The fishing industry is one of the worst sectors of the ever-deceiving animal exploitation industry. Here are eight facts this industry doesn’t want the public to know.

Any commercial industry uses propaganda. 

They use publicity and marketing tactics to constantly persuade more and more people to buy their products at the price they ask, often deceiving customers in the process by exaggerating positive facts and playing down negative facts about their products and practices. Some of the aspects of their industries that they are trying to conceal are so negative that they want to keep them completely secret. These tactics are used because if customers were aware, they would be horrified, and likely no longer buy their products. The fishing industry, and its subsidiary the aquaculture industry, are no exceptions. Considering how destructive and unethical they are as industries, there are many facts that they do not want the public to know. Here are just eight of them. 

1. Most vertebrates killed by humans are killed by the fishing industry

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In the last few years, humanity has been killing other sentient beings at such an astronomical scale that the numbers are counted by the trillions. In fact, adding everything together, humans now kill about 5 trillion animals every year. Most of these are invertebrates, but if we count vertebrates only, the fishing industry is the killer of the highest number. It is estimated that about one trillion to 2.8 trillion fishes are killed every year by fisheries in the wild and the aquaculture industries in captivity (which also kill wild-caught fishes in the wild to feed farmed fishes). 

Fishcount.org estimate that between 1.1 and 2.2 trillion wild fishes were caught annually, on average, during 2000-2019. Approximately half of these were used for fishmeal and oil production. They also estimate that 124 billion farmed fishes were killed for food in 2019 (ranging between 78 and 171 billion). The Falkland Islands, which are a British Territory, has the record for the most fishes killed per capita, with 22,000kg of flesh from killed fishes per person every year. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that combined, they are the deadliest industries for vertebrate animals on Earth. 

2. Most factory-farmed animals are kept by the fishing industry 

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Because of the extreme confinement and the great amount of animal suffering it causes, factory farming is becoming increasingly unpopular among carnist customers, who may prefer to consume animals kept and killed in alternative ways. Partially because of this, some people — called pescatarians — have ditched the flesh of chickens, pigs, and cows from their diet, but instead of becoming vegetarian or vegan, they choose to consume aquatic animals, assuming that they are no longer contributing to these horrible factory farms. However, they have been deceived. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want consumers to know that more than 2 million tonnes of the flesh of captive salmons are produced every year, accounting for about 70% of all salmons eaten by people, and most of the crustaceans consumed are farmed, not wild-caught. 

According to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, in 2018, 9.4 million tonnes of crustacean bodies were produced in factory farms, with a trade value of USD 69.3 billion. In 2015, the total was about 8 million tonnes, and in 2010, it was 4 million tonnes. In 2022, the production of crustaceans reached 11.2 million tonnes, showing that in twelve years, production has almost tripled

In 2018 alone, the world’s fisheries captured 6 million tonnes of crustaceans from the wild, and if we add these to the 9.4 million tonnes produced that year by aquaculture, this means that 61% of the crustaceans used for human food come from factory farming.  The number of decapod crustaceans killed in recorded aquaculture production in 2017 has been estimated to be 43-75 billion crayfish, crabs, and lobsters, and 210-530 billion shrimps and prawns. Considering that about 80 billion land animals are slaughtered for food every year (66 million of which are chickens), this means that most victims of factory farming are crustaceans, not mammals or birds. The aquaculture industry doesn’t want you to know that it is the industry with the most factory-farmed animals.

3. Fishing bycatch is one of the most wasteful activities of any industry

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The fishing industry is the only industry that has a name for the excess animals it kills, whose deaths will not give them any profit: bycatch. Fisheries bycatch is the incidental capture and death of non-target marine species in fishing gear. It can include untargeted fishes, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, crustaceans, and other marine invertebrates. Bycatch is a serious ethical problem because it harms many sentient beings, and also a conservation problem because it can injure or kill members of endangered and threatened species.

According to a report by Oceana, it’s estimated that worldwide, 63 billion pounds of bycatch is caught every year, and according to WWF, about 40% of fishes caught worldwide are unintentionally caught and are partly thrown back into the sea, either dead or dying.

Around 50 million sharks are killed as bycatch every year. The WWF also estimates that 300,000 small whales and dolphins, 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and critically endangered leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), and 300,000 seabirds, including most albatross species, are annual bycatch victims of the fishing industry. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that they are some of the most wasteful and inefficient industries in the world. 

