The Flemish Center for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing (VLAM) responds to the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. The documentary is very critical of large-scale fishing and aquaculture, often far away from Europe. « It is important that problems are made visible, but also to bring nuance to this film and to add the context of fishing in Europe », according to VLAM.
VLAM shares the information below:
Fishing is an important economic activity globally and contributes significantly to the food and livelihoods of many coastal residents. A growing world population and a growing fishing capacity (eg due to better equipped and larger ships) are increasing the pressure on the fish population.
Seaspiracy rightly raises the issue of overfishing, illegal fishing and bycatch. A limited proportion of the fish is caught illegally, often in remote areas and international waters that are not under some form of management, which can lead to abuses of personnel, environmental pressures and overfishing. In addition, there are also certain forms of aquaculture that require additional sustainability.
Problems not generally and everywhere
Seaspiracy fails to clarify that the problems mentioned are not general and that there are regions with sound fisheries management where these abuses do not occur or to a lesser extent. Nor does seaspiracy show the measures that have already been implemented and actually contributed to improving the situation.
On the extensive fishing grounds where Belgian fishermen are active, the situation is in any case much more nuanced. Our professional fishing sector, consisting of 65 fishing vessels, is subject to strict regulations, including through the European Common Fisheries Policy (EC). In fact, the EU is a global leader in banning illegal fishing.
The Belgian fishing industry is making serious efforts to avoid unwanted catches, combat bottom disturbance, emit less CO2 and minimize the overall environmental impact. In addition, fish is the product of animal origin with the smallest CO2 footprint.
All food production systems have an impact on the natural world, but of course some more than others. However, sustainable fisheries do exist. The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that nearly two-thirds of fish stocks are sustainable (66 percent) and that 79 percent of all landings from marine fisheries come from these biologically sustainable files. However, this does not mean that there are no problems. About 34 percent of fish stocks are below sustainable levels and provide 22 percent of landings (Source: FAO).
Regarding the status in European waters, the GEOFISH tool (www.geofish.be) developed by the Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO) offers a handy visual overview. After all, the tool brings together information about marine spatial planning, the state of the fish stocks and the supply of the fishing sector. More info on
Belgian fisheries is committed to sustainability
The Belgian fishing sector is responding to the growing social attention for sustainability by means of the ‘Fisheries Sustainable’ initiative. Through the ‘Visserij Verduurzaamt’ recognition, the efforts of the Belgian shipping companies for sea fishing with regard to sustainability are monitored, stimulated and recognized in an objective and scientifically substantiated manner. More information about this can be found at www.visserijverduurzaamt.be.
To combat marine litter, Belgian fishermen voluntarily participate in the Fishing For Litter (FFL) recycling initiative. They collect the waste that they accidentally retrieve when fishing in large waste bags, so-called Big Bags. Once ashore, the crew returns the Big Bags and the marine litter is further processed and recycled.
It is important that more attention is paid worldwide to a reduction in the use of plastic and a good waste policy. This has a far greater impact on the environment than the fishermen’s loss of fishing nets.
Attention to more sustainable fishing techniques
The Belgian fleet uses different fishing techniques that have become more selective and sustainable over the years. Not only are various variants of the beam trawl in use that reduce the impact on the marine environment (such as the SumWings, Aquaplaning Gears or Ecorolls), but numerous other modifications have also been introduced to reduce unwanted bycatch (eg Benthos Release). panel, Flemish panel). In addition, recent research has shown that the problem of soil disturbance is more complex than is generally proposed. It turns out that deep calm bottoms and fragile ecosystems, such as reefs, are very sensitive to trawl fishing. Shallow waters with a strong natural disturbance (eg by storms and currents) such as the southern North Sea, where the Belgian fleet is also active, then turn out to be much less or not sensitive. Consequently, the necessary nuance is in order here too.
Finally, the European aquaculture sector is making great efforts to make its activities more sustainable in areas such as sustainable fish feed (eg from plants or insects), disease management, animal welfare and the management of residual flows (nutrients). In addition, certain forms of aquaculture can even make a positive environmental contribution through the extraction of nutrients (eg the cultivation of shellfish and algae). The limited number of Flemish farmers, who specialize in land-based breeding systems, is characterized by a high degree of water recycling (> 90%) and controlled breeding conditions with attention to the welfare of both the environment and the animal.
Fish from us remains a good choice
Nutritionists recommend eating fish once or twice a week. Fish provides important nutrients, including high-quality protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, iodine and omega 3 fish fatty acids, each of which contributes to good health in their own way, but also together. It is therefore wise to eat fish regularly.
International quality marks, such as MSC and ASC, are a good indication of sustainably caught fish and are checked by an external inspection body.
If you choose fresh fish, it is advisable, based on the regulations of the EGV and current sustainability initiatives, to opt for local species. If you also take the season into account, you can be sure that the fish is at its best (tastiest) and that the fish is not in its breeding season (at that time it is better left at ease to keep the fish population up to standard). Your fishmonger can advise you on your choice or you can take a look yourself at the seasonal calendar of fish on