According to the UnitedNations Food and Agricultural Organization, 77 percent of the world’s fish stocks are now either fully exploited,over-exploited, or significantly depleted.i Take the NorthAtlantic cod in Newfoundland. They were plentiful and the communities thrived on fishing until theunthinkable happened. Offshore fisheries took over the international waters andthe cod stocks collapsed leaving forty thousand people to lose their jobs.Today there are so few cod left that despite moratoriums, the populations stillhave not rebounded and Newfoundland is no exception.
Large European vessels fishing off the coastof Ireland will most likely cause the same collapse that happened 25 years agoin Newfoundland.ii Sadly, these fishing practices do notjust happen in the Atlantic. Each year, 1.4 billionhooks are put into the oceans across the world.
iii Thatis enough line to encircle the globe more than 550 times, and the mouth of thelargest trawling net is able to stack thirteen 747 jumbo jets inside. Not tomention trawling is the equivalent of plowing a field seven times a year. Trawling isn’t the only unsustainablefishing practice happening. Bycatchharvest may include endangered or protected species which have virtually nochance of survival once caught on commercial vessels and about 38.
5 million tons ofbycatch is produced annually from current fishing practices.ivThe presence of sonar technology allowsvessels to hunt fish with military precision which has also aided in the obliterationof them in our seas.Dueto globalization, each person eats approximately twice as much fish as 50 yearsago.i So, 90% of thestocks of large predatory fish such as sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish, arealready gone. And Unregulated fishingpractices in offshore vessels make up approximately 11-26 million tons of fishing worldwide.
vOverfishing leads to an estimated loss of between $6 and $36billion in food production revenue every year, showing us that it isn’t even aneconomically feasible practice.i Overfishing also hasa massive socio-economic effect. In many African and South Asian coastalnations, fish has been a main source of protein for approximately a billionlocal people.
The decline of fish stock affects the everyday life and source ofincome of all those who depend on them, including some of the world’s poorestcitizens. Some people seem to think farmed fishing isthe solution, but it takes at least 3 pounds of wild fish to make 1 poundof farmed salmon.viThat’s without thinking about the contamination and possible disease in a fishfarm. Wasteproducts are often flushed untreated into the surrounding waters where they pollutethe water supply.
Coastal areas worldwide have seen habitat and ecosystemalterations in order to accommodate fish farms. The World Resources Instituteestimates that “nearly half the land now used for shrimp ponds in Thailand wasformerly used for rice paddies, and water diversion for shrimp ponds has massivelylowered groundwater levels in coastal areas.” Although fish farming is now the fastest growingagricultural industry worldwide, aquaculture doesn’t have room to grow because there are not enough fish for feed anymore. Essentially,the more fish farms we have, the less wild fish we have.
With pressure, things can change. Asconsumers, we have the power to bring positive change at sea, by asking wherefish is from, how its caught and whether it is endangered. We can lookfor labels and guides certifying sustainability by the Marine StewardshipCouncil. We can bring about marine protected areas to increase the size,numbers, and types of fish. Safeguards can be put in place to increaseenvironmental laws and police illegal fishing practices.
But, it is up to allof us. Politicians must actresponsibly, consumers must change their eating habits, and the global fishing industry hasto abide by rules and reduce its fishing capacity. The clock isticking, and the time to act is now.