Sustainable seafood: Wild fish issues | PCC Natural Markets

Wild fish issues

fish jumping in ocean

Overfishing, destructive catch methods, and privatization of the oceans all are issues of concern in wild fisheries.


Overfishing — catching fish faster than they can reproduce — may be the single biggest threat to ocean ecosystems. Today, 85 percent of the world's fisheries are either fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed. The global fishing fleet is operating at 2.5 times the sustainable level — there are simply too many boats chasing a dwindling number of fish.

Large fish, those that live a long time, and those that are slow to reproduce (such as Chilean seabass) are among the most vulnerable. Bluefin tuna prized for sushi and Chilean Seabass are examples of species that are exploited from overfishing.

When one kind of fish is no longer plentiful, fishermen may move on to new species. Scientists have documented a gradual transition in fisheries landings over the last few decades from high-level predators such as tuna and cod, to species lower in the food web, such as crabs, sardines and squid — a phenomenon known as "fishing down the food web." Since these species often are important prey for other fish, as well as seabirds and marine mammals, their decline impacts species throughout the ecosystem.

Privatizing the ocean

Our oceans are a shared resource that we have entrusted to our government to manage in the public interest. Yet every year, more and more family fishermen are forced out of business by government regulations that favor large corporations. These corporations are gaining control of our ocean resources even though they are more likely to use destructive fishing practices such as bottom-trawling, are less likely to hire local fishermen, and provide a lower-quality product to consumers.

Currently, 18 percent of our federal fisheries already have been privatized.

One of the main problems with privatization is that many private companies and U.S. government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), aggressively are promoting open-ocean aquaculture.

Catch methods

Fish are caught using a variety of fishing methods and fishing gear. Some are environmentally friendly; others aren't because they cause wasteful bycatch and lead to overfishing.

See the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to learn more about the different catch methods, including pole/troll, purse seigning, longlining, gillnetting, trawls and dredges, traps and nets, and harpooning.

More about: aquaculture, Environmental Working Group, fishing methods, salmon, shrimp, sustainable seafood