Commercial Fishing Industry: Technology, Sectors, Problems

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20120521-Barba 5.jpg The fish market was valued at US$406 billion in 2021 and global fisheries and aquaculture production reached an all-time high of 214 million metric tons in 2020 — according to the UN State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture Report 2022. [Source: Martina Iginia, July 15 2022]

According to the FAO: Total fisheries and aquaculture production (excluding algae) has significantly expanded in past decades going from 19 million tonnes (live weight equivalent) in 1950 to an all-time record of about 179 million tonnes in 2018, with an annual growth rate of 3.3 percent. Production then declined marginally in 2019 (a fall of 1 percent compared with 2018), before increasing by a mere 0.2 percent to reach 178 million tonnes in 2020. The total first sale value of fisheries and aquaculture production of aquatic animals in 2020 was estimated at US$406 billion, of which US$265 billion came from aquaculture production. [Source: “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)]

The demand for seafood has outpaced world’s population growth. Seafood consumption rose 30 percent from 16 kilograms (35 pounds) per person in 1998 to 20.4 kilograms (45 pounds) per person in 2018, according to the United Nations. The estimated global catch in 2018 was 107 million tons, nearly twice what it was in the late 1960s. In the United States, seafood was a $55 billion industry in the 2000s. In 2001, Americans consumed more than 1.9 kilograms (4.2 billion) pounds of fish. [Source: Tristram Korten, Smithsonian magazine, September 2020]

Fishing is very much a global industry. More than 80 percent of the fish American consumer is imported. The majority of the world’s fishing fleet is concentrated in Asian waters. Pollock is one of the most commonly caught fishes. It is a white fish turned into fish sticks, imitation crab, and fish fillets for fast food restaurants. In 2005, the fish export trade reached 30 million tons, a fourfold increase from 1975. During the same time the value of the trade increased ninefold to $71 billion.

Fisheries is a term used to describe the taking of a variety of products from the sea and is usually used to describe the taking of a particular species from a particular place. There are oyster fisheries and sponge fisheries as well as tuna and cod fisheries. Fisheries in Alaska, Iceland and New Zealand are well managed. But in most places poor management and lax regulations is the norm.In some parts of the open sea it is like the Wild West. Fishing fleets are pursuing and catching every more distant fish populations. Much of the industrial fishing occurs in the open sea, where fishing fleets compete with little oversight or regulation.

Leveling Off of Fishing in the Early 2020s

According to the FAO: The stagnation experienced in the early 2020s was mainly linked to a slight decline in capture fisheries, which decreased by 4.5 percent in 2019 compared with the 2018 peak of 96 million tonnes, and then by a further 2.1 percent in 2020. This decline was due to various factors, including fluctuating catches of pelagic species, particularly anchoveta, the recent reduction in China’s catches and the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector in 2020. Furthermore, aquaculture production (the main driver of the growth of total production since the late 1980s) continued to expand. [Source: “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)]

Sorting crabs at a fishing port
These lower growth rates are due to a range of factors, including the impact of policy changes in China focused on environmental protection and various issues linked to COVID-19 in 2020 that not only impacted production for export markets, but also reduced availability of workers, supplies and inputs (including feed, fingerlings and ice), while disruption to transportation and marketing, plus sanitary measures, also left their mark. As aquaculture has grown faster than capture fisheries during the last two years, its share of total fisheries and aquaculture production has further increased. Of the 178 million tonnes produced in 2020, 51 percent (90 million tonnes) was from capture fisheries and 49 percent (88 million tonnes) from aquaculture. This represents a major change from the 4 percent share of aquaculture in the 1950s, 5 percent in the 1970s, 20 percent in the 1990s and 44 percent in the 2010s.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on fisheries and aquaculture globally, driven by changes in consumer demand, market disruption and the logistical difficulties of ensuring stringent containment measures that prevented or hampered fishing and aquaculture activities, including lockdowns, curfews, physical distancing in operations and onboard vessels, and port restrictions.In some countries, lockdowns caused drops in demand with a consequent decline in the prices of fisheries and aquaculture products. Many fishing fleets or aquaculture operations stopped running or reduced their activities, as their work became unprofitable, in particular during the 2020 pandemic waves. In some cases, fisheries quotas were not filled due to low demand, market closures and/or lack of cold storage capacity. Movement restrictions impacted professional seafarers, including at-sea fisheries observers and marine personnel in ports, thereby preventing crew changes and repatriation of seafarers. In aquaculture, unsold produce resulted in higher costs for feeding and increased mortality rate among aquatic animals.

