Let's talk plastics

The seafood industry depends on the world's oceans. There's just one huge issue that might sabotage it all. 

Yeah, that's right. Let's talk about plastics.

It should have been made a subject long ago but it seems the fish and seafood industry is only just waking up to the issue of tiny plastic particles in our oceans.

According to a panel at the recent SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle, plastics in the ocean's food chain will have an increasingly greater impact on the seafood industry in coming years.

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The subject was also high on the agenda at the recent World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia

A 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation even warned there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, unless we clean up our act. 

And its not only big ocean garbage they were talking about -- it's microplastics and microbeads that are a major threat. 

Not a lot is known about microplastics -- tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic -- and their impacts yet. 

They find their way via our wastewater into the world's oceans, but also come from larger plastic debris such as bags, other rubbish and so-called 'ghost gear,' which degrades into smaller pieces.

While the seafood industry is not the main offender in the release of those plastics -- for microbeads I'd point especially to the health and beauty and textile industries here -- it will probably hit our sector hardest.

The jury is still out on if and how microplastic and microbeads impact fish and seafood, and if it poses a threat to humans. But there is growing evidence to suggest it has the potential to mess with our health.

Consumer awareness of this issue will be growing rapidly: A quick Google News search on microplastics in the marine environment shows media outlets are picking up fast on the topic. 

The consequence of this growing awareness is that they might buy less fish because of the perception they're eating plastics. 

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Guy Dean, chief sustainability officer for Albion Farms and Fisheries, pointed this out to my colleague IntraFish Editorial Director John Fiorillo during the summit in Seattle earlier this month. 

Dean believes microplastics are the biggest threat to the health of our oceans, next to climate change. 

I would agree. 

But just like with climate change, it's an issue the seafood industry won't be able to solve on its own.

As Matthias Keller, managing director of the German Fish Processors Association, Bundesverband der Deutschen Fischindustrie und des Fischgroßhandels (BV Fisch), rightly pointed out to me not too long ago, action to fight the issue needs to be internationally led. 

But at the same time there should be an ongoing effort in the industry to reduce waste and plastic in the oceans, he believes. 

Eco-friendly, degradable packaging was Keller's suggestion. 

But there's probably a lot more you can do as a company that depends on the world's oceans. Support or initiate waste reduction programs, and be it just banning plastic cups from your production areas or offices.  

Organize or participate in ocean clean-ups and fund research going into the impact of microplastics or the development of new waste reduction technology.

Get over your dislike for green groups and NGOs and finally work together with them. 

Talk to your employees, colleagues and families about the issue. Become a more conscious consumer yourself.

And when you do your shopping next time just leave that plastic bag in the store.

Comments? Email me at elisabeth.fischer@intrafish.com

Twitter: EF_IntraFish

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