Ocean fish and other types of marine organisms are wildlife-in fact, they are the last group of wildlife that people hunt on a large scale. Unfortunately, we’re depleting the oceans of its wildlife, just as we have with many land animals. Between 1950 and 1994, fishermen increased their catch 400% by using more boats and more effective fishing gear. The number of people eating seafood has also increased as it is often seen as a healthier option to beef, chicken, and pork. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “85% of the world’s fisheries are now fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed. Meanwhile, demand has continued to rise, to about 118 million tons in 2010—over seven times what it was in 1950.” One science article predicts that we’ll run out of fish in the ocean in 2048! How did this all happen?
- OVERFISHING– We’re catching fish faster than they can reproduce.
- FISHING OUT THE FOOD WEB– We’ve been fishing out the large fish first-these fish are also slower to develop and reproduce. Since there are less of the larger fish, we’re starting to catch the smaller fish that many organisms depend on for prey. This is affecting species throughout different ecosystems.
- POOR FISHERY MANAGEMENT: Different governments have different regulations regarding the fishing industry. Some management practices have lead to near fishery collapses (eg. Atlantic cod) by providing government incentives/tax breaks for fishermen which can encourage overfishing, having few laws to encourage sustainable fishing, and not having the resources to deal with poaching/illegal fishing. International laws are sometimes only signed by certain countries and there are different laws regarding in which oceans each country is allowed to fish in.
- ENVIRONMENTALLY DAMAGING FISHING PRACTICES: Bottom trawling and dredging damage the ocean floor and all of its inhabitants. This can kill of important habitat for marine larvae and juveniles who find shelter there. Trawling and dredging literally tears up the sea floor and takes everything with it. Longlines have baited hooks that can stretch for 50 miles. Although this is an efficient way to fish especially for large species like tuna and swordfish, it is indiscriminate. Both trawling and longlining results in literally tons of bycatch (unwanted or unsellable species.) Bycatch is usually just tossed back into the ocean and not all species can survive the trauma of being caught in a net or longline. Nearly 20 percent of shark species are threatened with extinction, primarily as a result of being caught accidentally on longlines. Bycatch also includes young fish that could rebuild populations if they were allowed to grow and breed.