Sustainable Seafood Lifestyle

Fishermen in Drake Bay, Costa Rica casting out at sunset

The first night after I landed in Drake Bay, and after checking in to my hotel, I went down to the beachfront for a walk along the bay, taking in the views and quiet calm that the sun’s last rays invite in. As I meandered down the shore I stopped to watch a few local fisherman wading into the water together, joking and laughing about the long day they had had at work. I stopped to watch them for a bit, curious to see what kinds of fish they could catch out of the bay, what size they would be, and with what frequency they would be successful. 

While it is true that you can find many a fishing line cut and entangled in the reef as a scuba diver, not to mention beer cans and trash produced from ignorant individuals from their watercraft or the shore, the numbers mostly validate that the grand majority of the larger scale issues we see are due to the commercial size operations taking part across the globe.

Worldwide, fishers caught an estimated 109 million metric tons (mt) of fish in 2010, researchers concluded in the journal Nature Communications. According to an article in Science Magazine, industrial landings, which make up about 75% of the global total, dropped by about 2% a year between the 1990s and 2010, they estimate.

As technology improved across the board, so did the capacity to capture more fish. Larger fleets, open ocean factory ships, transparent lines and nets, drift nets, bottom trawlers, and electronic fish finders led to an increased catch rate until recently. The magnitude of our population, the demand we create, and the lapse of regulation and oversight from government bodies is contributing to the issues we see today with the decline in abundance, size, and distribution of marine species. The ocean is not producing what it used to. 

As a lone scuba diver picturing the grandiose scale of those numbers and of the global population, you wonder what on earth you can do to stop the degradation and push the pendulum in the opposite direction. After all, what scuba diver does not love having the majesty of dolphins, sharks, whales, turtles, and schools of large fish parading around them on a dive? The answers are layered and complex, but they are there.

You can look at it from an economic perspective, realizing that you “vote” every time you put a dollar down for a consumable good – seafood included. Choose your seafood wisely, understand what fish is found within what seasons, and where your food is actually coming from. Support production that is environmentally and culturally sensitive.

You can look at it from a political perspective, realizing that certain parties, politicians, or organizations are trying to regulate or deregulate the fishing industry. Get educated on who is doing what locally and vote wisely. Always follow the money.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can look at it from a psychological perspective, understanding that you must be the change you wish to see in your own community. The ability to say you followed your conscious – your internal compass – and that you fought to leave the world a better place rather than sit idly by so the next generation is left with a less diverse yet more complicated world, must be the motivation to initiate the change in personal behavior. Volunteer, participate in cleanups, educate yourself on issues, and helpfully make others aware of the changes happening in our ocean.

While the fisherman of Drake Bay went home that night with some snapper and jacks, I couldn’t help but wonder what their own children would get to go home with in 20 years time. While Costa Rica has various regulations on the books, like most countries, in efforts to protect species and the environment, enforcement has been and will always continue to be an issue as well as the investment of time and money into further research on marine stocks.

Photograph, document, share your experiences, and enthusiasm of the beauty of the world we are privileged to submerge ourselves into as divers. 

After all, “it’s only one fish,” said four million people…

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