OVERFISHING: WHAT’S BEHIND THE FISH NETS?

The exploitation of the aquatic resources has become extensive in many countries, and this is severely impacting the ecosystem. Since advanced technology is being utilized in many fishing communities, the number of marine species being caught is significantly high, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the species to have ample time to reproduce.

In fact, 1,414 aquatic species are included in the IUCN Red List for being at risk of becoming extinct. According to studies, the maximum level of catch that is ideal for small fish to thrive and survive has already been reached a decade ago. Hence, many fishing industries are now targeting resources that have already been exhausted. Statistically speaking, more than 85% of the globe’s fishery has already been pushed to its limits.

With this in mind, the threat of further depleting the marine resources is becoming bigger day by day, making it a necessity for the fishing industry to think of measures to stop unethical means to catch aquatic species and allow the population to reproduce. Otherwise, the industry will sink rock bottom since it would be left with no choice but to depend on fish farms.

The Causes

Majority of the Oceans are Unprotected Areas

The lack of protection in the world’s oceans has allowed fishermen to extensively catch marine species. To date, only about 1.6% of the ocean is considered marine protected areas—90% of which allow fishing activities, while the other areas are habitats for endangered species to reproduce.

Why is it important to protect the ocean by declaring it as a marine protected area? Majority of the sites may allow fishing, but these areas are guarded with strict prohibitions on illegal fishing activities that are destructive to the aquatic ecosystem. By governing fishing practices, overfishing dramatically drops while the oceans become conducive for coral reefs to recuperate.

However, only minority of the world’s oceans is protected. This basically means that improper fishing methods are still employed in many countries, with most fishermen mainly concerned about catching more fish than practicing sustainable measures.

Lack of Awareness

Awareness need to be raised on the impending threats of overfishing, especially in areas where fishermen are not knowledgeable on the effects of overfishing to both the environment and the future generations. The lack of awareness on this matter leads to the rampant use of harmful fishing methods that do not only threaten the aquatic animals, but the overall wellness of the oceans as well. Methods such as bleaching, which are practiced by the fishing industry, have severe environmental consequences to the marine ecosystem, yet not everybody is aware of it. As years pass by, these improper practices are passed down to generations of fishermen until it becomes a cycle.

Unregulated Illegal Fishing

Unregulated and unreported fishing activities occur in both small and large-scale fishing operations in the world’s oceans. Since tracking device and resources still need improvement, it is quite impossible to monitor illegal fishing activities in both national and international waters. According to research, about 1/5 of the world’s catch comes from illegal fishing methods. Since more catch means higher profits, some industries are taking advantage of these methods at the expense of the marine ecosystem.

Poor Implementation of Fishing Regulations

Fishing regulations that exist are still inadequate to empower fishing practices that are within a sustainable degree. The same goes for international regulations that are not strong enough to govern the higher seas. Likewise, many countries are not pro-actively taking a step towards learning whether the imported fish products were caught using sustainable measures or not, making it even more difficult to monitor fishing activities.

The Impacts

Imbalance in the Marine Ecosystem

The fishing industry must take strong, sustainable measures to counteract the effects of overfishing. Based on studies, top predators such as sharks, halibut, tuna and swordfish are now driven to extinction, with only 10% of them present in the ecosystem. Since only small species are more prominent in the oceans, the growth of algae within the seas endangers coral reefs. Simply put, the oceans are being attacked on the inside, and it only takes a matter of time before its impacts surface at a major scale.

Declining Food Security

Humans largely rely on fish for their protein source. The extinction of species does not only threaten the growth and wellness of the ocean, but it also poses dangers to consumers, especially those who are living in Third World countries. As an overview, below are some of the marine species that are vulnerable to overfishing and extinction because of their commercial use: Tuna, salmon, sharks, groupers, halibut, marlin, monkfish, cod, swordfish, flounder, whitefish, rockfish, sturgeon, snapper, orange roughly and skate.

Threat on Livelihood and Economies

For some, fishing may only be a hobby, but for the fishermen and their families, it is their main livelihood. Since overfishing has brought about marine life imbalance that in turn greatly affected the fishing industries, the unemployment rate within the fishing industry continues to grow.

For instance, in the year 1992, there has been a recorded loss of 40,000 fishing-related jobs due to the downfall of the cod fishery in the east coast portion of Canada. The demise of fish species was not only felt in this region as other countries within North Atlanta have also faced the same environmental consequences, which led to the cessation of fishing activities to enable these marine species to recuperate and reproduce.

Lastly, The World Bank and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization released a statement regarding the economic impact of overfishing. According to the organization, if the trend on the fishing industry continues, the world can lose a net of about 50 million USD on an annual basis.

The Solutions

The negative impact of overfishing is widespread. Nevertheless, some organizations are incessantly working towards raising awareness and promoting stewardship on the marine ecosystem by the following measures:

  • Improving the Management of Fisheries: Groups such as the World Wildlife Fund are working hand in hand with governments to improve local and international fishing management protocols. Their goal is mainly geared towards raising awareness amongst large and small-scale fishing industries and ensuring the strong implementation of regulations governing the marine ecosystem.
  • Aid Assistance in Progressing Countries: Since fishing is a major source of livelihood in Third World countries, organizations are exerting effort to enable local fishermen to take care of the aquatic ecosystem by applying sustainable measures that will eventually lead to the growth and development of the industry.
  • Expanding Protected Areas: The World Wildlife Fund is also acting on the expansion of marine protected areas to counteract overfishing and its consequences. By protecting more areas from threats, organizations like the WWF can make a difference in the world.
  • The Marine Stewardship Council: Created by the WWF, the Marine Stewardship Council aims to educate commercial fisheries on production practices that do not pose any threat to marine life.

Overfishing is not just one man’s problem; it is a global concern that affects not only the aquatic environment, but the world as a whole. By being pro-active in aiding organizations and governments in stopping overfishing by simply avoiding exotic fish consumption and reading seafood guides and manuals, even ordinary people can help fight against this irresponsible practice.