The Global Crisis: Overfishing!

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Overfishing is destroying our oceans. The clock is ticking, if we do not do something now, we are going to see fishless oceans by 2048 and potentially a trophic cascade. By 2050 we need to see an increase of 3.5% in global fish production to meet dietary demands. Studies have shown that the overfishing of ocean predators such as sharks, could increase the rate of climate change.

Climate change can increase the amount of mercury in our oceans. This can be very toxic to humans, resulting in neurological disorders. Overfishing can intensify mercury levels in fish such as salmon and bluefin tuna which many people rely on for protein, especially in developing countries.

Due to climate change, fish supplies in west Africa are likely to go up, while fish-dependent countries in south and southeast Asia, southwest Africa, and some tropical islands might see their supplies going down.

In the 1800s the first reported overfishing event occurred due to the whaling industry. Previously whales were hunted for meat and oil, and in 1986 commercial whaling was announced illegal. However, the issue is still in discussion as Japan recently started whaling again.

@M W It is not just what fishermen target to catch in their nets but also bycatch, which also plays a role in overfishing. Bycatch is any unwanted marine organisms caught in nets and accounts for 40% of all global marine catches.

That is for every 1 pound of targeted fish, 20 pounds is bycatch! Therefore, making fishing one of the most significant drivers of ocean biodiversity declines. When the fish catch is greater than the stock replenishment, overfishing occurs.

Fish and seafood are the top tanker in food industries and accounts for a $362 billion global industry. With an increase in fishing vessels, advancing technology, and greater capacity, it is important to regulate fish catches.

Many of the World’s population depends on fishing for protein, income, and livelihoods. Not everyone is performing fisheries management and sustainable practices.

It is the local governments’ importance to manage fishing trade, especially in developing countries where they are dependent on the fishing trade, and education may be lacking.

In 2018, it was confirmed by Oceana that The Mediterranean Sea is the most overfished area in the world. They recorded that 62% of the fish stocks are now overfished and could face being depleted.

To prevent future fishing declines, creating marine protected areas such as economic exclusion zones (EEZs), using regulations, monitoring areas, and banning bottom-trawling fishing should be implemented.

Over 3000 Chinese fishing fleet vessels travel from Africa to the Antarctic, and then to the Pacific, accounting for 21% of global support. They employ 3.7 million people, however, there are probably many more fleets that are illegally fishing and engaging in unregulated and unreported fishing practices.

Overfishing is enhanced by the illegal fishing trade. We have now seen a detrimental effect on marine ecosystems and declines in wildlife, such as key species, the bluefin and bigeye tuna.

In 2013, the US, Japan, China, Indonesia, and South Korea were responsible for overfishing tuna in the Pacific. These countries are responsible for 80% of bigeye tuna catches worldwide. However, after conservation and sustainability of fishing practices were addressed, in 2018 the bigeye tuna population had recovered.

Devastating fishing methods in Asia are reducing marine biodiversity through bottom trawling and the use of seine nets. The result of this is an expanding dead zone in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka at an estimated 600 square kilometres.

@Mark Caldicott

The EU has been fishing beyond the quota limits, key species such as cod in the west of Scotland and the Irish Sea have become depleted despite advice catches should be brought down. The deadline for fish stock recovery and the phasing out of overfishing was this year (2020). This was set by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Missing this deadline puts fish populations in critical danger.

With all this gloom, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2018 the NOAA reported that the number of overfished fish was at one of its lowest rates. In the US, 45 fish stocks have been rebuilt to a sustainable level since the year 2000. This news is encouraging to sustain global fish populations. However, the NOAA unfortunately only manages the US fishing industry, therefore governments and marine organisations must get on board in other countries.


In a human-dominated world, what can be done?

- Protection through policies: Marine protected areas (MPAs) are enforced to protect areas negatively affected by fishing. This gives the fish time to replenish and protects other marine species such as turtles and sharks that are important for ecosystem services.

- Support aquaculture practices.

- Stop trawling: these big nets collect and destroy everything, and anything in their way, resulting in waste from non-targeted fish/seafood being caught and also removing ecosystems on the seafloor.

- Sustainable food choices: only eating fish/seafood that has been caught sustainably (look for the Marine Stewardship Council logo).

Choosing smaller fish that can breed and grow fast such as sardines that are rich in omega-3 are both good for you, and stock replenishment.

- Education and tell your friends and family about the issues of overfishing.

- Join a campaign and support organisations.


Written by Darby Bonner

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