Fisheries and aquaculture production relying on export markets was more impacted than that serving domestic markets due to market closures, increased freight costs, flight cancellations and border restrictions. However, domestic fresh fish and shellfish supply was also severely impacted by the closure of food service sectors (e.g. hotels, restaurants and catering facilities, including school and work canteens). Globally, the impact varied with many countries reporting sharp drops in capture and aquaculture production during the first weeks and months of the crisis followed by improvements as the sector adapted.

Top Wild-Caught Commercial Fish

Common name(s) — Scientific name — Saltwater of Freshwater — Harvest in tonnes (1000 kilograms)
1) Peruvian anchoveta — Engraulis ringens — Saltwater — 4,692,855 tonnes
2) Alaska pollock — Theragra chalcogramma — Saltwater — 3,271,426 tonnes This species is often the main ingredient in the so-called crab sticks.
3) Skipjack tuna — Katsuwonus pelamis — Saltwater — 2,795,339 tonnes
4) Atlantic herring — Clupea harengus — Saltwater — 1,849,969 tonnes
5) Chub mackerel — Scomber japonicus — Saltwater — 1,581,314 tonnes
6) Yellowfin tuna — Thunnus albacares — Saltwater — 1,352,204 tonnes
7) Japanese anchovy — Engraulis japonicus — Saltwater — 1,296,383 tonnes
8) Largehead hairtail— Trichiurus lepturus — Saltwater — 1,235,373 tonnes. This is a common fish and popular eating fish in Japan.
9) Atlantic Cod — Gadus morhua — Saltwater — 1,114,382 tonnes
10) European pilchard — Sardina pilchardus — Saltwater — 1,019,392 tonnes
11) Capelin (small coldwater fish) — Mallotus villosus — Saltwater — 1,006,533 tonnes
12) Atlantic mackerel — Scomber scombrus — Saltwater — 910,697 tonnes
13) Araucanian herring — Clupea bentincki — Saltwater — 848,466 tonnes
14) Gulf menhaden — Brevoortia patronus — Saltwater — 578,693 tonnes
15) Indian oil sardine — Sardinella longiceps — Saltwater — 560,145 tonnes
[Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2012; Wikipedia]

16) European anchovy — Engraulis encrasicolus — Saltwater — 489,297 tonnes
17) Pacific cod — Gadus macrocephalus — Saltwater — 474,047 tonnes
18) Pacific saury — Cololabis saira — Saltwater — 460,961 tonnes
19) Pacific herring — Clupea pallasii — Saltwater — 451,457 tonnes
20) Bigeye tuna — Thunnus obesus — Saltwater — 450,546 tonnes
21) Chilean jack mackerel — Trachurus murphyi — Saltwater — 447,060 tonnes
22) Yellow croaker — Larimichthys polyactis — Saltwater — 437,613 tonnes
23) Haddock — Melanogrammus aeglefinus — Saltwater — 430,917 tonnes
24) European sprat — Sprattus sprattus — Saltwater — 408,509 tonnes
26) Pink salmon — Oncorhynchus gorbuscha — Saltwater — 406,131 tonnes
27) Blue whiting — Micromesistius poutassou — Saltwater — 378,794 tonnes
28) Hilsa shad — Tenualosa ilisha — Saltwater — 376,734 tonnes
29) Daggertooth pike conger — Muraenesox cinereus — Saltwater — 372,704 tonnes
30) California pilchard — Sardinops caeruleus — Saltwater — 364,386 tonnes

