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What is this?
Fish stocks collapsing
Although deforestation and climate change often steal the spotlight, overfishing is a serious problem. The types of fish harvested from the world’s oceans is vast, but can be categorized broadly as fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic plants. The Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that over 70 percent of our planet’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted, caused primarily by unsustainable fishing techniques. At current rates, which are four times higher than they were 40 years ago, oceans are cleared twice as fast as forests.
Destructive fishing techniques
Today’s fishing techniques are reckless and indiscriminate. Huge fishing fleets, which when combined are two times larger than our earth can sustain, scoop up vast quantities of species all at once. Fish of all ages are taken, but especially adults, leaving the species unable to reproduce quickly enough. Another common problem is bycatch—the inadvertent capture of marine animals that are unwanted. These species, which are often highly intelligent, endangered species such as turtles and dolphins, suffocate and die in the nets and are simply discarded in the ocean.
What impact does it have?
High cost of overfishing
- Over 200 million people depend on fishing as a source of income and food. The depletion of the world’s fish stocks gravely threatens these peoples’ ability to survive.
- More than half of the world’s fish species have been fully exploited, 24 percent have been overexploited, depleted, or are recovering from depletion, as upwards of 90 percent of all large predatory fish have already been caught.
- Changes in the food chain gradually make their way up to the top of the food chain, affecting some of the most unique, intelligent mammals on earth. That means as smaller fish are overharvested, it becomes increasingly difficult for larger fish, such as seals, dolphins, and whales, to find food.
What has been done about it?
Slow progress in protecting oceans
The International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Unreported and Unregulated Fishing was endorsed in 2001 with the aim of working toward sustainable use of fish stocks and the protection of the environment, yet few signing countries have done much of anything to implement the plan.
Likewise with The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an intergovernmental programme addressing the links between freshwater and coastal environments adopted by 108 governments as well as the European Commission. Rates of fishing remain high even in the presence of this programme.
Is this action working?
Ineffective application of international law a problem
Although sufficient technologies and widely accepted programs for change exist to make sustainable fishing a reality, they are not being widely implemented. Illegal fishing, quick and dirty techniques, and unregulated harvesting worsens every year. In fact, fishermen are often encouraged to achieve the maximum exploitation of a certain species by bringing a population down to half its original size.
Why is this?
More research on fish stock health needed
At this point, the status of more than two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks is unknown, making conservation efforts difficult. Additionally, there is a lack of education and promotion of sustainable fishing practices. Fishermen are dubious that new techniques will be as effective and tried and true methods. But most importantly, there is little legal recourse against those breaking international fishing laws.
Should it continue? On one side, there are those who are against
Fish stocks could collapse by 2048
There are ample reasons for putting an end to overfishing as soon as possible. As the nursery of the sea, fish stocks form the bedrock on which the rest of the ocean, as well as some land-dwelling species, depend. Most importantly, several important fisheries are currently threatening to collapse altogether and the remaining fish stocks are predicted to collapse by 2048.
Should it continue? On the other side, there are those who are all for it
Short-term financial gains a draw for fishing operations, large and small
With little to deter them, fishermen and large food companies, smelling the financial gains, continue to overfish. Short-term financial gains rather than long-term health of our ocean ecosystems drives these groups to extend their reach ever further. One of the most recent trends in overfishing is the taking of Antarctic krill. These small, rather unattractive fish are vital food banks for seabirds, other fish, and marine mammals, but the lure of big paycheques keeps fishermen vacuuming up as much as 120,000 tonnes of the stuff every year.