Fishy Business

01 An underwater snapshot

The impact of intensive farming is not limited to land; our oceans and waterways are also suffering.


The International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) released a report in June 2011 with the sobering headline statement, 'the world's ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history'

Global warming and overfishing are putting unprecedented stress on our oceans and unless immediate action is taken there will be unimaginable consequences1. The destruction of fish populations is accelerating, with 13 of the world's 17 major ocean fishing zones already depleted or in serious decline, and the remaining four fully or over exploited.2

Fish populations of some key seafood species have been reduced to only 10% of what they were in the 1950s.3 

In addition, fishing supports the livelihoods of 520 million people. Many of these people are from developing countries living as subsistence fishermen; the loss of fish stocks is already causing hunger and poverty in these communities.4

Commercial fishing is also extremely destructive and wasteful. Bottom trawlers destroy the ocean floor as nets the size of football fields wipe out coral, sea life and anything in its wake. During these fishing expeditions, a huge amount of bycatch is collected in the nets. Bycatch is the unwanted catch of marine creatures, caught in nets while fishing for other species. Bycatch includes turtles, dolphins, seals and seabirds.

According to the latest estimates of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, about a quarter of the total world catch (20 million tonnes) is discarded annually as bycatch.5

Fish farming is often claimed to be a solution to overfishing in our oceans, however many sea-cage aquaculture fish farms experience the same ethical and environmental problems as land based factory farming.

In 1999, the World Health Organisation raised food safety concerns over fish farming, warning that this growing practice posed risks to public health. Artificial colouring, toxic by-products and cancer causing contaminants have all been found in farmed salmon.6 The antibiotics given to the fish in the pellet feed to prevent diseases are transferred to humans and in the case of sea-cage aquacultures, end up contaminating the surrounding waters.

Farming fish also represents an inefficient use of scarce resources with around 40% of the total world catch being ground up and made into fishmeal to feed fish in fish farms.7

As consumers we need to protect our health, our fish and our waters by making more informed choices when it comes to purchasing seafood.

02 Purchasing more sustainable seafood varieties

Being ethical and sustainable when it comes to seafood is exceptionally difficult. The lack of proper labelling makes it hard to find out where fish have been caught or farmed. Despite these challenges we encourage you to ask questions of your fishmongers and restaurants.

03 Switch the Fish Guide

Sustainable Table, together with GoodFishBadFish, has developed a new resource to make shopping for more sustainable seafood choices super easy.

View the Guide below or click on the link to download and keep in your wallet.

Click here to download our printable Switch the Fish Guide NOW!

03 Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide

Thanks to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) there is now comprehensive information available regarding popular fish varieties.

As a first step please download and print the Sustainable Seafood Guide, which has been kindly provided by AMCS.

Please also visit the AMCS website for more comprehensive information, or to order their expanded Sustainable Seafood Guide (RRP $9.95).


Download our printable pocket sustainable seafood guide NOW!

04 Marine Stewardship Council

Also look for the blue MSC eco-label when shopping or dining out and especially when buying tinned fish.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent, non-profit organisation that provides certification and eco-labelling for sustainable wild-captured seafood.

05 Terms to look for when purchasing seafood

When reading labels or looking for sustainable seafood options, you may come across some of the following terms:

Aquaculture: The cultivation and harvest of aquatic plants or animals.


Species grown in aquacultures: Marine algae, mussels, oysters, salmon and barramundi.

Bycatch: Bycatch includes all ocean life that is killed or damaged by fishing nets and other fishing gear, but is not kept and sold e.g. turtles, dolphins, seals, seagrass, kelp and undersized fish.

Sea-cage Aquaculture: Large netted cages that are floated in ocean estuaries or embayments, in which unnaturally dense schools of fish are penned, fed and fattened for market.

Species grown in sea-cage aquacultures: Barramundi, Southern Blue-fin Tuna, Snapper, Mulloway, Atlantic salmon and Trout.


  • Dissolved and solid fish waste from sea-cages pollutes coastal waterways.
  • Potential to transfer disease to wild fish.
  • Sea-cage fish are fed a diet that uses wild fish to produce fishmeal. It takes up to 12kg of wild fish to produce 1kg of sea-caged Tuna and up to 4kg of wild fish to produce 1kg of sea-caged Atlantic salmon.
  • Sea-cage fish ultimately place more pressure on our oceans.

Note: Closed or land-based pond systems represent a better alternative to sea-cage aquacultures because all outputs can be controlled and filtered, placing less strain on other ecosystems.

Wild Fisheries: Marine species caught and sold using commercial fishing gear such as trawlers and traps.

Definitions from: Australian Marine Conservation Society, Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide

The Ocean Thanks You

06 Footnotes

  1. International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), 2011, 'Multiple Stressors threaten "globally significant" marine extinction', viewed 27 June 2011.
  2. Vegetarian Network Victoria, 2010, Eating up the World: the Environmental Consequences of Human Food Choices, 3rd Reprint September 2010.
  3. National Geographic, 'Big-Fish Stocks Fall 90 Percent Since 1950, study says' National Geographic News, May 15 2003,, viewed 12 November 2010.
  4. Environmental Justice Foundation, 'The Impacts of By-catch', viewed 20 July 2010.
  5. Environmental Justice Foundation, 'The Impacts of By-catch', viewed 20 July 2010.
  6. Pure Salmon Campaign, 'Farmed Salmon and Human Health', viewed 20 July 2010.
  7. Halweil, B, 2008, 'Farming Fish for the Future' Worldwatch Report 176, Worldwatch Institute p. 18