Animal Aid

The Fishing Industry : Environment

Our eating habits are driving many species of fish to the brink of extinction

  • 75% of the world's fisheries have recently been identified by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as being either fully exploited, overexploited or significantly depleted. (1)
  • Tuna, cod, swordfish and marlin populations have declined by 90% during the last century. (2)
  • The North Sea cod population was once 7 million tonnes. Today's spawning number is estimated to be a meagre 53,000 tonnes. (3)
  • In 2002 and 2003, scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) called for a ban on cod fishing and on those fisheries that take cod as by-catch. Their warnings have so far been ignored. (3)
  • Conservationists say that cod may never recover to their former numbers. They have failed to do so in Newfoundland and on the George's Bank.
  • Common skate populations in the North Sea have declined by 99% in the last 200 years. (1)
  • The North Sea mackerel population collapsed in the 1970s due to overfishing and has never recovered. (1)
  • Plaice, monkfish and sole populations are also listed by ICES as 'outside of safe biological limits'. (3)
  • Halibut is officially listed by the World Conservation Union as globally endangered and 'facing a very high risk of extinction in the near future'. (3)
  • Bigeye tuna are as endangered as the Amazon river dolphin but thousandsare still caught and canned along with yellowfin and skipjack tuna. (3)
  • Modern fishing techniques are leading to the extinction of the bluefin tuna. Across the Mediterranean, aircraft with satellite detection scour the oceans for schools of bluefin tuna. Once detected, high-speed fishing fleets trap the entire school within a huge net. The entire catch is transferred into a cage and hauled towards shore where the fish are fattened until slaughter. The whole enterprise is heavily subsidised by the European Union. (4)
  • Catch quotas, introduced by governments, intended to protect fish populations from extinction are not working. Many fishing fleets practice 'high grading', where they continue to catch fish and throw away ones they don't want until they achieve their quota in premium size fish. (3)
  • 'High grading' destroys fish weighing up to a million pounds for every 400,000 pounds they keep. (3)
  • Many non-target species of fish are also caught in the trawlers' nets and are simply thrown back dead into the sea. Globally, it is estimated that a quarter of what is caught is merely killed and discarded. (5)
  • Many fishing vessels exceed their quotas and do not declare all of their catch, selling the excess at unofficial ports. According to ICES, 50% of all cod on sale in Britain is illegal. (3)
  • 90% of the fishing fleet in Whitby, North Yorkshire, were fined £122,800 at the end of 2005 for fiddling their books to hide the fact that they were exceeding fishing quotas imposed by the European Commission to protect the North Sea's dwindling fish populations. (6)
  • At the end of 2005, The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, advised a zero-catch policy for cod in the North and Irish Seas and west of Scotland. EU fisheries ministers ignored advice for the fourth consecutive year that catches should be cut to zero to protect populations from collapse and reduced quotas by just 15 per cent instead. (7)
  • A spokesperson for Greenpeace stated, 'if fishing for cod is allowed to continue, then cod will be wiped out and the British cod fishing industry will be destroyed'. (8)
  • Blue whiting now forms the principle supply of fish for the oil and meal plants that feed the salmon farming industry. The fishing industry has been granted permission to take double the maximum quota of blue whiting that scientists say is needed to protect the population from collapse. (8)

Commercial fishing is also driving many other animals towards extinction

  • An estimated 300,000 cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) die in fishing nets every year. (5)
  • One of the most destructive trawling methods is 'pair trawling', where a huge net is towed between two boats. This method is practised in the sea bass fishery in southwest England. The nets can catch up to 750 tonnes of fish, and are large enough to hold 12 jumbo jets. They scoop up everything on the ocean floor. (9)
  • In a typical year, 350 dolphin carcasses are washed up on the shores of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. It is estimated that 10,000 dolphins and porpoises die each year around the UK and French coasts - many of them being caught up in gill nets and bass nets. (9)
  • Globally, 100 million sharks are killed in fishing nets each year. Tuna fisheries, which in the past had high dolphin by-catch levels, are still responsible for the deaths of 1 million sharks annually. (5)
  • Long-line fishing for tuna and toothfish kills approximately 100,000 albatrosses and other sea birds worldwide every year. Birds dive for the bait planted on the end of the long lines, swallow it (hook and all) and are pulled underwater and drowned. (10)
  • 17 of the 21 species of albatross now face extinction. (3)
  • The by-catch from just one Spanish tuna fleet examined by impartial observers included endangered species such as loggerhead, leatherback, ridleys and green sea turtles, as well as minke and humpback whales. (3)
  • Prawn trawling regularly has a by-catch of 85%, including cetaceans, turtles, birds and many species of fish. (3)
  • Bottom trawling is a destructive way of 'strip mining' the ocean floor. As well as the target fish species, this also results in the death of thousands of commercially unattractive animals like starfish and sponges. (5)
  • Many scientists believe the impact of fishing on bottom-dwelling animals is 100,000 times greater than seabed oil or gas extraction. (3)
  • Industrial fishing ships are destroying cold-water coral reefs growing around the British coast. These reefs are more than 8,500 years old. The nets plough through anything that is fragile and long-lived.