31) Cape horse mackerel — Trachurus capensis — Saltwater — 356,795 tonnes
32) Pacific anchoveta — Cetengraulis mysticetus — Saltwater — 352,945 tonnes
33) Pollock — Pollachius virens — Saltwater — 336,838 tonnes
34) Kawakawa (mackerel tuna, little tuna)— Euthynnus affinis — Saltwater — 328,927 tonnes
35) Indian mackerel — Rastrelliger kanagurta — Saltwater — 325,612 tonnes
36) Argentine hake — Merluccius hubbsi — Saltwater — 318,067 tonnes
37) Short mackerel — Rastrelliger brachysoma — Saltwater — 312,930 tonnes
38) Southern African anchovy — Engraulis capensis — — Saltwater — 307,606 tonnes
39) Nile perch — Lates niloticus — Freshwater — 278,675 tonnes
40) Round sardinella — Sardinella aurita — Saltwater — 273,018 tonnes
41) Japanese pilchard — Sardinops melanostictus — Saltwater — 269,972 tonnes
42) Bombay-duck — Harpadon nehereus — Saltwater — 257,376 tonnes
43) Narrow-barred Spanish mackerel — Scomberomorus commerson — Saltwater — 256,469 tonnes
44) Albacore — Thunnus alalunga — Saltwater — 256,082 tonnes

45) Madeiran sardinella — Sardinella maderensis — Saltwater — 251,342 tonnes
46) Bonga shad — Ethmalosa fimbriata — Saltwater — 249,422 tonnes. This is an important fish in west Africa.
47) Silver cyprinid — Rastrineobola argentea — Freshwater — 241,122 tonnes
48) Nile tilapia — Oreochromis niloticus — Freshwater — 235,003 tonnes
49) Longtail tuna — Thunnus tonggol — Saltwater — 234,427 tonnes
50) Atlantic menhaden — Brevoortia tyrannus — Saltwater — 224,404 tonnes
51) North Pacific hake — Merluccius productus — Saltwater — 206,985 tonnes
52) Atlantic horse mackerel — Trachurus trachurus — Saltwater — 205,807 tonnes
53) Japanese jack mackerel — Trachurus japonicus — Saltwater — 202,816 tonnes
54) Pacific thread herring — Opisthonema libertate — Saltwater — 201,993 tonnes. One of five species in the genus Opisthonema tonnes
55) Bigeye scad — Selar crumenophthalmus — Saltwater — 200,617 tonnes
56) Yellowstripe scad — Selaroides leptolepis — Saltwater — 198,600 tonnes
57) Chum salmon — Oncorhynchus keta — Saltwater — 189,777 tonnes
58) Pacific sand lance, Pacific sandlance — Ammodytes personatus — Saltwater — 175,892 tonnes Mostly manufactured into oil and meal, but also used as food in Japan.
59) Goldstripe sardinella — Sardinella gibbosa — Saltwater — 161,839 tonnes

Modern Fishing

20120521-FACTORY SHIPS Alaska_Ranger_transom.jpeg
Alaska Ranger fishing factory ship
Tristram Korten wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Gone are the days when small crews of men sailed out to sea with their nets. Nowadays, big fishing companies use helicopters, airplanes and even satellites to track down schools on the surface. Sonar helps them find bottom-dwellers. And once the fish are located, fishers deploy industrial-scale machinery: nets and long lines that stretch for miles, attached to motorized winches. In unscrupulous hands, these methods are notorious for damaging the seafloor, destroying the habitats of a wide range of marine creatures. [Source: Tristram Korten, Smithsonian magazine, September 2020]

“Traditionally, fishing vessels had the freedom to go largely where they pleased. That changed in 1982, when the United Nations gave every country with a coastline the exclusive rights to the resources found in waters up to 200 nautical miles from its shore. Most countries keep track of the commercial catch in these areas, known as exclusive economic zones, and submit that data to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Yet those figures don’t begin to tell the whole story, as shown by these charts.

