Science Made Simple: How’d That Fish Get On Your Plate?

My name is Ryan and I love science. Join me as I try to make tough science a little less confusing.

Follow along as I research the issues, untangle the mess, and figure out what you really need to know to help animals and the environment.


Today’s Topic: How’d That Fish Get On Your Plate?


 Short Version: The way that seafood is caught matters. Overfishing has drastically reduced the amount of fish in the ocean. Supporting practices that encourage sustainable fishing and harvesting will improve the health of the ocean, allow marine populations to recover, and ensure that seafood stays on the menu.

Confusing Science: “More than 80% of the world’s fish stocks are considered fully exploited or overexploited (FAO, 2012) and the global marine fish catches have stabilized around 80 million tons annually since the early 1990s (FAO, 2012). However, the effort spent to catch fish has steadily increased after the catches peaked (Anticamara et al., 2011), and the fishing fleets have expanded toward deeper and more remote fishing locations (Swartz et al., 2010)” (Emanuelsson et al., 2014).

What That Really Means: To put it plainly, people love seafood. Whether it be shrimp, halibut, Bluefin tuna, or one of many other fish species, we’ve all got our favorite seafood choice. Unfortunately, to put these fish on your plate, many species are being overfished. Overfishing means that the fish are being taken out of the ocean much faster than they can reproduce. Even though more and more commercial fishermen are out on the oceans, the total amount they catch isn’t increasing. This is a good example of overfishing.

Confusing Science: “Ecosystem health and human health are closely connected and interdependent (Fleming et al. 2006). Therefore assessing and promoting sustainability requires a focus on both ecosystems and people, and active participation and commitment by the latter” (Micheli et al., 2014).

What That Really Means: If we don’t pay attention to how seafood is caught, many different types of fish will not only disappear from our menu, but also from the ocean. Luckily, there is a growing movement that is working to keep the ocean healthy by fishing sustainably. Fisherman and companies that provide seafood can make changes that will ease up on the pressure we’re putting on the ocean and allow fish populations to increase. However, if the average person doesn’t show that this issue is important, there’s not a reason for companies to make a change!

Confusing Science:  “Generic seafood sustainability labels may not convey sufficient meaning to compel action, since consumers may fail to connect their purchases to contributing to a more sustainable fishery” (Gutierrez & Thornton, 2014).

What That Really Means: You can tell if seafood has been harvested sustainably by reading labels in restaurants and the supermarket. That’s important because as more people buy fish that was caught or farmed in environmentally responsible ways, we as consumers can show commercial fishermen and companies that we want to protect the oceans while still enjoying seafood.

What Can YOU Do?: You can help in the most deliciously simple way. All you have to do is eat or buy sustainable seafood. Next time you are buying seafood in a restaurant or in the grocery store, take 1 extra minute to read labels or ask if the fish was responsibly harvested. Promoting these environmentally friendly practices will allow us to keep a healthier planet and ensure a future for marine life! For more details on sustainable seafood, be sure you check out Seafood Watch.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more as I try to make science easier to understand. Never stop learning,

 Have a topic you’d like me to explore? Post it in the comments!


Anticamara JA, Watson R, Gelchu A, Pauly D (2011) Global fishing effort (1950–2010): trends, gaps, and implications. Fish Res 107(1– 3):131–136

Emanuelsson, A., Ziegler, F., Pihl, L., Sköld, M., & Sonesson, U. (2014). Accounting for overfishing in life cycle assessment: new impact categories for biotic resource use.International Journal Of Life Cycle Assessment, 19(5), 1156-1168.

FAO (2012) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome

Fleming, L., Broad, K., Clement, A., ( 2006). Oceans and human health: emerging public health risks in the marine environment. Mar Pollut Bull 53: 545–60.

Gutierrez, A., & Thornton, T. F. (2014). Can Consumers Understand Sustainability through Seafood Eco-Labels? A U.S. and UK Case Study. Sustainability (2071-1050), 6(11), 8195-8217.

Micheli, F., De Leo, G., Shester, G. G., Marione, R. G., Lluch-Cota, S. E., Butner, C., & … Sáenz-Arroyo, A. (2014). A system-wide approach to supporting improvements in seafood production practices and outcomes. Frontiers In Ecology & The Environment, 12(5), 297-305.

Swartz W, Sala E, Tracey S, Watson R, Pauly D (2010) The spatial expansion and ecological footprint of fisheries (1950 to present). Plos One 5(12):e15143.

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