WHAT IS OVERFISHING?
Overfishing takes place when fish and other marine creatures are fished more quickly and than they can reproduce and sustain their populations. To put it simply, taking too many fish out of the seas before new fish can be born to replace the ones that were caught.
WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT OVERFISHING?
If current trends continue, ocean ecosystems will be damaged irreversibly. Extracting too many fish from an ecosystem robs larger predator species of their food source and reduces their changes of survival. A depletion of one can put the whole food web at risk of collapse, and can lead to an overall degradation of an ecosystem. Worldwide, 90% of large predatory fish stocks are gone due to overfishing. The United Nations predicts that if current trends continue, global fish stocks may be extinct by the year 2048.
Some fisheries are completely depleted. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 85% of all fish stocks are “overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.”1 The largest of bony fish, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, is heavily harvested for the global sushi market. The bluefin tuna may become extinct by the end of 2012 due to overfishing.
The depletion of fish stocks means a risk of losing a valuable food source that many depend upon for economical and dietary reasons. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population relies on fish for 40% of their protein. About 13,000,000 people depend on fishing for all or major part of their incomes.1 People dependent on fishing for their livelihoods face resource depletion, competition from industrial fishing fleets, and loss of traditional lifestyles.
WHAT CAUSES OVERFISHING?
The global demand for seafood is on the rise, and global marine catch has quadrupled since the 1960s.2The response to meet this increased demand has been the emergence of overly efficient industrial fishing practices. These practices are wasteful, unsustainable, and destructive, leaving harm in their tracks. The environmentally devastating thing about these fishing methods is that they destroy other species, catch more than they need, catch fish that people don’t want to eat, and are unselective in their target fish.
The bycatch that results from industrial fishing methods is devastating. Bycatch any the accidental catch outside of the targeted species. Sharks, whales, dolphins, marine turtles, and seabirds are regularly caught as bycatch. 25% of all fish pulled from the sea never make it to the market and are thrown overboard, dead or soon to be dead.
Some examples of industrial fishing methods are:
The use of fishing lines that can be up to 50 miles long, sometimes with baited hooks attached. These attract and kill non-targeted species such as sea turtles, sharks, and sea birds.
The use of a large net to encircle and catch groups of fish. This becomes a problem when non-targeted species are also ensnared or when too many fish are taken for the species to sustain their own populations
A gillnet is a nearly invisible curtain of netting that floats at the surface or is anchored to the sea floor. Gillnets are commonly used to catch fish but produce large amounts of bycatch.
Trawls are nets that are towed at various depths. Trawl nets are huge and can result in high levels of bycatch. Some super trawler nets have openings that are the size of four soccer fields and can hold thirteen jumbo jets!3 As the heavy trawl nets are dragged along the ocean bed, they indiscriminately scoop up marine life and damage whole ecosystems. The damage trawling causes on the seafloor can be seen from outer space. Shrimp trawling creates disproportionate harm; shrimp accounts for 2% of all seafood caught, but bottom-trawling for shrimp produces 30% of the world’s bycatch.4
As coastal fish population decline, fishing fleets must travel further out into the deep seas, where larger fish reside. Nearly 50% of all trawling happens in 200m deep waters, which are further from the coast and often unregulated.
HOW CAN I HELP?
While individuals cannot solve this global problem of overfishing without the help of international policymakers, we must do what we can, if only for the sake of a peaceful conscience. Our power lies in our consumerism choices. Each time you use a dollar, you are voting. With each dollar spent or withheld, you support an industry or help one meet a well-deserved end.
The most effective way you can shape your life into one that doesn’t impair the continuity of marine creatures is to stop buying or consuming seafood. This includes pet food, cosmetics, and supplements made from endangered or unsustainably caught marine creatures.
If you must eat seafood, consume species that are non-threatened and sustainably farmed or harvested. If you are buying seafood, it is your responsibility to inform yourself about sustainable, low-impact options. Every area has a unique situation, so find which of Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch Pocket Guides covers your local area. Carry this around in your wallet for easy use. Pass it around to friends and strangers.
The quickly declining fish stocks are an urgent issue that demands immediate and serious action from both consumers and policy-makers. Only with a concerted effort and worldwide response can we ensure the vitality of marine species and well being of the oceans.