🐟 Fishing series: A few climate conscious guidelines to buying fish

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It may not appear as such but fish and seafood actually represents half of human meat consumption. It is estimated[1] that, on a yearly basis, humans eat about 41kg of land-animal meat per person as well as, surprisingly enough, 20kg of fish.

What do these figures imply? Simply that our consumption of fish has be taken seriously and considered in its entirety.

Indeed, our food habits are directly linked to an industry which does impact the environment and, therefore, the climate. To acknowledge that the species of the fish, its origin and the fishing method employed in its production can have a “good” to a “very bad” effect on our planet’s ecosystem is personl and must drive our consumption.

This article entends to list a few guidelines to follow when buying fish with an environmentally-conscious mind. 3 rules:

  • 1. Give priority to “artisanal fishing”
  • 2. Give their chance to other species
  • 3. Do not trust labels

1. Give priority to “artisanal fishing”

“Artisanal fishing”, also know as “small-scale fishing” is far from being an underground model. Indeed, this fishery employs 12 million people across the planet, as opposed to industrial fishing, employing a little over 500 thousand workers but receiving almost 80% of public subsidies. Artisanal fishing is said[2] to use, for the same volume of production as industrial fishing, only 1/8 of the fuel. Being small-scale, this model insures the preservation of marine ecosystems, the respect of fishing quotas and, in a majority of cases, fair wages and amount of working hours for fishermen/women.

How to garantee that your fish originates from artisanal fisheries?

Ask your fishmonger, your local fisherman, suscribe to a “local distribution network”[3] or read the label. Resellers have the legal obligation to communicate the type of fishery your fish is caught from. Do not trust “sustainable labels” but rather read and spot the type of fishing technic used in the production of your fish. You can then compare it to our list of “soft fishing technics” below.

One marker to keep in mind is: the size of the boat.

Size of the boat

If the boat is smaller than 12 meters, you are garanteed that it does not engage in destructive forms of fishing. Indeed, 12 meters implies that the boat will not be able to go on more than 1 day trips, which rules out the possiblity to fish with a trawl in deep sea, or to fish with drift nets: it simply garantees the use of “soft fishing” methods.

Walk fishing: fishing with a landing net, fish by fish. Here opposite, salmon fishing in river.
Purse Seine
Line fishing: fishing with a fishing rod and line. Here opposite, Sea Bass fishing in Bretagne, France.
Fish traps

The basics of “soft fishing”  🎣

Soft fishing or “sleeping art” concerns fishing devices which are put to rest in the water (for a few minutes or hours) and then dragged out. All of these technics are considered less impactful for the environment as they produce very little waste due to the fact that they offer the possibility to throw under-grown fish back into the water.

Technics falling into the “soft fishing” category:
  • Purse seine fishing (see below)
  • Line fishing with fishing hook (see below)
  • Longline (multiple fishing hooks)
  • Fish traps (see below)
  • Sleeping nets
  • Walk fishing (with landing nets)
  • Hand/dive fishing (shellfish by shellfish)
  • “Purse seine” fishing

    The seine is a very large net, often 1km long on 200 meters heigh, floating at the surface of the water and equipped with weights at its base. Thanks to a small boat, the net is wrapped around a group of fish and closed at its base, like a purse. Being a soft method, the fish is captured and scooped out of the water without being injured.
    ⚠️ To avoid: “Seine fishing” with Fish aggregating device (FAD):
    Fishermen can equip their nets with floating devices often simply constituted by buoys, plastic tarps or chains to attract fish in one location. The use of FAD often means a large percentage of by-catch of unwanted and endangered species.
    Types of species usually fished thanks to this method: Sardines, Anchovies, Mackerel, Sea bream, Tuna, etc…

    Line fishing[4]

    As its name indicates, line fishing involves fishing with a line equipped with one or multiple hooks. Trolling therefore involves dragging one or a number of these fishing lines from a boat through the water. This method insures great quality fish and allows unwanted fish to be thrown back into the water alive and in a good state. It also implies that the fishery is of a relatively small scale.
    Types of species usually fished thanks to this method: Sea bass, Pollock, Mackerel, Sea Bream, Hake, Bonito, etc…

    Trap fishing[5]

    A trap is constituted of a rigid structure covered with a net. It allows fish and crustaceans to be captured without being injured and implies that the fishery is of a relatively small scale.
    Types of species usually fished thanks to this method: Crab, Lobster, Spider crabs, Crayfish, Whelk, Octopus, Shrimp, Cuttlefish, etc…

    Hand harvested fishing

    Types of species usually fished thanks to this method: Cockle, Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Scallops, etc…

    2. Give their chance to other species

    Farmed Salmon, Shrimp and Cod are the three most consumed species of seafoods in the world. And, indeed, if you can always find them on the stalls of your fishmonger and in the fridges of your supermarket, it intails that they are, more than often, overfished and the product of “mono-fisheries”. By substituting your white Cod with Bream, your shrims with Scallops or your Salmon with pink Trout for instance, you can be assured that you are supporting smaller scale fisheries as well as helping to reduce the pressure on over-marketed species and fisheries.

    To keep in mind

    • 🐟  Favor small fishes
      (such as anchovies or sardines) which are much less costing to the environment in terms of processing but also in terms of stocks.
    • 🐚  Favor shellfish
      (Mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, etc…). Other than being cheap and delicious, shellfish helps to filter water and absorb CO2 in the atmosphere. Eating primarily plankton, mollusks sit at the bottom of the food chain, which means that they do not disturb predators nor any endangered species.
    • 💰  Remember that the price is only dependant on trends.
      A cheaper fish doesn't mean that its meat will be less succulent than another. In 2008, Cod was considered a rather dull fish and its price was 5 to 7 times cheaper than Salmon. With the rise of the consumption and value of Salmon, Cod became the new cheap alternative fish. In 12 years, its price as been multiplicated by 4, averaging today the same price as Salmon.
    • 📌  Ask your fishmonger for recommandations

    3. Do not trust labels

    No existing “sustainable fishing” label, may it be corporate or linked to public institutions can guaranty that the certified fish is actually “sustainable”. Although there are some international standards related to seafood certification, there is no real external organization able to fact-check abusive certification nor come against companies deciding to qualify their own products as “sustainable fishing”. At best, these companies will be asked to rename their label or stop their advertising campaign, without fearing any fine or penalty.

    Even public labels such as “Pêche durable” in France, though funded and designed by a public Insitution, defines: “An environmental impact is considered “low” as long as it does not affect the habitat irreversibly.” We can here see the fragility of such a label. So do not trust any, trust your fishmonger!

    Related images


    1. Fish: Numbers given by the FAO in its 2018 report on fishery (click here for report)/Meat: Numbers correspond to the FAO’s 2019 “Meat market review” Fish: 20.2 kg/pp — Meat: 41.3 kg/pp — Bovine meat: 10.1 kg/pp — Mutton meat: 2.1 kg/pp — Pig meat: 15.3 kg/pp — Poultry meat: 13.8 kg/pp
    2. Jacquet and Pauly (2008) Funding priorities: big barriers to small-scale fisheries. Conservation Biology 22(4): 832-835.
    3. When in France: Poiscaille
    4. With/without Trolling
    5. In french: Pêche aux casiers