Fishing employs a lot of people. It is estimated that there are 12 million traditional small boat fisherman in the world but they only catch about half the world's fish. The one million or so industrial fishermen catch around the same number fish. Worldwide, fish sustain one billion people, many of them poor. The share of fish production by developing countries is projected to increase to 81 percent by 2015.

Modern Fishing Methods

Modern fish-locating technology, huge nets and industrial-size fishing ships allow fishermen today to scoop up as much fish in a couple of days as they used gather in several months. Much of the worlds' catch is caught with factory ships with nets the size of small cities. There are currently 23,000 fishing vessels of more 100 tons. These boats are outfit with sophisticated sonar and electronics that are very good at locating fish.

Using Cold War technology such as sonar, satellite positioning systems, acoustic locator devises, devices that monitor water temperatures and scan the ocean bottom fishermen can track large schools of fish and locate prime fishing spots. GPS devices attached to floating logs alert fleets to the whereabouts of fish.

Discharging fish by traveling buckets
Sonar helps fisherman find large shoals of fish hundreds of feet below the water and satellite navigation systems help fishermen return to the same spots with precision year after year. "Technology creep" refers to ability of fishermen to catch more fish over time with increasingly sophisticated boats, nets, sonar and electronic equipment.

Spotter planes are also used to locate schools of fishing. Often they look for masses of seabirds. When the see something they radio factory ships. Sometimes the will spot a school the size of a football field which can be scooped up with a single purse seine net.

Callum Roberts wrote in "The Unnatural History of the Sea", “"Purse-seine boats now seed the ocean with veritable forests of floating decoy logs and other fish-aggregating devices to bring together scattered shoals of fish. When they return, they scoop up the fish with ruthless efficiency, taking with them turtles, sharks, and dolphins -- whatever happens to be there. For some reason, logs preferentially attract juvenile tuna, so their take even of the target species is wasteful. By catching young tuna before they reach adulthood, purse seiners forgo much higher catches for themselves later, and they are also denying these tuna the chance to reproduce, putting future catches at risk. Where once the vast canvas of the sea was great enough for fish to lose themselves in, escaping capture, today even the high seas afford little refuge. New technology has given old fishing methods a far more lethal edge."

Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs)

Fish aggregating devices are floating objects that are designed and strategically placed to attract pelagic fish. Many pelagic species associate with natural FADs in the open ocean, such as logs, seaweed, and coconuts. Man-made FADs are constructed from a variety of materials. Ropes and lines encourage the settlement of marine plants and small crustaceans and mollusks, which in turn attract small fish. Fish finders may be attached to a FAD allowing fishermen to electronically "connect" to the FAD and see how many and at what depth the fish are located. Animals near the FADs are then harvested with seines, hooks, or longlines. [Source: NOAA]

Target species include tuna. Billfish and dolphin fish. There are various types of FADs: 1) Static FADs are anchored to the seafloor; 2) Free-floating FADs are not anchored. FADs can be deployed in shallow nearshore waters accessible to artisanal fishermen. FADs are most effective at attracting adult predatory fish when deployed in water deeper than 400 meters (1300 feet).

Risks to Sea Turtles: The largest threat to sea turtles from FADs is entanglement. Old nets, ropes, and lines that are used in constructing FADs entangle turtles that come into contact with them. Turtles can become entangled around their flippers, head, neck, and carapace by any lines or nets associated with the FAD. If a turtle becomes entangled beneath the FAD, the turtle will likely drown due to prolonged submergence. Injuries as a result of entanglement include: broken limbs, exhaustion, and lacerations that may occur as the turtle struggles to free itself from the lines or nets. Additionally, turtles are bycatch victims in other fishing activities occurring around the FAD.

