The Impact of Overfishing
Overfishing and water conservation is a complicated subject. Not because it’s hard to understand, but because everyone has an opinion and much of what we see as “fact” might not be as true as we think.
Looking at statistics simply isn’t enough. We can sit back and observe what is happening in our oceans and think that it’s out of our hands, but that isn’t entirely true. Even as individuals, we have a role to play in conservation and sustainability. At a young age, I started to take an interest in understanding commercial fishing as compared to recreational fishing.
I wanted to understand the business side of fishing because it’s often something many of us overlook when we’re on the water in our small boats fishing for fun. We overlook the fact that this marine protein source actually drives a large portion of the world’s economy.
Yet, it’s believed by many that much of our seafood could be completely gone by the year 2048. Do I think that is an exaggeration? Maybe.
But, how can we know for sure? How can any of us actually know what is going on in our oceans? We can’t. All we know is what we read and hear from news and media sources. How many of us actually go out there and see it with our own eyes?
While it might not be possible for any of us to put a stop to overfishing, awareness is the key to making a difference. There are many people out there who care a great deal for marine life and want to do everything they can but they simply don’t know how.
The goal of this article is not only to educate you on the impact of overfishing but to help you learn what you can do to make a difference.
Why is Overfishing a Problem?
Overfishing is a natural reaction to the marketplace. The world population continues to grow and there is no way that the ocean can sustain the supply and demand. To make it simple, we’re fishing faster than the fish can reproduce. Fishing technology like advanced fish finders have a lot to do with it but it’s not even that simple. Fishery stocks have tripled over the past few decades and this doesn’t even include only the fish that we eat and harvest for economics. We’re even talking about endangered species such as sharks and whales.
Another problem is the fact that we’re consuming more fish on a yearly basis as a country and as a world. On average, a person eats almost twice as much fish as they did 50 years ago. So, what does this do to the commercial fishing industry? It puts a chip on their shoulder. It tells them that there is more money to be made if they can get out there and fish more.
When commercial fisheries are constantly under the gun to fill their bags and fulfill orders, they cut corners, take shortcuts, and throw ethical guidelines out the window.
As a result, we have an industry that is relying on loose regulations that are rarely enforced and the very people who enforce those regulations pump subsidies out that make it even easier for them to abuse their power.
Subsidies are a Huge Problem
If I could pinpoint one issue that is primarily responsible for overfishing, it would be government subsidies. Fishing is a highly lucrative business even though most of the mainstream media makes it look like fisheries are struggling. They’re only struggling because they can’t keep up with the money that is out there to make.
As a result, the government offers subsidies to make it easier for them to fish more and pay less back. They’re giving away as much as $35 billion dollars a year to the commercial fishing industry. This amounts to around 20% of the value of all fish caught in a year. The goal of these subsidies is to help reduce the operating costs of mega-ships to make it easier for them to get out there and catch more fish.
The problem is, this unnatural surplus of funding creates little room for small fishing operations to survive.
Around 800 million people rely on fishing as their primary source of income. Do you think these 800 million are the people with giant ships, billion-dollar budgets, and two million in the bank?
Of course not. A majority of that number are coastal communities in poverty-stricken villages all over the world. These are the people who rely on fishing to make a little money, but they also rely on it as a food source.
No one is offering these small fisheries subsidies so they get run over because they can’t keep up with the large ships and monster catches that they’re bringing in year after year.
This is their advantage, and it’s the main driver that causes overfishing all over the world. Now these small coastal communities are not only dealing with depleted fish stocks but they’re finding that larger operations can sell the same product for a reduced price because they’re catching it in bulk and doing so with free government money. This makes it impossible for these communities to keep up, and, as a result, they continue to struggle.
What About Farmed Fish?
When I started to take an interest in sustainable fishing practices, fish farms were the first thing I looked into. This is one of the most popular, modern-society ways to get fish from the water and onto the dinner table. It was originally supposed to be a way to preserve specific fish populations to prevent excessive harvesting and predators from getting at them. The goal was to allow the fish farms to feed us while the natural population continues to thrive.
But, as with everything else, greed starts to take over. Companies start to crowd too many fish in tight quarters. They find ways to reduce costs, create cheaper methods of feeding, and the end result is likely something you could guess.
Fish start dying. The contaminants from their dead bodies infect the water, and the result is low-quality products that are harmful to not only us but the fish population in general. These fish farms also require excessive use of pesticides and drugs to kill parasites that infect fish in these farms.
As you could likely imagine, the chemicals, pesticides, and drugs used on the fish in these fish farms spreads throughout the water and affects fish outside of the farm as well. That’s the reason why the water surrounding fish farms is so heavily polluted. Not to mention the fact that these fish farms are usually housed in highly industrial areas where dangerous chemical runoff is a strong possibility.
It’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s a method for commercial fisheries to make more money while caring less and less about the quality of the product they sell.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, we need to keep in mind what the fish in these fish farms consume. Most of them consume other fish which requires these commercial fisheries to fish for products to feed to the fish they’re trying to sell.
The result is, increased overfishing with the only purpose of feeding their farmed fish. It’s a vicious cycle, and much of the fish that comes out of these fish farms shouldn’t even be legal to consume.
How You Can Make a Difference
This leads to my final point. As an individual reading an article online, you might feel helpless. You may feel like there is little you can do to get involved and help save our oceans. That’s not true. Every single person on the planet has the power to make a difference, and you could be the catalyst of major change. But, you can’t do so sitting back. You need to be aggressive, proactive, and unafraid.
Here are some resources to help you find your way:
- This group exists to preserve all natural systems, and the life that depend on those systems. They tackle critical problems with the environment by developing partnerships grounded in science.
- This is an independent global campaign designed to change our behaviors as they pertain to conservation and the environment. They work primarily in areas of global warming, deforestation, and overfishing.
- This non-profit was established in 1977 with the goal of ending habitat destruction and the slaughter of our world’s oceans. They focus on protecting endangered species such as seals, sharks, and dolphins. They use investigative strategies to expose illegal fishing.
We are all affected by overfishing. As a recreational angler, you might think, “I have no need to worry about this. I just fish for fun.” Yes, for now. If we don’t put a stop to the destruction of our oceans, recreational fishing will come to an end. A lot of these organizations are already trying to put a stop to it because it’s considered cruel. If we can put a stop to overfishing, it would take fishing out of the spotlight and allow the sport to continue for years to come.