COMPARED to the likes of drilling for oil, deforestation, air pollution and the recent advent of fracking, overfishing is being continually overlooked and that’s as criminal as the thing itself.
In a world where we face an ever-growing plethora of environmental issues, it’s understandable that a seemingly basic issue like taking too many fish out of the oceans could be passed by. Then consider that one in seven people on Earth rely on fish as a daily source of protein (that’s over a billion people) the fact that over 90 percent of favourites such as cod and tuna are completely gone already and finally that at most there is now only a sixth of the level of fish you could expect to find in 1900.
Terrible management and humanity’s greed have led us to the point where we have enough fishing vessels to scour the Earth three times over and that epitomises the definition of overfishing, ‘to continuously catch more fish than the system can naturally produce’, so naturally we have more boats than we need as a reflection of this.
The sad reality of the situation is that it’s simply too late to save some fish stocks, but if we act now by means of being more selective with our dining choices and through better management, we can save some populations if we act now.
The creation of closed breeding areas and Marine Protected Areas will provide a safe haven for young fish and enable sustainable fishing rather than the current ‘slash and burn’ approach we take to fish stocks. When these fish stocks collapse, ecological dead zones are formed and although fish populations are eventually replaced by creatures like shrimp and jellyfish it inevitably leads to a consequent decline in species like whales and dolphins.
Millions of people the world over rely on fisheries for employment and when they collapse it is devastating to the local community and has a wider effect in terms of the fish population in that area having disappeared. This was the case with the Northern Cod Fishery in Newfoundland, Canada in 1992, the fishery collapsed, 40,000 people lost their jobs and the cod has never returned.
Faced with the possibility of collapses such as these, commercial fleets are venturing deeper into the ocean and are looking further down the food chain as part of a process called ‘fishing-down’. This essentially involves catching traditionally less desirable and less commonly consumed fish and this is further disrupting the delicate biodiversity balance of the sea.
According to the United Nations over 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either ‘fully exploited’, ‘over exploited’ or ‘significantly depleted’. We have to act now to protect our seas and the fish within them or else risk the grim prospect of running out of seafood by the year 2048, as predicted by the journal Science in 2006.