One in four fish caught in the world's oceans goes for non-human consumption

  • Industrial fisheries target small fish species for conversion to fishmeal and fish oil used in soft margarine and animal feed, including the production of pellets - which are 80% fishmeal and oil - for feeding to farmed salmon and trout. (5)
  • Removal of large numbers of these small fish leads to a shortage of food for their predators, including fish such as cod and haddock, as well as seabirds, such as kittiwakes, puffins and gannets. (11)
  • 2004 was the most catastrophic breeding season on record for the UK's seabirds. In Shetland and Orkney, entire colonies of birds failed to produce any young because of severe food shortages. (11)

Much of the fish on sale in the supermarket has been factory-farmed

  • Fish farming is the fastest growing sector in the world food economy. (11)
  • The production of farmed salmon has surpassed the numbers caught from wild fisheries. (12)
  • Farmed fish now represent the UK's second largest livestock sector after broiler chickens. The vast majority of the 70 million farmed fish produced annually in the UK are reared intensively. (13)
  • Increasingly, even species we presume are wild - such as cod, halibut, turbot, tuna, bass and bream - are being farmed. (14)
  • The farming of carnivorous fish, such as salmon, trout, halibut and cod, adds to the pressure on wild fish populations, as it takes five tonnes of fish caught from the sea to produce one tonne of factory farmed salmon. (3)& (15)
  • The threat of disease transfer between wild and farmed salmon is serious. Bacterial Kidney Disease and Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis are common throughout the salmon farming industry. (16)
  • Sea lice infestations flourish in salmon fish farms. These parasites are also potentially deadly to wild fish. Once the wild salmon pick up the sea lice, produced by the farm at 30,000 times their natural level, their school becomes a moving cloud of contagions. The lice could then infest unexposed populations downriver. (17)
  • Sea trout numbers in some rivers on the Scottish west coast have shrunk to a fraction of what they were a decade ago. This area has a large concentration of salmon farms, to which the decline in trout numbers has been attributed. (16)
  • The decline of wild salmon is also particularly marked on the UK's west coast, where the vast majority of Scotland's 350 salmon farms are located. (16)
  • 'Genetic pollution' from farm escapees breeding with wild salmon can have a detrimental effect on the survival of wild populations. This is because wild fish are genetically adapted to life in their local environment while farmed fish have been selectively bred for fast weight gain - not longevity. (3)
  • Every year 300,000 - 400,000 farmed salmon escape, but in severe storms the numbers can rise, as in January 2005 when up to 1 million farmed fish escaped in just one incident. (18)
  • It has been estimated that the amount of pollution in Scotland due to the ammonia input from fish farming is comparable to sewage produced by 9.4 million people. (19)
  • Excreta from salmon farms helps the growth of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. The increase in shellfish poisoning in Scotland has been matched by the massive growth of salmon farming. (20)
  • The water around a fish farm can become so heavily contaminated, as in Loch Hourn (featured in a Sainsbury's advert) in the Scottish Highlands, that no life can survive on the seabed. (21)
  • The real price of farmed salmon also includes the killing of an estimated 3,500 seals around Scottish fish farms each year. (22)

Your taxes are helping to fund these destructive practices, some of which are stealing food from poor nations

  • Commercial fisheries in the EU received a total of £644 million in subsidies during 2003. (3)
  • The EU also spends £127 million a year buying access for EU fishermen to distant waters, including those of many poor countries, denying them access to their own fish. (3)Spanish boats fishing off Fiji sell the fish in Europe as European-caught.
  • For a decade, scientists have been warning that fish populations of West Africa are over-exploited (declined by 50% since 1945) and many species are facing collapse, due to exploitation by foreign fishing vessels. (3)
  • Virtually every fisheries agency, including the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, which helps manage fisheries for the EU, agrees that subsidies during 2003 are the main cause of rampant overfishing worldwide. (22)


  1. Greenpeace. 2004. Rescuing the North and Baltic Seas: Marine Reserves - a key tool.
  2. Nicholson-Lord, D. 2004. Poisoning Ourselves.August 28th 44-45.
  3. Clover, C. 2004. The End of the Line: How overfishing is changing the world and what we eat.Edbury Press, London.
  4. Popham, P. 2005. An appetite for disaster.The Independent, May 27th. 28-29.
  5. Greenpeace,
  6. December. 2005. Whitby fleet fined £122,800 for defying North Sea quotas. The Independent.
  7. Castle, S. December 2005. EU's failure to agree ban on fishing dubbed 'a death sentence for cod'.The Independent.
  8. Clover, C. December 2005. EU settles for half measure on cod crisis. The Daily Telegraph.
  9. Gregory, P. 2004. Threats facing cetaceans in the UK and European waters. Mammal News. No. 140. Mammal Society.
  10. Connor, C. 2005. Korean fisherman deaf to the plight of the albatross. The Independent.
  11. RSPB, Public Relations Department. 17th Sept, 2004. Press Release.
  12. Institute for Health & Environment, University of Albany.
  13. Lymbery, P. 2002. In Too Deep - The Welfare of Intensively Farmed Fish.CIWF.
  14. Shooter, A. March, 2005. What are we eating? Daily Mail.
  15. Brown, R. 2000. Fish farming may soon over take cattle ranching as a food source. Worldwatch Institute.
  16. Watershed Watch Salmon Society. 2004. Sea Lice and Salmon: Elevating the dialogue on the farmed-wild salmon story.
  17. Clover, C. March 2005. Salmon farms 'creating vast plagues of sea lice'. Daily Telegraph.
  18. Jan. 2005. Salmon in peril after the great fish farm escape. Daily Mail.
  19. Stuart, M. Jan. 2001. How the King of Fish is being farmed to death. The Observer.
  20. Feb. 2000. Poison linked to fish farms. Sunday Herald.
  21. March. 2005. Campaigners want polluted salmon farm endorsed by Oliver to be shut. The Independent.
  22. 2004. Fisherman's Friend. New Scientist. May 8th.

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