Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why don't we convince the fisherman to fish according to the season as opposed to convincing seafood consumers?
To understand this, we must first learn about the historical context surrounding fishing.
After India’s Independence, the fisheries industry was viewed as an important production sector with a capacity to address issues of food security, employment and economic growth. The government therefore began to encourage people to take up fishing. This was done by subsidising various costs of fishing like the cost to build boats, fuel, gear etc. In this attempt to increase production, destructive fishing practices like trawling were introduced and subsidised as well.
By the late 1990s, coastal capture (i.e wild fish) fisheries stopped growing, and profits coming from fishing started to fall. Subsidies were the only things keeping fishermen in the business. This has since led to the persistence of a vicious cycle. For an estimated 4 million Indians marine fisheries contribute to a majority of their livelihoods (National Policy for Marine Fisheries 2017), and the reality is that capture fisheries (wild caught fish) are barely making enough money.
Putting a stop to fishing in any season is no longer an option for people practising coastal fisheries. What is an option however is the types of fishing gear used for fishing.Typically fishers today have multiple gears (nets), and the choice of which gear to use depends on what fish will fetch them a good price. Each gear type catches a particular set of fish, and in this lies the opportunity for us consumers to make a difference .
We could potentially convince fishermen not to use certain nets in certain seasons. We cannot however ask them to change the way they conduct their business without somehow “assuring” returns.
Then whom can we convince?
Fisheries department and management- To reduce the impact of harmful subsidies - Some of the Know Your Fish team members and advisers are working on this front.
Seafood consumers - Who are in a position to make choices, and whose demand can shape what fishermen set out to catch.
Know your fish recommendations were made keeping in mind these nuances of choices. You can read more about our recommendations and how they're created on Recommendations Explained.
Is it okay to eat farmed prawns?
The main problem with eating wild-caught prawns is that they are caught by a very destructive method known as trawling. Along with the prawns, trawling also catches all sorts of other fish and marine life which do not have any market value, and in a way, they are the collateral damage of trawling. In addition, trawling destroys seafloor habitats.
In such a situation, farmed prawns look like a good alternative. If we can eat prawns which do not depend on trawl catch then there would be nothing like it! UNFORTUNATELY, most of the farmed prawns available in the market today are fed fishmeal, which is a minced mixture of the non-target fish that get caught along with wild prawns while trawling. Moral of the story? Till such a time that a substantial amount of the aquaculture industry shifts from depending on wild-caught fishmeal to something which is more sustainable, eating farmed prawns only aggravates the problems with the fisheries industry and overfishing.
How will my seafood choices make any difference in an overfishing scenario?
It is a bit like how vaccinations work. Taking vaccines is a personal choice. A single person taking a vaccine won’t prevent a pandemic. However, when a single person takes a vaccine, people around him/her are likely to ask them their reasons for getting vaccinated. When they learn the importance of vaccines, they take them too. They will then move to convincing people around to take the vaccine as well. Thus, a majority of the people get immunized and we start seeing a reduction in the severity of the pandemic.
Making responsible seafood choices works similarly. It's a personal choice. A single person making responsible choices does nothing to reduce overfishing. However, that person may motivate others to also use a seafood calendar. When they understand its importance, they change their choices too. Once a lot of people start altering these choices, we will start seeing demand pressure on seafood changing, according to the choices of seafood consumers.
Do consumers influence seafood demand?
Take the month of Shravan or the Ganesh festival in India (August to September) for instance. During these months, many Indians prefer not to eat seafood. Consequently, it is not economical for fishers to head out to sea and catch fish during this time.
On the other hand, during Christmas and New Year, there is a high demand for seafood and as a result, fishers put in extra effort to catch fish. These examples show us that our choices can steer the demand and the resulting fishing pressure on our oceans.
We must not underestimate the power of lifestyle changes at an individual level. These can be more impactful than they seem. As Know Your Fish, we have created a seafood calendar and are actively promoting it. Now whether it will make a difference would depend on how far you can take it as a consumer. Remember, addressing overfishing is not just the responsibility of fishers, scientists, policymakers etc. It's our responsibility as consumers as well.
Don't all fish breed in the monsoon? Why does India have a monsoon fishing ban?
Not all fish breed during the monsoon. While putting together Know Your Fish seafood recommendations, we looked at the breeding period of 86 different species. Out of which only 17 showed their peak breeding period in the monsoon.
