Over a billion people, many in developing countries, rely on fish as their main source of protein, while millions in developed nations adore fish as one of the most enjoyable and healthiest things to eat on the planet. But across the globe, we need to balance demand for fish with maintaining stocks. Too often in the past, greed has triumphed over ecological logic, with disastrous results as fish stocks of key species have collapsed suddenly in various parts of the globe. Battles over fish stocks have also caused heated disputes between nations, such as the 'Cod War' that erupted between the UK and Iceland in the 1970s. Where Europe is concerned, changes to the EU's Common Fisheries Policy that will end the insane practice of discarding vast amounts of fish are small but welcome steps towards cutting pitiful waste. Growing global condemnation of the few nations still carrying out significant amounts of whaling also offer hope for the future, even if every effort is still needed on the parts of tourists in refusing to eat whale meat where it is sold, in countries like Norway, Japan and Iceland.
Fish farms are another matter where vigilance is needed. While at first glance appearing to provide a means to boost supplies of fish while maintaining wild stocks, they have become a bete noire for the fishing industry mired in controversies about the resources they use and the amount of diseased fish they produce. Bear in mind, for example, the crazy fact that farmed fish are often fed wild fish, and that it can require up to three times as much wild fish to produce one farmed fish! And a focus on fish stocks should not detract from the broader need to protect the oceans themselves from global threats such as pollution (acidification, plastics, toxic algae, dumping of deadly chemicals, dangerous organisms in bilge) plus the destruction of delicate but vital marine environments such as reefs.
What you can do
Buy fish from sustainable species where relevant, look for certification marks from organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council
. Buying from local fishermen on a quayside market is often a way to guarantee sustainability due to their size of catch and choice of nets which catch certain species rather than everything in the sea as massive trawlers do.