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Are Plastic Straws Killing Our Oceans?

The growing detriment of our oceanic ecosystem is an undeniable problem. 50-80% of the Earth’s oxygen production comes from oceanic plankton. Many environmentalists and oceanographers tell us that when the ocean dies, we die. We are killing off our oceans at an alarming rate and the biggest culprit is commercial fishing. Plastics and debris that find their way into the oceans are definitely an issue.

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Facts about seafood no one is talking about, but should be

Read about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch here. It’s important that we all do our part to cut down on the use of plastics. But, those plastic straws that have drawn such a wave of attention only account for 0.03% of the plastic in our oceans. Switching to paper or reusable straws is smart, but eliminating the use of plastic straws to save the oceans is like trying to stop deforestation, by banning the use of toothpicks. The real problem is much, much bigger than that.

The Whale in the Room That No One is Talking About

The Commercial Fishing Industry is a multi-million dollar international business. A single yellowfin tuna recently sold for $3.1 million dollars to Kiyoshi Kimura, the “Tuna King” of Tokyo. Prized as a symbol of status, shark fin soup sells upwards of $100 a bowl. Watch Gordan Ramsey’s: Shark Bait documentary here to learn about the overfishing of sharks.

My daughter asked me just a few days ago what animal I fear the most. My reply was sharks. Despite my fear, sharks are crucial to the ocean and the endangerment of any of its species creates a trickle down effect to many other oceanic creatures. Read more about the domino effect by clicking here.

Overfishing prized fish and shark fins aren’t the only problem

Commercial fishing boats use a method of fishing called trawling. Trawling uses massive nets that can be several miles long and collect every living creature in its path as the weight of the net dragging across the seafloor destroys coral reef.

“large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting a swath of habitat in their wake. Some of these scars will take centuries to heal, if ever. For example, hard corals in Alaska have been dated to be hundreds to thousands of years old, and radio carbon dating on the oldest known deep sea corals indicates they are 4,200 years in age. Yet, these pillars of the ecosystem can be destroyed by one swipe of a bottom trawl.”

by Oceana Protecting the World’s Oceans

The process of trawling far exceeds the deforestation that devastates our lands.

Commercial Fishing and Bycatch

Bycatch is actually the biggest threat to endangered marine mammals in the world. 

WWF (World Wildlife Foundation)
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Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, marine turtles, and seabirds. The majority die before being tossed back into the ocean. Bycatch kills at least 10,000 dolphins annually. Sharks kill about 10 humans per year. Bycatch kills 11,000-30,000 sharks annually. Sea plastics cause death of 1,000 sea turtles per year. Commercial fishing vessels injure or kill 250,000 sea turtles via bycatch yearly.

A deathtrap

Every 365 days, between 500,000 to 1 million tons of commercial fishing nets are lost or tossed into the ocean. Marine life easily and frequently become entangled into these death traps of synthetic fibers, including sea turtles, dolphins, birds, sharks, seals, and porpoises. Abandoned fishing nets kill 650,000 marine animals each year. These nets will eventually decompose over the course of 600-800 years. So, for the life of net before it disintegrates will cause the entrapment, starvation, and suffocation of approximately 390 to 520 million living sea creatures.

Dolphin Safe Labeling and MSC Certified Fisheries

Many laws attempt to decrease the impact of commercial fishing. However, regulation is nearly impossible. In 1990 there were 59,338 registered commercial fishing vessels at sea, according to the US Coast Guard. Sources estimate that in 2016 there were 4.6 million commercial fishing vessels in the world. Accurate documentation and sustainable practice is a gamble that depends on the honesty and integrity of boat captains. Enforcement is scarce, flawed, and in some cases dangerous.

Secrets of the Commercial Fishing Industry

Modern slavery in the global seafood industry. Click here.

Watch Seaspiracy on Netflix. For the trailer Click here.

Please watch this absolutely beautiful documentary on Netflix: My Octopus Teacher! Click here to watch the trailer.

If you think farm raised fish is a better option, you should probably watch this: Antibiotics in Fish: A Health Concern published by WebMD.

And this: The Problem of Sea Lice in Salmon Farms

My Takeaway

Free of contaminants, fish are a superfood. After reading about the industrialization of fishing however, I will be far more particular about the seafood I eat and what I recommend as a dietitian. I will buy only local seafood that I can verify comes directly from local waters, caught by local fisherman on a small scale. I’ve also decided to never eat octopus again, which I love. For now, I will share information like this with my readers and eat locally caught fish which supports local fisherman and farmers. If we can all make a small change, maybe one day we can offset the need for mass commercial production that harms our people, animals, oceans, and the sustainability of our planet. No one person can do everything. Everyone can do something.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for bringing others an awareness of the dangers to our planet of commercial fishing and the idea that we should all be mindful of exactly what we are buying and the ways in which it is brought to us. I plan to make better choices from this point forward.

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