Overfishing is when natural reproduction cannot replace the number of fish which are removed from a population.
As more fish are taken from the ocean then the communities and economies that rely on these fish are also in danger.
What’s the issue?
Overfishing affects most of the world’s fish stocks. The UN food and agriculture organisation report that 52% of fish stocks are fully exploited. 20% are subjected to a medium level of exploitation and 17% are overexploited. 7% of them are already depleted.
Unfortunately there is only 1% that are being rehabilitated after being depleted.
During the 20th century there were efforts to increase the amount of protein in people’s diets. As such fishing was opened up with loans and good policies which led to fishing taking place unchecked.
Illegal fishing is a large part of the issue. In some areas this can account for 50% of the fishing. Some estimates state that illegal fishing costs $10-23.5 million each year.
A 2003 report suggests that current fish levels are just 10 percent of those from before the industrialised world.
Bycatch is another large issue. In some areas it is estimated that bycatch accounts for 80% of what is caught. Dolphins, marine mammals, sharks, seabirds and a range of other fish that have no value are caught and then killed as they cannot be used.
As fish stocks of the more popular fish are depleted the fishermen do not stop. Instead they move down the food chain to take smaller fish. If this process continues we will reach a point where we have no more fish left.
Newfoundland in Canada provides a case study for what occurs when overfishing goes unchecked. For years the population hunted the cod each year but one year they didn’t appear due to overfishing. After this 40,000 jobs were lost as the fishing industry in the town collapsed. To this day the cod population has not recovered.
A 2006 study in Science, the journal, stated that all the world’s fisheries will have collapsed by 2048 under current fishing condition.
Is there a solution?
The Marine Stewardship Council has been founded to help solve the overfishing issue. The marine stewardship council assess fisheries against a range of standards. When they meet these they gain certification to say that the fish farmed there are sustainable. They also work to create sustainable fisheries by working with stakeholders.
Currently some governments are providing subsidies to fishers in markets where the fish have disappeared. This allows them to continue to fish the lower numbers of fish found there.By reducing the subsidies paid out to fishers in dwindling markets they lose their incentive to continue fishing depleted stocks. This means these areas can regenerate instead of becoming completely devoid of fish.
What can you do to help?
To help people should buy sustainable seafood. One way to judge if it is sustainable is to check that it bears the Marine Stewardship council which will tell you it has been assessed to meet their standards.
You can also encourage your government to take action against illegal fishing and providing fishing subsidies which lead to overfishing.
Overfishing.org, (2014). Overfishing – A global environmental problem, threat to our oceans and disaster.. [online] Available at: http://overfishing.org/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2014].
Overfishing.org, (2014). Overfishing – A global environmental problem, threat to our oceans and disaster.. [online] Available at: http://overfishing.org/pages/why_is_overfishing_a_problem.php [Accessed 19 Jun. 2014].
National Geographic, (2014). Overfishing — National Geographic. [online] Available at: http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-overfishing/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2014].
Worldwildlife.org, (2014). Overfishing | Threats | WWF. [online] Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing [Accessed 19 Jun. 2014].