For centuries, oceans have been regarded as ever-renewing, non-destructible resources, when in fact, they are comprised of delicate ecosystems that we are simply unable to see, and therefore more willing to overlook.
Exploitation of seemingly “bottomless” waters results in “overfishing,” essentially, the depletion of fisheries (areas where, historically, fish could be caught in large quantities) at a rate faster than the population can replenish.
Overfishing can be traced to the 1800s when whale populations were decimated so their blubber could be harvested for lamp oil, but the practice began in earnest in the mid 1900s as governments responded to international demands for greater quantities of inexpensive protein. What had once been a localized abuse of natural resources rapidly became a global crisis, though one that has only recently been brought to the public’s attention. Subsidies, legislation, and loans enabled the replacement of local fishermen with industrialized fishing corporations able to afford larger vessels manned by fewer people. By 1989, however, the industry reached maximum capacity, and ever since, the major fisheries have declined steadily and many of their primary species are near extinction.
In the past sixty years, most major fisheries have reflected a 90% decline in population which (in addition to having severe environmental consequences like the disruption of balanced marine ecosystems) portends the collapse of global fishing economies. According to the UN, 44% of the world’s human population lives within 150 kilometers of the sea, and many of these coastal regions are supported by essential fishing industries. Should global fisheries collapse entirely as they are projected to do by 2048, an estimated 15 to 22 million jobs would be lost. Contrarily, if there was an international effort to rebuild fisheries and reconstruct modern fishing practices so that they were sustainable, then the global fish market could increase by an additional $31 billion and generate 500,000 jobs. This could be accomplished by limiting the amount and type of fishing vessels, creating protected marine areas where such vessels are prohibited, and implementing and monitoring stricter catch limits.
Traditional fishing methods would require modification as well, since many are not only deleterious to the environment but also intrinsically wasteful. By-catch, or the marine creatures that are incidentally and unintentionally caught, account for 1 out of every 4 metric tons of fish. Much of this by-catch is then released back into the ocean, but only once many of the fish have already died.
The following is a list of some traditional fishing methods:
- Bottom Trawl: a fishing net that drags along the seafloor, this catches shrimp and bottom-dwelling fish, but also disrupts and destroys ecosystems along the seabed.
- Midwater Trawl: utilized by vessels ranging from small ships to large factory vessels which trail nets as large as five football fields that could hold 13 jumbo jets.
- Longlining: a central fishing line ranging from one to 50 miles long, strung with smaller lines bearing baited hooks…renowned for catching and killing a range of unwanted sea creatures
- Pole/Troll: individual fishermen using a fishing pole and bait…low by-catch rates, can catch and release
- Purse Seining: walls of netting encircling schools of fish…draws the bottom together like a draw-string purse
Some have suggested that aquaculture offers a solution to overfishing by relieving pressures on wild fisheries and allowing them to repopulate while ensuring that we continue to provide protein for a growing global population.
This website analyzes the benefits and pitfalls of modern aquaculture with a focus on salmon and tuna farming. It also aims to suggest how aquaculture may be utilized in the future and whether it is an adequate solution to overfishing and world hunger.
Biography of Alexandra Cronin
Alexandra is a first-year at Wellesley College. She is undecided regarding her major, but enjoys English, French, and Environmental Studies. She is a member of her college’s equestrian and fencing teams, and spends free time reading, playing guitar, and exploring.
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Roach, John. “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 2 Nov. 2006. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
Sumaila, Rashid. “Fisheries: Investing in Natural Capital.” The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 23.2 (2011): n. pag. United Nations Environment Programme, 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.