Will there ever be more fish in the sea?

Will there ever be more fish in the sea?

“The first thing I do is gather the right information… I'll make sure that I know what is being served to me, why it was caught and how it was caught - and I can base my decision on that,” says Louis Lambrechts, the European Ocean Policy officer at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

He’s talking about how he decides what fish to buy at a shop or order at a restaurant. Thanks to his position in the WWF, though, he has significantly more insight into overfishing - and how to avoid it - than the rest of us.

“I wouldn't trust a fishmonger or a chef that wouldn't be able to tell me what he’s serving me and where it was caught,” he stresses.

For most consumers, avoiding eating fish stocks that have been exploited is near impossible.

A recent study from experts at the World Bank found that almost 90% of all marine fish stocks globally are now fully exploited or overfished.

Daniel Voces, managing director of Europêche, represents the fishery industry in the EU. In Europe, he’s fairly confident that most fishmongers are knowledgeable about where their stocks come from.

“If we know that the fish is coming from European waters, we can be pretty sure that it is sustainable,” Voces explains, “If it's coming from elsewhere, then we can have a look at the label. I think the label is one of the most relevant sources of information for the consumer. There's a lot of information in there.”

The European Union is making a concerted effort to improve overfishing in its seas

Since the 1990s, the European Union has changed its approach to overfishing and fishing quotas. In that decade, ministers wanted to up quotas as much as possible.

“It was an economic driver in the past,” Voces says.

Today, though, the picture is entirely different.

“Nowadays, quotas are pretty much set by scientists or based on a scientific recommendation,” he adds.

While policymakers do still take into account various socio-economic factors, the main driver today tends to be science.

That extends not just from making sure fishers aren’t endangering a particular species but, also, the very process of catching those fish.

‘In order to catch seafood, we use different fishing gear,” Voces explains.

Traditionally, fishermen have used gear that goes through the water column, or use traps and trawling methods which could potentially be damaging.

Today, the European Union is making an effort to regulate negative impacts and to mitigate them as much as possible.

They are also attempting to extend those rules to the wider world, but it’s a less straightforward process outside of Europe.

In fact, some 70% of the fish we eat at the moment comes from outside Europe - something the EU hopes to change and make more sustainable.

What is the recipe for improving sustainability worldwide?

“We have a huge market and diplomatic power. We are the biggest seafood market in the world. So of course, that comes with both a responsibility but also a certain leverage to help improve the situation elsewhere,” Louis Lambrechts says, “I think that is our duty, right?”

But what is the recipe to bringing overfishing worldwide to lower levels than ever before?

“The recipe is sort of equal parts political and science-based,” Lambrechts says. He suggests measures including effective monitoring, control and surveillance and “maybe, just maybe,” he says, “to sprinkle some luck on top”.

Answers may lie in a focus on consumption, too, as opposed to simply just preventing overfishing.

Some industry critics say going green within Europe is all well and good, but consuming fish from less regulated areas like the Southern Hemisphere or Southeast Asia means we are far less sustainable than we would like to think.

“If we want to apply strong environmental standards, it has to be applied for everyone, not just for the fishing industry,” Voces says, highlighting what his members see as unfair double-standards.

He’s calling on the next European Commission to act, to level up the playing field.

“Environment is a horizontal policy and everybody needs to abide by it,” he says.

If you want to learn more about the new European regulations concerning overfishing, listen to the full episode of Ocean Calls in the player above.

In this episode of Ocean Calls, we're diving deep into how this can be achieved and what the recipe is to help fish stocks to recover.

We’ll be catching up with Daniel Voces, managing director of Europeche, which represents the fishery industry in the EU and Louis Lambrechts, the European Ocean Policy officer at WWF.

At the end of the episode, you’ll also hear from Sy Montgomery, an award-winning author and naturalist. You won’t want to miss her story about the time she met and bonded with Athena, a giant pacific octopus.

Ocean Calls is produced in partnership with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.