How to fish when sailing? Fishing can be an exciting part of a long sailing passage, like the Atlantic crossing – but catching is a different story! On my four Atlantic crossings (combined), we caught a total of three fish that made it up to the dinner plate. In the process, we lost about ten lures and eight fishing lines that are all still floating around, ‘ghost fishing’ somewhere in the ocean. Only Neptune knows if a dolphin or sea turtle may have gotten injured, entangled or killed by it. Or maybe the lines got stuck in a boat propeller. Every bit of fishing gear lost will continue to damage in the ocean. It will never disappear.
Many sailors like to fish. It’s a better way to source your fish than buying them in cans, where we often don’t know how and when it’s been caught and mixed. But, do you really need to catch fish? How to fish when sailing? Here are a few things to consider.
Do you really need to catch fish?
The saying goes: “there’s plenty more fish in the sea.” Well, this saying is outdated! There’s actually not much left. Not so long ago, we thought that the ocean could replenish whatever we take from it. After all, the oceans are huge! Now we know that that is not the case. For fishing to be sustainable, we need to allow enough time for new ones to be born so the population can be maintained. The reverse is happening. We have taken more than the ocean ‘produces’, and we’re taking fish faster than they can reproduce. It’s called overfishing.
Overfishing has wiped out 90% of the ocean’s large top-predators, like sharks, tunas, cod, and groupers. And we need the big fish in the ocean because they eat the weaker ones. They prevent the ‘jenga’ from collapsing. The big fish that are still out there weigh 50% or less than they did 50 years ago. The average weight of a swordfish caught today is 45 Kilos. In the 60’s this was 130 kilos (1). Of all fish species, 52% is fully exploited, 17% is overexploited, and 7% is depleted. Common seafood choices such as tuna, shrimp, and salmon are among the worst affected (2). I don’t want to withhold the good news from you: a whopping 1% of species are recovering from depletion!
Besides impact plastic has on our ocean, wildlife and environment, plastic is a concern to human health. Plastic isn’t just around us, it’s in us! Through food we eat, water we drink, products we use, things we touch, and the air we breathe. Plastic is found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish (3). Shellfish lovers could be eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year (4).
It’s not a question anymore if we are eating plastic from seafood, the question is what it does to the health of animals, the ocean, and us. Plastic in the ocean contains high levels of pollutants such as PCB, Phthalates, organic pesticides like BPA, and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. These are proven poisons linked to all sorts of diseases, including cancer, hormone disruption, and infertility issues (5).
The problem is not just the fish we’re taking; the problem is also how we’re taking it. So if you must catch fish, here are a few suggestions on how to fish when sailing to bear in mind to make it a little less harmful.
How (& how not) to fish when sailing
- Fish with the right gear or not at all! Choose the right hook and line thickness. Ocean fish are big guys. A thin line will not hold and will end up at sea as a ghost fishing.
- Do your research to find out if your catch is a threatened species or not – then either release or eat.
- Only catch and kill what you can eat.
- Catch something you can’t eat? Throw it back within seconds, not minutes.
- Is it too big to eat? Throw it back!
- Kill the fish right away once you caught it. A handy trick is to spray alcohol in the gills. If you don’t, the fish will suffer tremendously, and all that stress will affect the quality of the flesh. It’s not healthy for the fish, or for you!
- If you fish near the islands:
- Check the local situation and rules for species, size, and sustainability.
- Spearfishing is prohibited almost everywhere in the Caribbean (except for often lionfish, which are an invasive species and need to be reduced for the ecosystem to be in balance).
- Be aware that many fish in the Caribbean are poisonous.
- Wherever you are, take it easy on the bigger guys. We need them in the ocean! They eat the weak and sick ones to keep the system in balance. Few are left because it takes so long for them to mature. The higher up in the food chain, the older the animal, the more contaminants have been built up. Tuna, swordfish, shark, cod or sea bass all have dangerous levels of mercury and PCB accumulated in their bodies.
- By eating some species, you can even help the ecosystem, such as lionfish in the Caribbean. While they were a rare sight just ten years ago, the population is now out of control.
‘Fish’ for seaweed
We have a lot of food to choose from these days with healthier alternatives that still provide the same benefit without killing life. An exciting option I have found is consuming sea algae like kelp, nori, spirulina, dulse, and Sargassum. Hundreds of edible sorts of sea vegetables are known. Seaweeds are real super foods that mostly need sun and current to thrive. These vegetables of the sea are where fish get their omegas from in the first place. It’s a healthier food choice for you and the ocean. And they just float by your boat!
Learn more about the state of the ocean and what we can do to contribute to a healthier ocean in book Ocean Nomad.