Commercial fishing waste causes growing concern
With 820 million people globally going hungry, the scandal of fish waste is especially shocking. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about 35% of all fish, mollusks and crustaceans taken from the world’s waters never reach a dinner plate.
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The images are startling. Silver carpets of dead fish floating on an expanse of sea. Piles of scaly rot onshore. What is with this horrific waste?
A combination of factors are to blame. Waste starts at the point where the fish come out of the water. About 10% of wild-caught fish are discarded as bycatch—that is, an undesired type of fish that had the bad luck of being netted. Then there’s poor handling, insufficient cooling facilities on fishing boats and opportunities for rot along the long supply chain.
Subsidies also play a role. “I think there is a strong connection between subsidies and waste in the water,” said Rashid Sumaila, professor of ocean and fisheries economics at the University of British Columbia, as reported by The Guardian. Subsidies were originally implemented to help the small-scale fisheries. But now a small group of industrial fleets reaps 80% of subsidies.
About 27% of all fish waste happens after the fish get to land, estimates the FAO. In low-income countries, experts say the fish loss is often intentional. High-income countries contribute to the problem by favoring larger types of fresh fish that quickly spoil. “This is the real tragedy, because it’s moved all the way through the supply chain, and then we’re comfortable with a 10% to 30% loss rate in the grocery store,” said Pete Pearson, senior director for food waste at WWF, as reported by The Guardian.
But wait, there’s good news. Fish experts have a lot of ideas about how to reduce fish waste. Solar-powered drying tents could preserve fish for longer. Better training for both fishers and processors could decrease loss. And if consumers could learn to love frozen fish, less loss would happen as the supply chain struggles to keep a fast-spoiling item fresh. Eating smaller fish and bivalves would also be better for the planet, as these are consumed whole and thus don’t entail waste.
Smelly fish heads and bones have already been a long-standing source of fertilizer. Now people are thinking of ways to turn crustacean waste into biodegradable packaging and fish skin as a burn treatment.
Via The Guardian