Something Fishy This Christmas?

By Sophie le Clue 15 December, 2015

Planning a Christmas feast? Sophie le Clue on why you need to make sure your fish & seafood are sustainable

Christmas is a time of much eating; people may opt for fish to be healthier; HK & China are big fish consumers
All is not well in the oceans with fish & seafood stocks set to decrease between 9-59% by 2045; prices may rise 8x
Also large water transfers & dams can affect freshwater fish. Sustainable seafood can help ensure fish stocks

Christmas and the holidays we all know are traditionally a time of good will, a time many of us spend with family and friends, when we start thinking about resolutions for the New Year and perhaps foremost for many – a time to eat.

The health conscious amongst us may turn to a less calorific option – fish

Yes, many of us put on serious calories over this festive period – one Christmas dinner can deliver a whopping 3,000 calories1 and the average person consumes as much as 6,000 calories on Christmas day alone – this is equivalent to eating 4.8kg of egg-fried rice, or 42 bananas, or 23 and a half hamburgers.
The somewhat health conscious amongst us may then turn to a less calorific option – fish.  Fish and particular live fish are favorites in Asia, with Hong Kong and China in particular being voracious consumers.
Fisheries are an important sector within China’s national economy, contributing around 10.5% of agricultural GDP in 2004. China is, as you might expect  among the top three  global importers of fish and fishery products (USD 7.4 billion in 2012), but  you may be surprised to learn that Hong Kong makes up the 10th largest global importer (USD 3.7 billion in 2012)2, despite its relatively modest population of 7 million.
Unfortunately, in spite of our appetite, all is not well in the oceans.  Recent research released by leading fisheries experts from the University of British Columbia, illustrate that for a range of popular Asian Seafood 3, by 2045 there will likely be a decrease in biomass (volume of fish) ranging from 9-59%. We will be paying up to 8 times more than we are today for our much loved  grouper.

Unfortunately all is not well in the oceans
By 2045 there will likely be a decrease in volume of fish ranging from 9-59%

All Fish Will Experience A Population Decline
These figures relate to business as usual in relation to fish resources from the South China Sea. If however we get our act together, keep climate change in check (which in addition to over fishing is will wreaking havoc on our seas) and better manage these resources sustainably, wild stocks of tuna and mackerels would recover, substantially by 17-fold, while population biomasses of groupers, large croakers,  threadfin breams and shrimps would recover 3-5 fold.

 This can change if we get our act together

Moving north of the South China Sea, the East China Sea’s coastal waters are heavily impacted by pollution from the Yangtze River basin  and additional challenges to maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem are the large water transfer and dam projects  there.4 Turning the tide on depleting coastal fish stocks will undoubtedly mean addressing these water issues.
But what about aquaculture? – This sadly, is only part of the solution, as fish generally eat fish and it can take 10kg of  wild fish to produce 1kg of grouper. Nevertheless aquaculture  is on the rise and  in 2012, China  was responsible for  62% of the global aquaculture production5 as well as 72% of China’s total reported national fish production6.This may well raise your eyebrows,  as a lot of this takes place on land  and  yes, uses a lot of water.

Opt for sustainable seafood products

So if you are opting for a festive feast of fish this Christmas, look for sustainable products – check out a guide on this here or click on the tables below. They may not be easy to find, but they are here and if you demand it, more will come.
WWF guide - Ask for Sustainable Seafood For Our Future Generations

2 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (2014), The state of world fisheries and aquaculture opportunities and challenges.
3 Reef fishes, shrimps, cephalopods (squid etc.), threadfin bream, Groupers, Large croaker
Sharks, Small pelagics (e.g. sardines), crabs , large pelagics (e.g. tuna) and demersal fishes (e.g. seabreams)
4 Li Daoji and Dag Daler. Ocean Pollution from Land-based Sources: East China Sea, China, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 33(1):107-113.
5 FAO 2014 as above
Cao, L., Naylor, R., Henriksson, P., Leadbitter, D., Metian, M., Troell, M., & Zhang, W. (2015). China’s aquaculture and the world’s wild fisheries. Science 347 (6218): 133-135.

Further Reading

  • Winter is Not Coming – Game of Thrones’ Ygritte might be right; Jon Snow, you know nothing. Tan mulls over the impact of findings from China’s Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change on the future of white Christmases, the Winter Olympics, skiing holidays and why find our inner-Yoda we must
  • Brands To Buy Over Christmas? – CWR’s McGregor reviews the top and laggard brands for green supply chains in China according to round two of the Corporate Information Transparency Index report. See which brands made which list
  • 8 Planet-Friendly Gifting Tips – Make this Christmas your best one yet for you but also the planet with China Water Risk’s McGregor & Thieriot’s 8 planet-friendly gift & lifestyle tips that Santa & Rudolph will approve of
  • Hotels: Giant Leaps For Water Scarcity – The hotel industry ranked water as the No. 2 most important issue. International Tourism Partnership’s Hughes on work ahead with a new tool to standardise measurement of water across 30,000 hotels
  • Stuff the Turkey – With rising affluence and food security issues, Sophie le Clue takes a look at the amount of water that went into serving up turkey and whether we should stuff it and be vegetarian
  • Hot & Hungry: Disaster Management – Even without global warming, competition for freshwater is becoming increasingly intense. Oxfam’s Magrath & Morris-Iveson on why local water resource management is key to disaster response & climate change adaptation at a community level
  • Are You A Responsible Consumer? – With waste levels already sky high and set to grow China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor mulls over the challenges of being a responsible consumer from fashion to food to plastic. Be it as an individual or corporate, see what action you can take
Sophie le Clue
Author: Sophie le Clue
Sophie is a Director of ADMCF and is responsible for the Foundation’s environmental investments, including the identification/evaluation of projects and aligning financial investment with strategic philanthropic objectives. Sophie has worked for the past 20 years in the field of environmental protection and conservation, principally in the Asia Pacific region. She started her career in the UK working in London for an international engineering consulting firm as an environmental consultant, before moving to Hong Kong in 1992. Since then, Sophie has directed and managed consultant teams working on a range of projects for both public and private sector organizations, including environmental impact assessments, environmental management, policy and strategy development, as well as undertaking research projects in the Asia Pacific region.
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