Fishing Is Killing Marine Life and Driving Climate Change

Each year the global fishing industry takes over a trillion fish from the wild, while countless other animals, such as dolphins, sea turtles, and seabirds, are killed as nontargeted “bycatch” in the industry’s deadly nets. Many of these nets are lost or abandoned at sea, posing an ongoing threat to marine animals and fragile ecosystems and polluting the planet’s waters. According to a recent study, lost or discarded fishing gear accounts for over 45 million kilograms of plastic pollution entering our oceans each year.

But the fishing industry’s impact extends beyond the world’s oceans and those who live in them. It is a major contributor to climate change. 

The planet’s oceans are one of its greatest carbon sinks, absorbing an estimated one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And fish play a vital role in the carbon-storage process, as a new study from scientists at the British Antarctic Survey explains. Plankton absorb a lot of carbon dioxide, and when fish consume plankton, the carbon is deposited as waste that sinks deep into the ocean. If it reaches the ocean floor, the carbon can be stored there and kept out of the atmosphere for long periods. 

The fishing industry disrupts this important process by removing one of its key agents: fish. Moreover, some fishing methods, particularly bottom trawling, worsen the problem. In bottom trawling, huge nets are dragged along the seafloor, not only scooping up any animals in their paths but stirring up carbon-storing sediment. In fact, according to a report published last year, bottom trawling is responsible for one gigaton of carbon emissions a year—more than emissions from aviation.

We have seen the increasing effects of climate change. In 2018, part of the Arctic Circle reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or 32 degrees Celsius. The northern hemisphere that year saw record- and near-record-high temperatures, a clear consequence of overall rising global temperatures. But according to the Guardian, it’s not just the air that’s warming up; ocean temperatures are rising, further threatening marine life.

This warming will damage fragile underwater ecosystems like kelp forests and coral reefs and endanger countless fish species and other marine life. In 2016 and 2017, persistent high temperatures off eastern Australia killed as much as half the shallow-water corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

According to Thomas Frolicher, a climate scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, “This trend will only further accelerate with global warming.” If we don’t take action now to curb carbon emissions, scientists warn the planet could face disastrous consequences—from intensified storms and rising sea levels to the extinction of millions of species. India is especially vulnerable, as 14 percent of its 1.3 billion people live in coastal districts, and the number living in coastal areas below 10 metres elevation is expected to rise threefold by 2060. And while not everyone can afford an electric car or solar panels, we can each help mitigate climate change through our food choices.

Don’t wait another minute to act on climate change. Join the millions of people helping protect marine animals and the planet by switching to plant-based foods.