Risks to Marine Mammals: Similar to sea turtles, marine mammals can become entangled in any nets, ropes, and lines that are used in the FADs. Static FADs secured to the sea floor are of greatest concern because marine mammals can become entangled or injured in the anchoring lines. Cetaceans and pinnipeds can become entangled around their bodies, neck, or flippers. These entanglements can limit the animals' ability to swim and feed and could eventually lead to drowning if the animal is held underwater. These FADs can also alter marine mammal feeding behavior by habituating them to a temporary and unnaturally aggregated food source. There are no current mitigation measures in place for minimizing the impacts of FADs on marine mammals or sea turtles.

Over 100,000 Fishing-Related Human Deaths Occur Annually

More than 100,000 people die in fishing related accidents a year, more than triple earlier estimates, and many of those fatalities were preventable, according to a report by the Fish Safety Foundation commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Associated Press reported: A range of factors are contributing to the problem, including abuses by fishing operators, use of child labor, overfishing, climate change, armed conflicts and poverty, said the report, based on research “With 3 billion people reliant on seafood and the demand expected to rise, stronger policies are urgently needed to keep fishers safe, including ones that address the true drivers of these deaths," Peter Horn, a project director with Pew International's fisheries project, said in a statement. [Source: Associated Press, November 2, 2022]

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has been increasing despite efforts to curb such practices, as overfishing has led fleets to travel ever further in search of catches, adding to the risks. Operators of fishing fleets often fail to report deaths, obscuring the reality of the dangers in the industry and making it difficult for governments to design effective policies to improve safety, said Eric Holliday, chief executive of Fish Safety Foundation, an international non-profit group promoting safer fishing.

20120521-800px-Scow_load_of_salmon Alaska_Case_and_Draper.jpg
Scow load of salmon in Alaska
Not all of the deaths are among huge fishing fleets, where forced labor and other abusive practices have been widely documented. Private, traditional fishing has become increasingly risky because fishers must travel ever further as waters closer to shore are overfished or fish migrate to more distant seas due to climate change, the report said. Meanwhile, many governments have cut back on patrols and search and rescue missions, partly due to the rising cost of fuel.

The report's authors compiled their fishing mortality estimate of over 100,000 deaths annually based on publicly available data cross-referenced with news reports, social media and discussions with government officials and others. But much of the data was compiled in the 1990s and needs updating. According to those estimates, which are based on industry and U.N. data, the highest fatality rates are in African fisheries and the Pacific Islands. Fatality rates in the report released Thursday ranged from 207 per 100,000 people in Finland to under 6 per 100,000 in Poland.

The problem is not confined to ocean-going fishing vessels — on Lake Victoria in Africa, between 1,800-5,000 people per 100,000 are estimated to perish each year. The report cited Godfrey Kiwanda, the former state minister for tourism in Uganda, as saying the number may be much higher since many deaths happen in remote dams and swamps and are not officially reported. Another neglected hazard is decompression sickness among divers forced to make repeated deep dives, a common problem in harvesting lobster, sea cucumbers and conches, the report said.

Among the most hazardous fishing industries are raft fisheries in Myanmar. Thousands of men are recruited each year, paid about $450 in advance, to stay for a few months on small bamboo platforms on top of foam blocks up to 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) offshore. Working in small teams, they catch fish and shrimp using nets they lower into the water, suffering from a lack of fresh water and food at times if supply boats fail to visit often enough. Ulcers, beriberi from lack of vitamin B, tuberculosis, and burst arteries are among the ailments common among those workers, the report said, citing local doctors.

Bycatch and Wasteful Fishing

20120521-Trawl_catch_of_myctophids_and_glass_shrimp the_bottom_200_meters_depth.jpg In addition to targeted fish, fishing boats also catch large amounts of bycatch (unwanted fish). By some estimated 25 percent of all fish caught are bycatch. Each year between 20 to 40 million tons of mostly dead fish are thrown back in the sea.

