Overfishing is one of, if not the most, dangerous threats to our oceans right now and it’s continuously progressing. It’s been wreaking havoc on our oceans and its inhabitants since the 1950’s and 1960’s. Because of it, we will likely have no more seafood. Overfishing is when too many people fish for one species of marine life, such as the yellowfin tuna, faster than it can reproduce. This practice leads to extinction of the yellowfin tuna and, in turn, a food shortage for certain types of squid which consumes it as a major part of their diet. This causes the extinction of this squid and, in turn, of whatever consumes it. Furthermore, the shortage of the primary component of a squid’s diet will lead this species to over consume any secondary food sources, such as shrimp, causing a disruption in the balance within the food chain and ocean life. The vicious cycle just keeps expanding in the similar manner affecting other marine species within the hierarchy.
And why is overfishing getting worse? People are ignoring the laws in order to get money! Once, a ship accidentally caught a killer whale, which is an endangered species illegal to fish so they threw it back. This seems like the right thing to do and within the boundaries of the law, right? Except they failed to release the whale alive so it could continue its existence. Instead, they decapitated it and used its teeth to make jewelry to sell. If this greed and criminal activity continue, we will erase many marine species from existence.
People blame fishermen for overfishing, but a large portion of the blame should go to the governments. After World War Two many of the governments wanted to increase their economies and to put their returning soldiers to work. One easy way to do this was to build fishing boats and export fish. “Government money eased the transition between salted, dried, and canned fish, to a world of frozen fish and new products such as fish sticks. Government money hastened the spread of wartime technologies such as radar and sonar, greatly increasing the ability of boats to find and target fish. … Shipbuilding, especially on an industrial scale, provided good jobs, boosted coastal economies, and provided fish for export.” This process has not stopped since WWII. “The fishing power of fleets worldwide may be as much as 250 percent higher than what would be needed to fish at ecologically sustainable levels, yet governments continue to subsidize the building of new fishing boats.”
According to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund devoted to ending overfishing, seafood will be gone by 2048. All types of fisheries, legal or not, commercial or small, will be then put out of business and billions of people devoid of seafood protein in their diet.
The effect of having no seafood by 2048 will have a severe impact not only on the particular species and economy but will also cause starvation and disrupt cultures. Since over three billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of food and many more as a major component of their diet, the lack of it will lead billions into starvation. Most of these people tend to live on highly populated islands like Japan or near the coast where seafood is generally the only protein source readily available. Furthermore, the coastal cultures tend to revolve around seafood. So if you live on an island like Japan or in a coastal community like Maine, you probably celebrate and eat seafood, and a lot of it, too, so the impact will be even greater for you.
If that wasn’t enough, overfishing is also the cause of severe bycatch and habitat destruction. Bycatch is catching unwanted fish and disposing of them dead. Lives of billions of unwanted fish and other species of marine life get wasted. Overfishing also kills so many fish that there aren’t enough fish left to feed on the algae. The overgrowth of algae causes destruction of coral reefs which provide habitats of any fish still there. So now, with these habitats gone, if the marine species haven’t been yet extinct by overfishing, they are doomed to die away and disappear along with their habitats. The effects of overfishing are global and it is imperative that it is stopped.
The countries that overfish the most are China, Indonesia and the USA. These countries have the highest demand for seafood due to their very large populations. Japan, despite being a small country, is also guilty of significant overfishing due to the overwhelming preference for seafood as the primary source of protein in the people’s diet. To satisfy the demand for seafood consumption of billions of people, many commercial fisheries were established. These fisheries are equipped with the ability to extract great numbers of a certain species of seafood which are currently sought after by the buyers. Commercial fishing is not only decimating the marine life but also disrupting the economy and livelihood of small fishermen. If proper measures are not established to limit these actions of these countries, two-thirds of currently already overfished seafood species will go extinct.
World organizations propose several methods to control overfishing. According to eschooltoday.com, one of these methods imposes the limit on the days allowed for fishing in order to give fish time to reproduce. This is practiced in the United States and also Indonesia. Furthermore, certain species are banned from fishing in certain areas or even altogether. Such bans are prevalent in the USA because we are responsible for the third most overfishing in the world. To curb that, fishing restricted areas, such as some Florida harbors and the gulf of California, were created. We are not the only country to practice such restrictions, however, we are the one which enforces them the most seriously. Despite of this, we are also the country that breaks these laws the most. In the USA, too many people and large companies are driven by maximizing the profit by all means, even by breaking the law!
One thing we can do about overfishing is to make more marine protected areas. These protected areas are marked dark blue on the map below.
However, less than two percent of our oceans are protected from fishing and actually obeyed and not plagued with illegal fishing. Some marine protected areas include research reserves, marine sanctuaries, ocean parks and marine wildlife refuges. But one problem is that some marine protected areas are protected “for” fishing instead of “from” fishing which does not help with overfishing. We need to establish more “from” fishing protected sites in order to solve the problem, but only partially.
We must also ban trawling to fully remedy overfishing. Trawling entails dragging a colossal (20 mile long!) net through the water to catch loads of fish.
The reason we need to disallow trawling is because each of those nets brings in a few tons of fish and bycatch in a single sweep! This accounts for most of our bycatch, for trawling is geared to catch only one type of lucrative fish but also scoops in tons of, literally, unwanted fish which gets thrown away as trash. Furthermore, bottom trawling also takes out coral reefs and ruins other marine habitats. Trawling has been banned in the Mediterranean and some other places, mostly in marine protected areas. The ban has led to significant decreases in overfishing which proves its great contributing factor in overfishing. World organizations and groups like the one behind therevolutionmovie.com movement are trying to stop trawling by promoting complete bans. Such groups played a large role in stopping trawling in the Mediterranean.
We need to take action to stop overfishing. Spread the word about overfishing, its causes, solutions and effects. Or this will how it will end. “You buy out a man whose father and grandfather were fishermen and you are wiping out a hundred years worth of knowledge. A fisherman is a special person. He is a captain, a navigator, an engineer, a cutter, a gutter, an expert net mender, a market speculator. And he’s a tourist attraction. People want to come to a town to where there are men with cigars in their mouth and boots on their feet mending nets. We are about to lose all that.” 1
- Mark Kurlansky, “ Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1997, p. 230.