A healthy ocean needs thriving fish populations, and we need the ocean to protect us from the worst of climate change. Does this sound too abstract? We’ve got you covered! You can find the answers to the most important questions below.
Why is the Ocean so important?
The Ocean is simply too large to ignore. It is one of the greatest sources of biodiversity and food, it produces up to half of the oxygen we breathe, regulates the climate and sequesters carbon. It is a massive ecosystem, not just a body of water!
FACT: The ocean covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface and provides protein and nutrition to more than 3 billion people.
How exactly does the Ocean protect us from the impacts of climate change?
It might not be that obvious but the Ocean is the largest reservoir of the Earth's carbon - it can store atmospheric carbon dioxide for tens to thousands of years. Every day, it absorbs excess heat generated by humans and captures CO2 emissions, which would otherwise have entered the atmosphere.
FACT: Without the help of the ocean, it is estimated that the Earth would be 35 degrees hotter since the industrial revolution.
Why does a healthy ocean need thriving fish populations?
The secret is carbon! Fish play a critical role in trapping carbon, and that helps keep the planet healthy. When fish eat, whether its plants, tiny organisms or other fish, they capture carbon in their bodies. Then when they poo, it sinks to the seafloor, where it is safely stored away from the atmosphere. Fish of all sizes are a critical part of this process.
When fish swim around together, they stir up the water. This helps by pushing carbon down and vital nutrients up. Those nutrients feed organisms like plankton, which form a key part of the ocean food web, produce oxygen and remove heaps of carbon from the atmosphere.
FACT: Fish contribute about 16 percent of the total carbon that sinks below the ocean's upper layers.
What is overfishing and why is it harmful?
Fish populations can recover their numbers but they need time to do so. Imagine catching fish at a faster rate than what they can reproduce - this is overfishing. At the moment, European and global companies are taking more fish from the ocean than can be replaced. Some species are being fished to near-collapse, putting the whole ocean out of balance. When it’s out of balance, then it’s harder for it to provide those other services (sequestering carbon, producing oxygen etc).
FACT: Around 40% of EU fish stocks in the North East Atlantic are still overfished.
How does (over)fishing contribute to climate change?
Fishing activities remove massive amounts of blue carbon from the ocean, releasing it into the atmosphere. As fish become more difficult to find, industrial fishing vessels are burning even more fuel and using more and more destructive fishing methods to find what’s left.
FACT: Fuel consumption by EU fishing fleets account for nearly 7.3 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.
What is the most harmful (and carbon-intensive) fishing method?
Imagine fishing nets as tall as a three-story building and as wide as a football field scooping up the ocean… Bottom trawling destroys indiscriminately everything in its path: coral reefs, sponges and sea animals. Up to half of the catch can be unwanted, and then thrown back into the sea, dead or dying (this is now against the law in the EU, but it's still happening!).
Digging up the ocean floor leaves a trail of marine destruction, giving carbon no place to go but up. Fishing techniques like bottom trawling are undoing the work of generations of fish trapping carbon gone by. And they are still allowed, even in European Marine Protected Areas!
FACT: CO2 emissions released by bottom trawling each year are equivalent to emissions from the aviation industry
Are the governments and the EU doing enough to stop overfishing and destructive fishing?
The EU committed itself to end overfishing by 2015, or 2020 at the latest, and to protect 10% of its waters, also by 2020. None of this has been achieved and instead overfishing continues, endangering ocean ecosystems and the millions of people who rely on them. There’s been a lot of talk and very little action - many quotas are still being set far above what scientists advise.
FACT: Every year, representatives of EU member states meet in the Council to set annual fishing limits. Decisions are made behind closed doors, often ignoring scientific advice.
What should be done to end overfishing?
All we need is political will to make it happen!
The EU is still heavily subsidizing its fishing industry - exempting fuel from taxes for the fishing industry incentivises pollution and benefits large-scale industrial fisheries. Ensuring that polluters, not taxpayers, pay the price is one of the easiest actions that the EU can take (with the revision of its Energy Taxation Directive). Also, setting an Action Plan to protect marine ecosystems and fisheries resources that limits the use of the most harmful fishing gear (such as bottom trawling) and initiating a just transition to low-impact and low-carbon fishing should be the highest priority.
FACT: The EU subsidises its fleets to the sum of about €1.5 billion a year, stimulating overcapacity and overfishing.
What does it mean that ending overfishing is climate action?
A healthy person is more likely to survive an epidemic than a person who is less healthy. And because of overfishing, we have severely weakened the ocean’s immune system. In this respect people and the Ocean are not that different. By ending overfishing we will have a healthier ocean with more fish and marine life, and healthier ecosystems. More fish in the ocean and healthy marine food webs build ocean resilience to climate change; less overfishing produces less CO2 through burning of unnecessary fuels, and more fish cycle and sequester more CO2.
FACT: The European region has the highest fishing intensity in the world and its ocean is one of the largest carbon sinks. Ending overfishing in Europe will help to protect the Ocean and allow it to act as a sink for CO2.
What can we do?
Get active! We can’t stop the climate emergency without restoring the ocean but to do so we need everyone on board. EU politicians have the power to end overfishing and protect the ocean and we need to hold them to account. By campaigning together, we can achieve great and positive changes.