Longtime vegan SCUBA diver Teagan Kane has spent hundreds of hours in the ocean, observing the many species who call it home – and the humans who are killing them in incomprehensible numbers. In this article, he shares his story and some of the things he has learned and seen.
There are many reasons why people give up food or a habit. It is often for health and people’s wellbeing, but this was not my reason for giving up fish. I used to love to eat fish and probably still would if I didn’t start diving.
I gave up fish because there is no such thing as sustainable fishing. Trawlers, gill nets, recreational fishing, and spearfishing account for millions of tons of fish caught each year. These methods bring up metric tons of bycatch, destroy sea beds, and entangle birds and mammals indiscriminately.
Sustainable fishing is a myth and there is no way our oceans can replenish themselves at the rate we are consuming fish, especially the apex predators. I will explain how even spearfishing and locals fishing for their families can still have a huge impact. I want to see fish in the sea, not on my plate and this is one reason I am a vegan.
Fish Keep Ecosystems in Balance
We need to keep the ecosystem in balance, with all this death and destruction of the sea, not only will there be nothing for future generations to see but the sea will stop removing anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Marine ecosystems remove half of the atmosphere’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide, it produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined. Most people don’t think about this and just worry about the trees which are also important. I believe they get more attention because we can see the damage that is happening while under the sea is out of sight and out of mind. Now, what causes all this damage?
Let’s start with trawlers and what they are. A trawler is a fishing vessel that uses a cone-shaped net that snares fish by being dragged through the water or along the seafloor. They vary in size with the largest being super trawlers. A quote from Shreena Shah explains it all, “Super trawlers are massive fishing boats that haphazardly capture, freeze and store thousands of tonnes of fish and other sea life.”
Here are a few reasons why trawlers are destroying the seas.
They cause overfishing– Millions of tons of sea life (not just fish) find themselves in trawling nets each year. It is happening so much, it has depleted many kinds of fish all over the world. In Europe and other parts of the world, catches must be strictly managed.
- Bycatch– Trawlers are infamous for catching everything in their path, they catch a lot of things they’re not trying to catch. Things that they can’t sell or use like different fishes, marine mammals, and even seabirds. Not all are horrible, but there is very little regulation in certain parts of the world. With nets, containing percentages of over 50% bycatch which is almost always, dead or injured, and if unwanted is just tossed back in the seas to perish.
- Destruction of the seabed- The net is often weighted and dragged along to rake in everything on the bottom and in its path. It kills corals and disturbs places that were never touched before by humans so it is susceptible to damage.
- Wildlife death- It kills and destroys wildlife like anemones, sponges, sea pens, urchins, worms, amphipods, clams, crabs, lobsters, and many others that live on the seafloor.
A gillnet is a wall of netting that hangs in the water with mesh size holes that are designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting and not their whole body. In theory, the fish’s gills get caught in the mesh as the fish swims through.
There are two types of gillnets, nearshore set gillnets and offshore drift gill nets. The estimate of finfish bycatch from 2004-2014 is up 64% for offshore gillnets. While this is an old statistic, all evidence points to that number increasing, and with the lack of regulation and checks on the boats in international waters, numbers are impossible to get. In some places like California, they have regulations, even sport fishermen don’t want the gill nets. For example, AFTCO, and other sportfishing groups passed legislation to ban drift gillnets in California by 2023, which is a step in the right direction but is only one small place.
Seafish.org says gillnets are a type of responsible fishing but on the same page states that the “Length of nets can vary from 50 meters to 200 meters and length of fleets from 300 meters to 2000 meters. The amount of netting being fished (set on the seabed) at any one time can range between 2 kilometers and 30 kilometers (1.2 miles and 20 miles) and soak times can range from a 6-hour tidal soak to 72 hours.” This is a huge swathe of an area that is fished with an unconscionable number of animals affected, when these animals get caught in the nets they suffer horribly and die most of the time.
Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been left adrift, lost, or just discarded while out at sea, on beaches, and in waterways. They are a huge contributor to the bigger problem of ghost gear, which is all types of fishing gear, including nets, lines, traps, and pots. People, animals, and ships get caught in these, not to mention it is estimated that 50% of the ocean’s plastic waste is made up of ghost nets. People do get caught in these nets and have died as well.
Spearfishing and Sustenance Fishing
While these do have the least amount of impact on the environment and local reefs it still does a lot of damage. Often during these practices, people are killing the largest of the easiest-to-get fish. This disturbs the ecosystem and in a small area, if you kill most of the large apex predators other populations of fish will take over. They also damage the reefs (which destroys future homes for sealife) while looking for these fish and leave behind fishing lines and nets for people and wildlife to get caught in. I do not judge locals in remote areas during hard times that need to do this to live. It is a failure of the government to educate people about alternative means of income and provide other sources of food. Being a freediving instructor I see a lot of spearfishing. Spearfishing for sport as I see it is shooting a defenseless creature for your enjoyment (even if you eat it all, which rarely happens).
Cyanide, Dynamite, and Electrical Current fishing
Thankfully these are not as common as they used to be. When I first started SCUBA diving in the Philippines, Panglao over 12 years ago, you could hear the dynamite underwater when it went off. More recently I saw the effects of cyanide on the reef and fish. Unlike dynamite(which kills the fish), it paralyzes the fish and they float to the surface. People will put the fish in tanks to let tourists choose their dinner and claim that it is fresh. It does not kill people ingesting it that way but it does kill the whole reef. Electrical current fishing is just as it sounds you shock a large area and kill or paralyze the fish.
For more articles and insights by Tegan, visit https://www.infinitebluedivetravel.com/news/