4. The products the fishing industry sells to customers contain toxins

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Salmon farming poses potential health hazards for humans who eat the meat of its inmates. Farmed salmons may contain higher levels of contaminants than wild salmons. Common contaminants include mercury and PCBs, which are linked to some cancers, neurological disorders, and immune system problems. Moreover, farmed salmons are exposed to antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones that can affect people’s health, and can create antibiotic-resistant pathogens that would make human medical treatments much more challenging. 

However, eating wild salmons is not healthy either, as in general, all fishes accumulate toxins throughout their lives. As fishes often eat each other, they accumulate in their bodies all of the toxins the eaten fishes had collected throughout their lives and stored in their fat deposits, increasing the amount of toxins the larger and older the fish is. With deliberate pollution such as sewage dumping, humanity has been spilling these toxins into the ocean hoping to leave them there, but they return to humans in the form of fish dishes that people eat. Many humans eating these dishes will end up severely ill. For example, the entrepreneur Tony Robins was interviewed in the documentary “Eating Our Way to Extinction”, and he shared his experience of suffering from mercury poisoning because he decided to become a pescatarian after having been vegan for 12 years. 

Methylmercury is a form of mercury and a very toxic compound and is often formed through mercury’s contact with bacteria. Researchers from Harvard University found that many species of fish are displaying increasing levels of methylmercury, and they found out why. Algae absorb organic methylmercury that contaminates water, therefore the fishes who eat this algae also absorb this toxic substance, and when the larger fishes at the top of the food chain eat these fishes, they accumulate methylmercury in greater quantities. Approximately 82% of the exposure to methylmercury in US consumers comes from eating aquatic animals. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that they are selling food that contains harmful toxins.

5. The fishing industry is one of the least sustainable in the world

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More than a third of global fisheries have been fished beyond sustainable limits as many people continue to eat the flesh of marine animals. The aquaculture industry is not helping, because to farm some species of fish, it needs to catch others from the wild to feed the farmed species. Many farmed fishes, such as salmons, are natural predators, so they must be fed other fishes to survive. Salmons must consume around five pounds of meat from fishes to gain a pound in weight, so it takes about 70 wild-caught fishes to produce one farm-raised salmon.

Overfishing is directly killing many populations of fishes, bringing some species close to extinction. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the number of overfished populations of fishes globally has tripled in half a century, and today, one-third of the world’s assessed fisheries are currently pushed beyond their biological limits. The world’s oceans could be emptied of fishes the industry targets by 2048. A four-year study of 7,800 marine species concluded that the long-term trend is clear and predictable. Nearly 80% of the world’s fisheries are already fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. 

About 90% of large predatory fishes targeted by people, such as sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish, are already gone. Tuna fishes have been killed by the fishing industry for centuries, as many countries commercialise their flesh, and they are also hunted for sport. As a result, some tuna species are now threatened with extinction. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) is now registered as Endangered, the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalisas) as Near-Threatened, and the Bigeye Tuna (Thunnus obesus) as Vulnerable. The fishing industry does not want you to know that it is one of the least sustainable industries in the world, and it is decimating fish populations at such a rate that many may disappear.

6. The fishing industry is destroying the oceans

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In addition to killing trillions of animals, there are two more ways the fishing industry is destroying the oceans in a more indiscriminate way: trawling and polluting. Trawling is a method used where a massive net is dragged, often between two large ships,  along the seabed. These nets catch almost everything in their path, including coral reefs and marine turtles, effectively destroying the entire ocean floor. When trawling nets are full, they are lifted out of the water and onto ships, which causes the suffocation and crushing to death of most of the animals caught. After fishers open the nets, they sort through the animals and separate the ones they want from the non-target animals, which are then thrown back into the ocean, but at that point, they may already be dead.

The highest rate of bycatch with trawling is associated with tropical shrimp trawling. In 1997, the FAO found discard rates (bycatch to catch ratios) as high as 20:1 with a world average of 5.7:1. Shrimp trawl fisheries catch 2% of the world’s total catch of all fishes by weight, but produce more than one-third of the world’s total bycatch. US shrimp trawlers produce bycatch ratios between 3:1 (3 bycatch:1 shrimp) and 15:1 (15 bycatch:1 shrimp). According to Seafood Watch, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to six pounds of bycatch is caught. All of these values are likely underestimations (a 2018 study showed that millions of tonnes of fishes from trawler boats have gone unreported in the last 50 years).

