There are no longer plenty more fish in the sea! Fish Free February challenges you to help protect our oceans by removing seafood from your diet for 28 days and helping to raise awareness of the issues caused by intensive fishing practices. 

Our oceans are in a state of global crisis, brought about by ocean warming, acidification, pollution, and habitat destruction. However, the biggest immediate threat to ocean life is from fisheries. Each year an estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish are caught for human consumption, though this figure does not include illegal fisheries, discarded fish, fish caught to be used as bait, or fish killed by not caught, so the real number is far higher. It is no wonder then, that today nearly 90 per cent of the world’s marine stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. If we do not act fast, overfishing and damaging fishing practices will soon destroy the ocean ecosystems which produce 80 per cent of the oxygen in our atmosphere and provide three billion people with their primary source of protein.

Fish Free February, a UK-registered charity, challenged people around the world to take action for marine life in a simple but effective way. This year, additional campaigns also saw South Africans take the Fish Free February Pledge, dropping seafood from their diet for one month. Fish Free February wants to get people talking about the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices and putting the wellbeing of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decision-making.

‘Not all fishing practices are bad,’ said Simon Hilbourne, founder of Fish Free February. ‘Well-managed, small-scale fisheries that use selective fishing gears can be sustainable. However, most of the seafood in our diet comes from industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the wellbeing of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges. In some cases, the fishing industry has even been linked to serious human rights issues such as forced labour and human trafficking.

‘Fish Free February hopes to shed more light on fishing practices, create wider discussion around these issues, and offer solutions to benefit people, wildlife, and the natural environment.’

Sharks and rays have been especially impacted by the use of destructive fishing methods. After being on Earth for more than 400 million years, many species are now threatened with extinction. South Africam, for example, is one of the top shark diving destinations the world, bringing in millions of tourist dollars both locally and internationally.

Whole communities based are based around shark tourism, but around the world, sharks face threats from overfishing, both legal, illegal and through bycatch; shark nets to prevent ‘dangerous’ sharks from coming into contact with humans, and, more recently, the use of drones for the sport fishing of sharks and rays.

‘Technology is incredibly advanced these days. It should be utilised to help preserve endangered species, not further impact them. Though sport fishing of sharks and rays is supposed to be catch and release, the use of drone fishing involves dragging the shark for several kilometres, and the shark does not stand a chance of surviving after being released,’ says Michelle Carpenter, a PhD researcher based in Unkomaas, South Africa. ‘This unnecessary style of fishing will continue to decimate local shark populations, on which the entire KZN tourism community is dependent on.’

Make sure to participate in Fish Free February, and if and when you start to eat seafood again make sure you know where your fish is coming from. Do not purchase from fishermen who use drones, gill nets, trawling, seine nets, or longlines. Choose to eat sustainably and buy your seafood from those who use hook and line, or take up spearfishing and collect your own.


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