Has the world reached ‘peak fish’?, fish experts ask

shutterstock_519883603 [Rich Carey]

This week’s meetings of the European Parliament’s committee on fisheries (11-12 July) saw fish experts tackling the growing issues of overfishing, small-scale fisheries and fish dependence.

The same week, Slow Food, an organisation that promotes sustainable food production,  organised a workshop dealing with fishing issues.

“The solution lies at the end of the food chain: the customers,” Ugo Federico, a chef at restaurant Racine in Brussels, told the workshop. “They should be better informed as to where the fish comes from and how it was fished. For example, you don’t see any label showing if a fish comes from aquaculture or not.”

Brian O’Riordan, deputy director at Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE), underlined the need to advertise other fish species, besides the most popular ones, in order to avoid their overfishing.

“To be a truly responsible customer, you need to take your responsibilities. But is it possible?” he also asked.

The Slow Food event gathered EU officials from DG MARE, DG Environment, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, and FARNET, as well as environmental NGOs from Our Fish, LIFE, Pintafish, Climaxi, Goede Vissers, the French Permanent Representation to the EU, and fishers and fishmongers from the Slow Food network.

The roundtable discussions focused on fish dependence and the gaps, challenges, and barriers for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for small-scale fishers in Europe.

The discussion took place on fish dependence day. Slow Food explained that the Fish Dependence Day (FDD) is the calendar date when a country will begin relying on fish from elsewhere because its domestic supplies will have been depleted.

While the CFP was considered a step in the right direction when it comes to the EU fisheries legal framework, numerous challenges originate from the EU policy, for instance, its promotion of aquaculture, while there are also issues deriving from its limited implementation in practice.

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Trying to square the aquaculture circle

Barbara Rodenburg-Geertsema, a producer coordinator from the Slow Food Wadden Sea Presidium, insisted on addressing the risks of introducing foreign species of fish in a wild environment.

She said aquaculture means the use of pesticide, antibiotic and excrement that go directly into the sea.

“I don’t like it at all when people bring to wild waters species that do not belong there. Foreign species bring diseases in the water. If you want to do aquaculture, do it on the land, and do it cleanly, but do not interfere with the natural environment. For example, farmed Atlantic salmon, even if from the Atlantic, is genetically different from wild Atlantic salmon,” she said.

Brian O’Riordan pointed out that even though the current EU legislation prohibits the introduction of foreign species, the legislation couldn’t prevent their escape into the wild,  for example when nets break up after storms.

He also highlighted that there has been no significant increase in aquaculture in the EU in the last 10 years.

“There are some constraints because of a lack of land on the coast. Who is going to give up space for aquaculture?” he asked.

According to the latest figures of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), production from aquaculture reached 80 million tonnes in 2016, providing 53%  of all fish consumed by humans.

In its report, the UN agency noted that aquaculture’s growth has slowed: annual growth between 2010 and 2016 was 5.8%, down from 10% in the 1980s and 1990s. But it will still continue to expand in the coming decades, especially in Africa, the FAO said.

The UN agency published its new figures in its bi-annual report “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” (SOFIA) which was released the same day Slow Food organised its event.

The report also shows that the percentage of fisheries classified as overfished continues to increase and is now a third of all assessed fisheries worldwide.

Only a decade ago, this percentage was a quarter, and in 1974, the baseline for the report, only 10% of assessed stocks were overfished. In 2007, 52%  of assessed fish stocks were at maximum sustainably/fully-fished levels, while the findings published today show the figure to be close to 60%.

The FAO expects that by 2030, combined production from capture fisheries and aquaculture will grow to 201 million tonnes, an 18% increase over the current production level of 171 million tonnes.

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