All the states on the west coast of India follow some kind of a fishing ban during the monsoon period. However, rules about who is and isn’t allowed to fish during the monsoon varies across states. This “ban” was instituted after a demand from the small-scale fishing sector who had to compete with the mechanised fishing sector. So first and foremost, in its inception, the monsoon ban was not meant to protect breeding periods of fish, but to guarantee livelihoods for the small-scale fishermen. Later on, the protection it provided to fish stocks was also recognised.
The monsoon fishing ban protects those 17 species that breed during that time in addition to providing a most important “fishing rest” for near-shore waters of the Indian west coast during those 45-60 days. It is the fishing regulation that is MOST complied with in India at the moment.
Does fish size matter when I am buying a fish?
Prior to 2010, the answer would be yes - small-sized fish (basically juveniles and subadults) should be avoided.
However, recent studies have suggested a “balanced harvest theory” meaning juvenile mortality does not have that great an impact on fish catch decline. It is still a hotly debated topic in fisheries sciences and there is no consensus.
In light of these developments, we have restricted our recommendations to take into account only the breeding period of fish. We do not, as yet, recommend any particular size class of fish.
We are only certain about one group of fish - Sharks. They do NOT bear many offspring, unlike other fish species. Mortality in their juvenile stage can have disastrous consequences for their populations. In general, we do not recommend eating sharks at all, but if you have to, make sure you are not consuming juveniles.
Is it okay to eat frozen fish in its “avoid” season?
It is critical to know when a fish was caught and whether that month was in its “preferred” list or “avoid” list. If that information is available on the packaging, then refer to that month’s recommendation. If information on the date of capture is not available then as a precautionary measure, avoid eating frozen fish altogether.
Why did I see a fish with eggs during the month Know Your Fish classified them as a “preferred choice” of seafood?
There could be several reasons for this.
Many fish have breeding times stretched throughout the year. We do not believe it would be practical to ask people to avoid those fish throughout the year. So we recommend avoiding them only those times in which the breeding is at its peak. It is possible that the fish you have is breeding outside this peak period and as a result has eggs despite being recommended as a “preferred choice”.
Our recommendations are based on research data collected over 70 years. However, most of this data is quite opportunistic. So there might be some inconsistencies.
With climate change, overfishing and numerous other threats to marine life, fish might be changing their breeding behaviour.
Isn’t it better to give up seafood altogether to make sure one has a minimal footprint on ocean ecosystems?
While we regularly get asked this question, this was an argument that we contemplated while putting together our ocean sensitisation initiative (before Know Your Fish). At an individual level, of course, giving up seafood may seem like the best way to minimise one’s personal footprint on the oceans. Hypothetically, advocating this would mean we hope the entire seafood eating population will stop consuming seafood. Below are some thoughts from our contemplations of such a drastic shift and its implications.
Today in India, seafood is a part of the staple diet and means of livelihood for millions of people. If we advocate giving up seafood, then some interesting questions to consider -
1. Are we providing these people with better diet alternatives?
2 Are these alternatives going to be land-based?
2.1 If so, what would be the impact of such alternatives on the terrestrial ecosystems, which also face crises?
3. If we advocate the closure of fisheries as a livelihood, what would be the human cost (employment, wellbeing, cultural etc.) associated with it?
Despite our best efforts to find answers to these questions in scientific literature, we could not find anything that satisfactorily addressed these concerns. If you know of any literature on this subject, we'd love to hear from you and will be happy to engage with the literature.
Additionally, there is a moral dimension to the question of giving up seafood. Ideally, any human endeavour should not cause harm, pain, modification or “un-natural” changes in the life history of any human or non-human individual (animal, insect, plant, fungi, bacteria etc). However, biological constraints do not allow humans to escape their dependence on non-humans. In such a situation when it comes to weighing current human food acquisition systems (e.g., farming, fishing, domestication of livestock) with each other to identify a system that is "more moral / kinder / more humane" than others, we found ourselves unable to make that decision.
As a result, we are unsure if an entire population shifting its diet to land-based resources is a viable solution. We are also unsure that substituting seafood with something else is "more moral" than continuing to eat seafood. Considering these scenarios, we found that highlighting the biology, ecology and life histories of fish to seafood consumers was the best way we could engage with people - with the hope that they will be sensitive to ocean life while making daily choices.
What do we do if we see fish eggs/roe in a species that is in the ‘preferred list’ in the ‘Know Your Fish’ calendar?
Report your findings to us. We have now created a platform where seafood consumers can share their observations to help us understand these patterns in real time. You can do this by reporting your observation on the link below. You can also check observations made by other seafood consumers in the same link. We are constantly reviewing information provided by you. If we find that there are too many observations not matching with our recommendation for a particular fish species, we will review it and modify our calendar if required.