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Seaspiracy or local, sustainable fishing?

by Emilia Griffin

It goes without saying that for many living in Cornwall, fishing is a big part of their lives. It is also a major part of the Cornish and UK economy.

The recent documentary, Seaspiracy, directed by filmmaker Ali Tabrizi investigates the environmental impact of fishing and seeks to expose the dark secrets in industrial fishing. Tabrizi interviews scientists and members of marine organisations such as Sea Shepherd and Marine Stewardship Council. The documentary highlights that “sustainable” has become a buzzword of sorts. The EU commissioner of fisheries and environment described sustainable as putting 100 Euros into the bank and only spending the interest and that this is how it should be with fishing.

Since the documentary was released, it has received criticism that some interviews and facts have been taken out of context. Perhaps Ali Tabrizi was telling a story through his filmmaking? It was emotional to watch, and this compels us to make new positive choices.

Fish populations are in decline due to overfishing, disease, pollution, invasive species and climate change. One third of fish stocks were considered to be overfished in the Living Planet Report by WWF. There is a delicate balance in ecosystems, and this decline would lead to decreased food availability for other marine animals. The fishing industry has a responsibility to protect the oceans so that there will still be stocks available in years to come to provide further jobs.

I spoke with Chris Ranger of Fal Oyster Ltd and Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC to learn more about his methods of fishing and how he is looking to increase populations of the native oyster in the Fal Estuary. Native oysters are important because they are a keystone species that filter the water making it better quality for other species to thrive. One oyster can filter almost 200 litres of water a day. The small estuary is dredged by hand, sail, and oar to harvest the oysters, but this also helps to prevent silt and has been done this way in the Fal Fishery for many centuries.

Ranger’s aim is to have a managed hatchery where hopefully the survival rate of native oyster larvae is increased. These managed stocks will provide important data on how the juveniles best survive and what the population size is in the estuary. This is a sustainable method of fishing because only the larger, older oysters are harvested when they have left many recruits and the stocks will be replenished by retaining the juveniles for longer, whilst allowing a responsible income to be made from selling the oysters. The aquaculture research site means that young oysters will be caught and kept in trays to grow and repopulate while older, larger oysters can be caught and sold.

The larger oysters for market must be purified in the processing tanks before selling them on, which allows them to be sold for more and provides more jobs. In 2008 the UK voted for a shellfish ban on ‘third countries’ from class B waters unless the shellfish is purified before selling. When we left the EU this meant nearly all UK waters were not clean enough to be sold unpurified. The purification process is at an extra cost and time to some fishermen and when we first left the EU there were delays importing goods, which put the shellfish at risk of dying and caused a loss for some fishermen. However, Ranger commented that he did not sell a lot abroad and so the COVID-19 lockdown had a larger impact on his sales than Brexit has done as he was already purifying his oysters before sales. Lockdown has massively impacted sales to restaurants and means that many fishermen have relied on home deliveries much more.

Chris Ranger has an ongoing Crowdfunder to raise money for the SavingEster Campaign, which was built from the first year of donations. The next stage is building the research vessel for the aquaculture site, which will be required for collecting scientific data that can be used to encourage the prevention of overfishing of the juveniles and move towards better fishing regulations for future generations. If you can, this is an important fundraiser to contribute to whether you love eating oysters, care about the local economy or care about the environment. https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/savingestertheoyster

Seaspiracy provided us with a worrying insight into the reality of industrial fishing and has seen many since give up eating fish. However, for some this is not an easy option. Fortunately, there are still fishermen who are hopeful for the future of local fisheries if the right regulations are put into place and consumers make sensible choices by supporting local, sustainable suppliers.

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