In the United States, much of the bycatch is snagged by shimper’s net in the Gulf of Mexico or huge trawling nets use to scour the ocean floor. Gulf shrimpers catch of around 114,000 tons of shrimp a year but discard four times that weight in snappers, mackerel, Atlantic croaker, crabs and porgies.

Improvements in fishing methods have reduced bycatch by up to 60 percent and dramatically reduced the number of endangered birds such as albatrosses that are caught in fishing lines. Improvements that have reduced bycatch include better net and hook designs, pingers on nets to repel marine mammals and streamers behind boats to scare away seabirds.

Deep Sea Fishing, See Chilean Sea Bass and Orange Roughy

Ghost Fishing

Ghost fishing describes what happens when derelict fishing gear "continues to fish ". "Ghost gear," can be any discarded, lost, or abandoned, fishing gear in the marine environment. This gear continues to fish and trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life, smother habitat, and act as a hazard to navigation. Derelict fishing gear, such as nets or traps and pots, is one of the main types of debris impacting the marine environment today. [Source: NOAA]

According to World Animal Protection: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conservatively estimate that some 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear are left in our oceans each year. In just one deep water fishery in the north-east Atlantic some 25,000 nets, totalling around 1,250km in length, were recorded lost or discarded annually. Each net is a floating death trap. For example, when 870 ghost nets were recovered off Washington State in the US, they contained more than 32,000 marine animals, including more than 500 birds and mammals.

Analysing the current scientific evidence available, World Animal Protection estimates that entanglement in ghost gear kills at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales every year. An inestimable number of birds, turtles, fish and other species are also injured and killed.

Ghost fishing gear often travels long distances from its point of origin and accumulates in hotspots around oceanic currents. Even remote Antarctic habitats are not free from this pollution – every ocean and sea on earth is affected. A recent scientific expedition to southern Alaska’s beaches found up to a tonne of garbage per mile, much of it plastic fishing nets and lines washed in by the tides. The materials used to make fishing gear cause long-lasting dangers. The plastics used are very durable, some persisting in the oceans for up to 600 years. Some are almost invisible in the water, and they are extremely strong and resistant to biting and chewing by entangled animals so they cannot escape.

Sea Turtles and Fishing

Commercial fishing is believed to be the No.1 cause of man-related sea turtle deaths. Thousands of sea turtles drown after getting caught in fisherman's nets. Environmental groups claim that nets on shrimp boats alone claim as many as 150,000 sea turtles a year.

leatherback turtle
Shrimp boats in the United States and countries that export shrimp to the United States are now required by law to use nets outfit with trapdoor-like attachment called a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) that allows the turtles to escape. The TED is a panel of mesh webbing or metal grids at the end of the funnel-like shrimp nets that keeps turtles and large fish like sharks from entering and directs them to an escape hatch. Fishermen claim that devices cause them lose shrimp and money. In some places, fishing boats have been prohibiting from coming within two miles of nesting and feeding sites.

Newly-developed round fish hooks baited with mackerel can reduce the rate of unintentionally catching sea turtles with long lines using traditional J-style hooks baited with squid by 65 percent to 90 percent. Fishermen are also beginning to attach timers to their trawling nets. The vast majority of sea turtles survive entanglements in nets as long as they are pulled from the water within 50 minutes. Relatively low tech “tow-time loggers” measure how long nets have been underwaters and record the data to let government officials know it the nets have been pulled up with in the 50 minute limit.

Leatherback Turtles and Commercial Fishing

Leatherback turtles are being killed in large numbers by industrial fishing primarily by being accidently hooked with long lines or accidental drowned in commercial gill nets. They are attracted by the lights attached to longlines and become entangled in the lines or get their flippers snagged on the hooks and drown unless they can get to the surface to breath. By one estimate over 100,000 miles of long lines, with 4.5 million hooks, rip through the Pacific Ocean every day.

