How does industrial fishing accelerate climate change?
Our ocean works hard. Covering huge swaths of our planet, its vast depths are still a mystery. But what we do know is that every day it sucks carbon out of the atmosphere, helping to regulate our global climate. We can’t fight climate change without this vital ocean service – but it needs to be in good shape to keep doing it. At present, human activities at sea rarely jeopardize this capacity. It’s time for us to make some definitive changes.
For centuries people have relied on the abundance of fish and seafood in the ocean for their diet, originally via small and artisanal fishing. But today, one of the main drivers of marine biodiversity loss – the disruption of ecosystems that keep the ocean healthy – is industrial-scale fishing. Fishing on this scale can take out of the ocean in a day what a small boat could take out in a year. Overfishing – which does not give fish stocks time to recover and can drive them to extinction – threatens the social and economic well-being of coastal communities, as well as our global climate.
Industrial fishing fleets from rich countries continue to have a virtual monopoly on the ocean around the world and, with growing demand for seafood, have become one of the biggest threats to the ocean and people. who depend on fishing for their livelihood.
What is the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems?
Every link in the marine ecosystem is necessary to support the abundance and diversity of the ocean. Large-scale fishing can only upset this balance. At present, half of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited while almost one in ten are on the verge of extinction. In Europe, all cod stocks are now in such poor condition that scientists routinely recommend EU fleets to stop fishing them. In the United States, Atlantic cod used to be the mainstay of the New England economy, but it is now fished at historic lows. It’s bad for fishermen (and fish and chip owners) but also for ecosystems: the disappearance of cod – a major underwater predator – has a ripple effect on the food chain, including plankton , seabirds and other marine mammals.
Many fishing techniques, such as ‘bottom trawling’, also destroy marine habitat. By dragging huge weighted nets across the seabed to catch fish, bottom trawlers also catch species like sea turtles and damage seagrass beds, which have excellent carbon storage capacity. In fact, seagrasses absorb carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. As a result, bottom trawling emits as much CO2 as the entire aviation industry.
Does fishing really contribute to climate change?
The ocean is one of the largest carbon sinks on Earth and keeping its ecosystems healthy is essential to combat dangerous climate change. Herbaria, for example, represents 10% of the ocean’s capacity to store carbon and could play a key role in slowing climate change. It also provides habitat for thousands of species, helping to maintain biodiversity. The fishing industry makes the ocean more vulnerable to climate change and less able to mitigate its effects.
Fishing vessels also emit a lot of greenhouse gases as they burn fuel to power their engines and haul their massive nets – this is especially true of supertrawlers, the juggernauts of the fishing fleet. Recent reports show that CO2 emissions from global marine fisheries have quadruple since 1950 In Europe, the fishing fleet emits each year as much CO2 as Malta while benefiting from tax advantages on fuel.
What is the impact of industrial fishing on artisanal fishers and coastal communities?
The last decades have seen the development of supertrawlers owned by powerful multinational fishing companies with multi-million investments. In Europe, they now dominate the industry, carrying 80% of the catch while small-scale fishermen – who make up 75% of the fleet – are limited to just 5% of the catch.
It is unfair and inequitable. A few hundred offshore trawlers, most of which belong to some Dutch families – have earned as much money as the entire artisanal fleet, while capturing the bulk of the subsidies intended for the fishing sector. In the Netherlands, where artisanal fishermen have almost disappeared, supertrawlers operate mostly uncheckedraising fears that they are bringing far more fish ashore than they claim, even as stocks dwindle.
What is ClientEarth doing about it?
Reducing the impact of fishing is crucial to maintaining the balance of ecosystems and climate while keeping fishermen and coastal communities alive. This is why ClientEarth is:
- Work with low impact fishers to ensure that public money is used to benefit coastal communities and to end harmful subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing;
- Work with low impact fishermen to increase controls on the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish landed each year by Dutch supertrawlers;
- Advocacy to put an end to destructive fishing gearand strengthen monitoring and control of vessels to end illegal discharges and bycatch;
- and set fishing limits consistent with science and law.