Overfishing and the Environment
Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace itself. It not only affects the balance of life in the oceans, but also the social and economic well-being of coastal communities that depend on fish for their livelihoods. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than a third of the fish stocks around the world are being overfished and the problem is particularly acute in developing countries (WWF & CNA, 2021.
Overfishing is closely tied to bycatch - the capture of unwanted sea life while fishing for a different species. Estimated 38 million tonnes of sea creatures are unintentionally caught and are thrown back into the sea, either dead or dying. That is 40% of fish catch worldwide which includes small whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and cetaceans (WWF, 2021).
Overfishing is made worse by illegal fishing which is estimated at up to 30% of catch or more for high-value species. Experts estimate illegal fishing nets criminals up to $36.4 billion each year. Subsidies to offset business costs are another key driver of overfishing. This can lead to overcapacity of fishing vessels and skewing of production costs. As a result, fishing operations continue when they would otherwise not make economic sense (WWF, 2021).
Overfishing can impact entire ecosystems. It creates an imbalance that can erode the food web and lead to a loss of other important marine life, including vulnerable species like sea turtles and corals. Half the world’s population relies on fish as a major source of protein. When fish disappear, so do jobs and coastal economies. High demand for seafood continues to drive overexploitation and environmental degradation, exacerbating this circular problem (WWF, 2021).
Possible ways to prevent overfishing (Deepoceanfacts, 2021)
- Limit the catch of fishing vessels
- Choose the right seafood, avoid endangered species
- Ban illegal fishing
- Create more marine protected areas
- Protect endangered species
- Ban trawling which cause massive bycatch
- Eat small fish, avoid big fish or eat less fish
- Eliminate subsidies
- Increase awareness