The most dramatic declines have occurred in the Pacific. Using satellite tags scientists discovered that leatherback turtles that nested in Mexico and Costa Rica migrated south, where they were vulnerable to being snagged by drift nets set off Peru and Chile. By one estimate 2,000 to 3,000 leatherbacks were killed a year by these drift nets in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Leatherbacks have also been hurt by the collapse of the anchovy fisheries off Chile and Peru connected with El Nino years. Scientists have found that the number of turtles that show up at nesting sites falls off markedly after El Nino years. Even in good years researchers are finding that females in the eastern Pacific are smaller, nest less often and produce fewer eggs than leatherbacks in other areas.

Efforts to help leatherbacks has included protecting their nesting beaches, restricting harmful fishing practices and calling on a variety of spirits and deities to help them.

Long Line and Trawler Fishing and Albatrosses

20120521-Seabirds longliners.jpg.jpeg
Seabirds and longliners
Albatrosses are perhaps threatened the most by long-line fishing fleets. By some estimates more than 100,000 albatrosses are killed each year---or about one every five minutes---when they dive for bait or fish caught in the lines and become hooked themselves. Unable to escape they drown and die. Albatrosses also like to trail behind trawlers that drag heavy trawl nets with cables that strike the bird’s long wings, killing them outright or injuring them badly enough they can’t fly.

Of 4,000 albatross autopsies by scientists in New Zealand nearly half had been killed by trawlers, The birds carried wounds’scrapped away skin and feathers and exposed bones---caused by the steel wires that pull the trawl nets. Large seabirds such as albatrosses tended to be injured as a result of collisions with the wires while smaller birds were caught in nets and crushed or drowned. The finding surprised conservationists that had thought that longlines were the main human threat to albatrosses.

Long line and trawl fleets from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil had reduced the number of black-browed albatrosses to the point they were declared endangered in 2003. By some estimates a single boat can kill 140 birds a day. Many fishermen regard albatrosses as pests that eat their fish and don’t mind if they die. There have been reports of fishermen purposely catching albatrosses and eating them.

Many fishing vessel process their catch at sea, generating tons of discarded fish and fish parts that inevitably attract birds when they are dumped overboard. Few birds or sharks and other sea creatures can resist the temptation. To cut down on the amount of stuff thrown off the boats new vessels convert fish waste into fish meal. Boats that dump waste can reduce accidents and bird fatalities by not discharging the waste when long line or nets are set out.

Measures Taken by Long Line and Trawler Fishermen to Protect Albatrosses

20120521-TRAWLER Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-1989-10.jpg

Environmentalists are encouraging fishermen to plant red flags and curtains of fluttering streamers next to lines which scare away albatrosses and other sea birds. Other measures to protect seabirds include weighting lines with sinkers and setting lines from chutes or the sides of boats rather than the back so birds can’t get them, setting lines at night, using noise cannons to scare away birds, and using thawed baits, which sink faster than frozen ones. Some fishermen dye bait blue to make it harder for birds to see. By employing these low-cost methods New Zealand’s longline tuna fishermen reduced seabird deaths by 95 percent. Globally such measures are credited with saving an estimated 300,000 sea birds a year and reducing sea bird deaths by 85 percent.

More and more trawlers in sea bird areas are using a device called the Brady Bird Baffler, which uses weighted lines hanging from booms on each side of a boat’s stern to make a boat look larger from the back. The device keeps birds from away from the deadly trawl lines that run out of the back of the boat. The Carefree Cunning Contraption clips on to wires to make them look like hairy caterpillars from a distance. The Contraption makes wires more visible. If birds get too close the devices brushes their wings rtaher than injures them.

The Albatross Task Force was set up in 2006 to get fishermen around the world to adopt these practices. The Australian ecologist Nigel Brothers who is credited with working out many of bird protection solutions, told National Geographic, “Fishing is hard, monotonous work, thousands of hooks baited, deployed and hauled per day. If fisherman have do something extra to save a bird or a turtle---if they don’t have an easy option that costs nothing---it won’t happen, You have to make conservation easy.” One fisherman who practices “seabird-smart fishing” told Smithsonian magazine, “I don’t like catching birds. I don’t like killing anything unnecessarily.”

