By Krysten Jetson
Millions of people from all over the globe depend on the oceans for their staple food and income. This automatically implies that thousands of fish and other sea creatures are captured daily from the sea to meet the growing demand for it. As more and more people make seafood a part of their everyday diet, our oceans continue to face the threat of depleting supply of edible sea creatures.
In the past, fishing was more sustainable because fishermen did not have the resources or the technology to tread into the deeper waters at far flung locations. Their vessels were small with limited capacities for stocking fish and the absence of technology like sonar restricted their fish-hunting activities.
Today, however, fishing is a multimillion dollar industry with well-equipped ships and hi-tech facilities that enable fishermen to explore new shores and deeper waters to keep up with the increasing demand for seafood. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) describes over 70 percent of the world’s fisheries as either “fully exploited,” “over exploited” or “significantly depleted.” Such has been the effect of overfishing.
What Is Overfishing?
We all know that fish and other aquatic species are a finite resource in our oceans. However, fishermen have started capturing more and more fish at a rate that is much faster than they can reproduce and replenish the water bodies with more fish. Many marine scientists have gone to the extent of saying that the threat faced by our marine ecosystem is much larger than any other environmental threat like increasing pollution. They have also predicted commercial extinction (not fit for fishing) of marine life if this trend continues.
How Commercial Fishing Leads To Overfishing
The pelagic fish, which live in the upper parts of the water, are caught by drift netting, whereby a net is suspended from floats and spread between two boats to trap as many fish as possible. Since fish are incapable of swimming backwards, they get caught in the net. There may be a few small fish who can escape through the net’s mesh.
Fish that live in deeper water are caught by trawling, whereby a huge net is dragged through the water which traps every creature that comes in its way. The size of the net’s mesh is crucial and it is important that very small mesh is banned to spare the young fish before they have had a chance to procreate, for the conservation of fish stock.
Impact of Overfishing
Reduced Harvests of Targeted Fish
We’re already witnessing this phenomenon, what with the reduced number of fish that is worth consuming being left behind. Overfishing, typically, leads to a decline in the population of productive fish, which results in lesser stocking of the fish. If overfishing is curtailed, we can hope to revive the declining marine population in a few years. Cutting back on fishery activities will make it possible for fish to breed and produce young ones and this cycle would continue until we have a healthy supply of seafood available again.
Harvest of Untargeted/Protected/Endangered Marine Species
Harvest of non-targeted fish or bycatch, will give rise to the capturing of sea animals that unintentionally get caught, but are not used or required. These may include endangered or protected species such as certain marine mammals, or other aquatic species of little or no commercial or recreational value. If caught, they are eventually discarded either at the sea or shore.
Overfishing can have an adverse effect on marine biodiversity. Every single aquatic plant and animal has a role to play when it comes to balancing the ecology. In order to thrive, marine creatures require a certain kind of environment and nutrients, for which they may be dependent on other organisms.
Overfishing can wreak havoc and destroy the environment and marine ecology and completely disrupt the food chain. For example, herring is a vital prey species for the cod. Therefore, when herring are overfished the cod population suffers as well. And this has a chain reaction on other species too. For example, seabirds such puffins were dependent on the sandeel for their food around the Shetland Islands. However, with the overfishing of sandeels, the colonies of seabirds nesting around Shetland automatically declined.
Therefore, it can be understood that if the food chain breaks at any level, it will have a domino effect on all living organisms in the chain.
As mentioned earlier, millions of people rely on fishing for their livelihood and nutritional needs. For decades, oceans have provided us with a bounty of seafood for these needs, but there is a limit to everything. Unsustainable fishing practices and overfishing over the last few decades have pushed our oceans to the limit and they may now be on the verge of a collapse, thereby affecting the everyday way of life and source of income of those who depend on them. With no productive fish left in the sea to fish, fishermen and fisheries are bound to go out of business in no time.
Many species of fish are now endangered and face the risk of extinction due to overfishing. What our marine systems need are environmental laws, policies and safeguards that point out how much fishing is legal and required. Few fisheries have started to realize the need to protect our oceans from overfishing, but our aquatic species continue to grapple with regulatory problems and pirate fishing. Solving this problem isn’t going to be easy and will require collective effort to be successful in replenishing our waters with an abundant supply of sea creatures and restore its ecological balance.
Krysten Jetson is a freelance writer specializing in the construction industry. She loves sharing her expertise on various aspects of the construction industry, especially safety, such as fall protection, workers safety etc. She has many years of professional experience including working with clients to build their business and brand through internet marketing strategies.
Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.