Plenty more fish in the sea?

Most of us have been told, after one heartbreak or another, that there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Not according to the absorbing Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” there aren’t. The film, made by passionate environmentalist Ali Tabrizi, is a sobering watch and so full of dispiriting facts and figures about the poor state of the world’s oceans that it leaves the viewer struggling for hope.

From overfishing, much of it done by large multinational organisations or state-sponsored fishing fleets, to the tonnes of discarded plastic floating in our sea, our society has certainly mistreated our oceans and cleaning them up is one of the many huge environmental challenges that we face. Ridding the seas of the miles of discarded fishing nets which lie above and below the waterline will be a mammoth task all of its own, and one which needs to start straight away.

Yet it is possible to find hope for our oceans, however alarming some of the claims in Seaspiracy are. As is so often the case, there is some extraordinary work underway to make positive change, with human ingenuity providing solutions to years of human profligacy and carelessness.

Evidence suggests than when over-fishing is halted, by fish stocks being managed, catches being shared and quotas or even no-fish zones being put in place, that fish populations can recover. In 2019, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified 15 percent of fish caught worldwide as sustainable, assessing fisheries via three principles: healthy fish populations, minimal impact on the ecosystem and effective management. Fifteen percent is not much but the trend is upward, especially as consumers become better educated about sustainable fish and the market for it grows.

Organisations like The Ocean Cleanup aim to clean up 90% of floating plastic from the Earth’s oceans by collecting the garbage using long inflatables, with corks at each end, that sit on the surface of the water. Beneath these hang large skirts which collect the debris and make it easier to remove it all in one fell swoop, rather than collecting individual pieces of plastic. These have also been installed at river mouths, stopping the plastic before it even gets to the sea.

The Ocean Cleanup project has now started recycling debris from the Great Pacific Garbage patch, one of five gigantic floating piles of plastic around the world, and is manufacturing products – such as sunglasses – to help with fundraising.

They are not alone in realising the commercial opportunities in using recycled ocean plastics. Companies like Oceanworks and even manufacturers such as S C Johnson, who make some of the biggest home cleaning brands in the world, have started to put their products into containers made from recycled ocean plastic. Outdoorwear brand Patagonia first started using recycled plastic in its products in 1993 but it is now leading the way with rain jackets made from a nylon product called Econyl, which is made entirely from old fishing nets.

Thanks to ever more innovative new manufacturing and driven by consumer demand to make ethical purchasing decisions, you can now buy anything from skateboards to water bottles to jewellery, all made from plastic which has gone from pollutant to product.

Sadly there is no magic spell to fix the oceans, but change is coming and we can help drive that with our own spending habits, whether that is buying something made of recycled ocean plastic or thinking about what fish we bring home from the supermarket. As always, we can also make our own important contribution by making responsible choices about where our money is invested to ensure that we help, rather than hinder, the oceans’ recovery.