Fish, like everything else, costs more. In some places, it is almost as expensive as beef. Why is that?
There are several reasons, but they can be summarized in one sentence: Fish costs more because there is less of it. When demand is high and supplies are low, prices go up.
Fewer fish? You may be surprised. People turned to the sea to find the food that agriculture could no longer provide in sufficient quantities for a growing population.
But in doing so, they clung to a misconception. They believed that the seas contain an unlimited supply of edible fish.
Now we see that some species of fish have almost disappeared.
Table of Contents
Less and fewer fish to catch
Why have prices soared so dramatically? The saying is well known: “Everything that is rare is expensive”. There are fewer and fewer tuna, sardines or mackerel to be caught. This is partly the fault of climate change. The water is getting warmer, so some fish are migrating in search of cooler temperatures. In the North Atlantic, mackerel are already moving up an average of 30 kilometers per decade.
Why are there fewer fish?
The obvious answer is that every day thousands of fish are taken out of the water, but there are less obvious reasons that do play their part in the matter.
The water is also becoming more acidic. Some species, such as sardines, have lost their food supply and are even shrinking. Fishing quotas have also reduced the volumes. After a while you have more fish, and now there is no more canning and there is no more activity in any way upstream or downstream,” she says.
So we’re fishing less. But we also fish better, more responsibly, more sustainably. This implies for the professionals investments in techniques, logistics. Means implemented that increase, again, the production costs.
Fishing equipment is expensive
The new fishing equipment is partly responsible. In the past, when men caught reasonable quantities of fish, they were able to reproduce, and the oceans always remained well supplied. But now, new, highly sophisticated equipment has made fishing so intensive that many species are becoming extinct.
Since the mid-1950s, trawlers have been equipped with nets attached to the stern rather than to the sides like the old models. This allows the crew to catch six times more fish.
In addition, modern trawlers, similar to floating factories with their own canning and freezing equipment, are able to handle a larger quantity of fish. Some can hold at least 10,000 tons. Often, special transport vessels bring the fish ashore, allowing the fishing boats to remain at sea. The trawler thus has the great advantage of being able to sail long distances and stay at sea for up to a year. Hundreds of these boats are now operating in the main fishing grounds. To assess the consequences, let’s consider the case of the east coast of the North American continent.
In these waters, which are among the richest in fish in the world, many modern trawlers work for the Soviet Union, Japan, Spain, Germany and other countries. Today, almost all the fish species for which these waters were famous, are suffering the effects of intensive fishing.
The situation is the same on the Norwegian coast. As fish become scarcer and competition more fierce, new methods are used. The precious fish are depleted even more, while the cost of equipment increases. And the consumer pays more for his fish.
But if a nation didn’t have this advanced fishing equipment, would it lower the price of seafood? No, as we can see in the United States, which lacks modern fishing boats. Much of the fish sold in the U.S. is caught in U.S. waters, processed abroad and then sold in the U.S. market. This makes it more expensive than if it had been caught by domestic boats.
Now many Americans want the country to protect its territorial waters and even expand them. Territorial waters are the part of the ocean that coastal nations claim as their own. The fish that are there belong to us, these Americans say; we, not foreigners, should catch and sell them in our country.
The question of territorial waters
If the United States wants to extend its territorial waters beyond the current 20-kilometre limit, it is not the first nation to do so. In September 1972, to protect its fishing economy, Iceland extended the limits of its territorial waters to 25 kilometers. This action intensified the year-long “cod war” between Iceland and Great Britain, whose fishing vessels used to operate in those same waters.
Recently, the two nations reached a compromise allowing Britain to catch a certain amount of fish in these disputed waters. Britain recognized that Iceland had the right to regulate fishing in a larger coastal area.
Other nations, notably in Latin America and Africa, claim to extend the boundaries of their territorial waters to 320 kilometers. Offending vessels are heavily fined. If the U.S. did this, would American consumers pay less for their fish?
Experts say no. More territorial waters are no substitute for better fishing gear. In any case, it seems that the American buyer will continue to pay more for his fish. Modern equipment is expensive and it depletes existing stocks. Older equipment does not provide as good a catch. In the long run, each method means fewer fish and higher prices.
Pollution is a factor in the price of fish
Pollution is another factor that contributes to higher fish prices because it destroys marine life. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a French oceanographer, estimates that over the past 20 years marine life has declined by 40 percent because of pollution. Informed people think that he is not exaggerating.
The consumer himself may be responsible for an apparent lack of fish. In the West, “popular” fish are disappearing. However, there are still non-popular fish that fishermen reject for this reason, but which are enjoyed by millions of Orientals. If people were to suddenly change their taste, which is highly unlikely, more “edible” fish would appear at the same time.