Water pollution is another source of environmental destruction in the fishing industry, and this is mainly in aquaculture. Salmon farming causes pollution and contamination of the surrounding waters. This is because waste products, chemicals, and antibiotics from salmon farms are flushed into the water supply without any treatment. The approximately 200 salmon farms in Scotland produce about 150,000 tonnes of salmon flesh a year, along with thousands of tonnes of waste, including faeces, food waste, and pesticides. This waste accumulates on the sea floor and affects the water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystem balance. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that they are some of the most ecologically destructive industries on the planet. 

7. No animal killed in the fishing industry is killed humanely

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Fishes are sentient animals capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Scientific evidence supporting this has been building for years and is now widely acknowledged by leading scientists across the world. Fishes have highly developed senses, including taste, touch, smell, hearing, and colour vision, to be able to perceive their environments, one of the prerequisites of sentience. There is plenty of evidence that fishes feel pain too.

Therefore, in addition to losing their lives, the manner in which fishes are killed can cause them a lot of pain and distress, as would be the case with any other vertebrate. Many laws and policies regulate the methods which people are allowed to use to slaughter animals, and over the years, there have been attempts to make such methods more “humane”. However, there is no such thing as a humane method of slaughtering, so whichever method the fishing industry uses will be inhumane, as it results in the animal’s death. Other animal exploitation industries at least try to reduce the level of pain and render the animals unconscious before killing them (although they often fail at this), while the fishing industry does not bother. The immense majority of the fishes and other aquatic animals’ deaths by the industry are caused by asphyxiation, as the animals are taken out of the water and suffocate from lack of oxygen (as they can only take oxygen dissolved in water). This is a horrible death that often takes a long time. However, often the fishes are gutted when they are still sensible (capable of feeling pain and perceiving what is happening), increasing their suffering considerably. 

In a Dutch study of herring, cod, whiting, sole, dab and plaice, the time taken for fish to become insensible was measured in fishes subjected to gutting, and asphyxiation alone (without gutting). It was found that a considerable time elapsed before the fish became insensible, which was 25-65 minutes in the case of gutting alive, and 55-250 minutes in the case of asphyxiation without gutting. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that fishes feel pain and die in agony at their hands.

8. The fishing industry is heavily subsidised by governments

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Animal agriculture is heavily subsidised. Among such subsidies (which ultimately come from taxpayers’ money), the fishing and aquaculture industries receive a large amount of financial support from governments, not only exacerbating the problems these industries cause but creating unfair commercial disadvantages for plant-based sustainable agriculture that tries to build the vegan world of the future — where many of the current global crises will be averted. 

In some cases, the fishing industry is subsidised to continue fishing, even when there are no fish to catch. Currently, annual subsidies to global marine fisheries amount to about $35 billion, representing about 30% of the first sale value of all fishes caught. These subsidies cover things like support for cheaper fuel, gear, and shipping vessels, which allow the ships to increase their destructive activities and ultimately lead to depletion of fish populations, lower fishing yields, and decreased incomes for fishers. These kinds of subsidies tend to favour the most destructive larger fishers. The top five jurisdictions subsidising their fishing industry are China, the European Union, the US, South Korea, and Japan, accounting for 58% ($20.5 billion) of the $35.4 billion spent worldwide.

Although some subsidies are aimed at helping keep smaller-scale fishers in business during difficult times, a 2019 study found that an estimated $22 billion of the $35.4 billion in payments qualify as “harmful subsidies” (funding industrial fleets which do not need the money and therefore use it to overfish). In 2023, 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization agreed that they should end these harmful payments. The aquaculture industry is also a recipient of unfair subsidies. The fishing and aquaculture industries do not want you to know that they are in receipt of taxpayers’ money, and this funds their ability to keep destroying the oceans and trillions of lives of sentient beings.

These are just some of the facts the unethical fishing industry does not want you to know, so now that you do know, there is no excuse for continuing to support them. The best way you can do that is by becoming vegan and stopping your support of any form of animal exploitation. 

Don’t be fooled by harmful exploiters and their horrible secrets.

For free help going vegan for the animals: https://bit.ly/VeganFTA22

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.