But even if measures are widely adopted by regulated vessels there are large numbers of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) vessels out there that skirt the rules and answer to no one. Some argue that the fishing industry actually does albatrosses a favor by providing them with food (the discarded fish), providing competitors with food (thus reducing competition for other food) and providing predators with food so they don’t feed on albatross chicks. Studies have show that 70 percent of the food brought by some albatross adults to their chicks comes from fishing vessels.

Fish Processing in China

20120521-800px-UnloadingtruckNuevaViga.JPG The Chinese often made glue from air bladders of fish, usually carp. The tough , white bladders are made of elastic collagen fibers. After simmering to the desired constancy the glue can be used in carpentry and bookbinding. [Source: National Geographic]

U.S. fish producers outsource processing to China. Pacific salmon caught in U.S. Northwest and flounder caught off Alaska are shipped to China for processing. Even though the fish make a round-trip journey of up to 12,800 kilometers it is still cheaper preparing it this way than processing it in the United States. Processing salmon, which requires removing 36 pin bones, is best done by hand. The cost in China is 20 cents per pound compared to $1 per pound in the United States.

Pollock are de-headed and gutted on a ship that catches them in the Bering Sea. The fish are then frozen and sent to China , where they are boned, skinned and cut into portions ranging between 2 ounces and 6 ounces and shipped back to he United States. The transportation costs are 20 cents a pound.

The cost for removing meat from crabs at a processing center in Qingdao, China is one tenth what it is the the United States. Workers in Qingdao earn around $100 to $150 a month.

Japan is the third largest market for Chinese exporters for processed food and fish. Eels are a major export item to China. Most eels are produced Guangdong Province, China exported 46,646 tins of grilled eel, mostly to Japan.

Fish Markets

Paul Greenberg wrote in National Geographic, “Just before dawn a seafood summit convenes near Honolulu Harbor. As two dozen or so buyers enter the United Fishing Agency warehouse, they don winter parkas over their aloha shirts to blunt the chill of the refrigeration. They flip open their cell phones, dial their clients in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Honolulu---wherever expensive fish are eaten---and wait. [Source: Paul Greenberg, National Geographic, October 2010]

Soon the big freight doors on the seaward side of the warehouse slide open, and a parade of marine carcasses on pallets begins. Tuna as big around as wagon wheels. Spearfish and swordfish, their bills sawed off, their bodies lined up like dull gray I beams. Thick-lipped opah with eyes the size of hockey pucks rimmed with gold. They all take their places in the hall.

Auctioneers drill core samples from the fish and lay the ribbons of flesh on the lifeless white bellies. Buyers finger these samples, trying to divine quality from color, clarity, texture, and fat content. As instructions come in over cell phones, bids are conveyed to the auctioneer through mysterious hand gestures. Little sheets of paper with indecipherable scribbling are slapped on a fish's flank when a sale is finalized. One by one fish are auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. In this way the marine wealth of the north-central Pacific is divided up among some of the world's most affluent purchasers.

See Tsukiji Fish market, Japan

Tropical and Ornamental Fish

The tropical and ornamental fish industry is worth about $1 billion in the United States. Among the marine creatures that people buy are jellyfish, sea slugs, and featherduster worms, live brain coral, Atlantic octopus ($30), lionfish ($40), frontosa ($24) and albino sharks.

Many of the 35 million tropical ornamental fish caught in the wild every year are caught using environmentally-damaging methods. See Cyanide fishing, Reefs

In 1990, captive-bred fish cost three times more than wild ones. Since then the cost has come down. Clownfish and neon gobies from the Philippines are now raised in fish farms in the Bahamas. The trick with raising clownfish is to make sure they have an anemone in their tank.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2023

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