millions of plants and animals.

One year after a gill-net is lost, it still catches nearly five times as many fish as an active net does. Image: Twitter/@JunkieOcean

Species displacement

Displacing species indigenous to a certain ocean region can have detrimental consequences. Often, plant and animal species such as plankton are taken on board by a ship when ballast water is used, and offloaded in a different area.

With new species, also called ballast water invaders, landing in a different area, there are often no predators or diseases keeping them in check. Eventually, these alien species will out-compete indigenous ones, causing major problems within the marine life ecosystem, SAAMBR explains.

A diagram explaining how ballast water works. Image: MaxxL via wikimedia

Noise pollution

Noise pollution is generated by thousands of ship’s engines, oil rigs, and mining operations on the ocean floor, and the full effects on marine life are not yet known.

However, one can be assured that this is detrimental to marine life, especially species that use echolocation under the sea to navigate, such as whales and dolphins, to name a few.

In fact, Japanese researchers recently found that male humpback whales, known for their singing, are having their songs cut sort or silenced altogether, thanks to shipping noise, reports EcoWatch.

Noise pollution can displace whales and other animals that rely on echolocation. Image: Twitter/@GreenFutureNews

What fish is good to eat

Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has prepared a pocket guide on what fish are good, ok, and bad to eat. Here is a summary of what fish you can eat guilt-free, and what species you should steer clear from:

Green – Best Choice

Anchovy, Cape rock oyster, Carpenter, Dorado, Dusky kob, East coast rock lobster, hake, Hottentot, King mackerel and Kingklip, mussels, Monk, oysters, Queen mackerel, round-eye herring, rainbow trout, Slinger, snoek, white mussel, Yellowfin tuna, and Yellowtail.

Orange – Think twice

Atlantic salmon, Bigeye tuna, calamari/squid, Cape dory, Cape horse mackerel, Cape rock oyster (in the Southern Cape), Catface rockcod, Englishman, Gurnard, hake (Namibia), Kingklip (offshore trawl), Red Roman, sardines, sole (East Coast), and Yellowfin tuna.

Red – Do not buy

Abalone, Bluefin tuna, Biscuit skate, Black musselcracker/Poenskop, Dageraad, Geelbek, prawns, Red stumpose/Miss Lucy, Scotsman, Shortfin Mako shark, Silver kob, West Coast rock lobster, White Stumpnose.

To ease your conscience, try these two simple tips:

  • If you visit the beach, take a bag with you and pick up litter. Even small amounts can help save an animal.
  • Eat fish that are not endangered.

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