THE HOOK ABOUT FISHING AND SUSTAINABILITY
By: Rachel Yeo
This is a personal photo essay done during my 19 day Overseas Merit Fellowship programme to New Zealand, specifically highlighting on its fishing industry, along with my personal reflections.
Prior to the 19 day trip, we were given a set of notes to read through to have a gist about what to expect during lectures and field trips. I distinctively remembered a few set of notes analysing fish hooks (eg. Do specific hook types cause deaths in commercial fish) and I felt so lost and uninterested. How are fish hooks even relevant compared to the other topics I would be learning? We also had to learn indigenous people of NZ and their culture/beliefs, which seemed more insightful and engaging at the beginning.
It turns out that fish hooks are indeed relevant when we were sent to Goat Island Marine Reserve for a little fishing trip (technically it wasn't, but that was what the teachers called it, so). Goat Island is New Zealand's first marine reserve, located in the outskirts of Auckland. The University of Auckland (where we were exchange students at) has a research facility known as Leigh Marine Laboratory. We got the opportunity to watch a couple of fishermen do what they know best on an actual fishing boat. The "fishing trip" allowed us to watch how actual fishermen catch snapper fish using a lot of hooks, like hundreds of them. So that seemed relatively cooler than reading these notes.
A potrait of Peter, one of the fishermen who showed us how snapper fish are caught using hooks.
Peter sets up the baits, lines and hooks (left). The hooks are first attached to the square board, then the bait. The board will then be tossed into sea to attract fishes (right).
Peter and a second fisherman dumped the baits and hooks into the ocean, and told us that it will take awhile before the fish would be caught. Meanwhile, we also learnt about New Zealand's policies to ensure sustainability in seafood. For example, the Quota Management System (QMS) was implemented in 1986 to ensure that the nation will manage its fish stocks well. This means that there will be a limit on how much a particular fish can be caught without affecting its population too drastically.
We also learnt why hooks play an integral role in ensuring the sustainability of underwater species. Improper hook management can cause fish to swallow the hooks which gets lodged near their vital organs. Once the fishermen pulls out the hooks, the heart/liver/throat/gills are permanently damaged.
The first catch died because it ingested the hook completely, piercing its vital organs.
Every snapper caught will be measured. Fishermen are required to release fish that are under 27cm to ensure sustainability in fish population.
To avoid dying fish, fishermen take measures to ensure that captured fish get hooked from their lip or jaw instead. They also make sure that fish to be released don't suffer from trauma or psychological stress.
However, the grim reality is that no matter how much precautions are taken, mortality rates for a handful of fish will inadvertently occur. The rest of the fish caught might also suffer from permanent psychological consequences because of the way they are handled by the fishermen. But not to worry, scientists are always actively researching to find better ways to reduce mortality rate and trauma for fishes.
It was disheartening to see so many snappers dead for our educational purposes. I asked Peter what would happen to the dead fish and he replied that these fish will be sent back to Leigh Marine for research purposes.
For snappers that are alive, many of them tend to be bloated in their swim bladders due to the extreme change of water pressure when they were hooked up to shore. Inflated swim bladders will cause snapper to float helplessly on water. Hence, fishermen will deflate their swim bladders through strategic poking of the needles to release air (see the bubbles in the picture?) before releasing them back to sea.
Seeing the theories from the otherwise nondescript and confusing readings come alive in front of me was really eye-opening. We often consume products that are imported from overseas like New Zealand, and New Zealand has one of the best fishing industry in terms of sustainability. The nation also exports a whopping 85% of their catches to other countries.
Imagine if New Zealand did not have all these fishing policies implemented and fishermen become callous in capturing/handling fishes. Marine life will definitely wipe out and there will be no more seafood left. This affects New Zealand as their economy is largely dependent on their seas, but it also affects Singapore because we are largely dependent on our food imports.
Thankfully New Zealand has these measures to prevent that, but sadly it might not be applicable to other countries where illegal and non-ethical fishing practices are still being carried out to this day. Perhaps laws are implemented, but many of them could be loosely practiced or ignored. I think the best example to accentuate this will be exploiting sharks fin for a traditional Chinese weddings and festivals, causing severe depletions in shark populations.
As individuals, we might find it challenging to step out and stop sea creatures to be over-exploited for our gain. However, we can improve the situation by being aware about where our seafood comes from and whether they come from sustainable sources or not (this applies for everything else like clothes, poultry, furniture etc).
I learnt to appreciate and not take what I eat for granted especially seeing how pain-staking it is to insert bait to every single hook, and waiting for hours before pulling up the fishes caught. I guess the least I could do is to finish every single bite of my food, but until today I feel quite sheepish to admit that I still waste food (and consume sharks fin, sigh). However, I am now trying to find out where all my food comes from whenever I'm at a supermarket (eg. Apples from China, Salmon from Norway). Awareness is always great to help learn and make the necessary tweaks to ensure that what we eat comes from environmentally-friendly sources.
This is a work in progress for me to improve my eating habits.