Overfishing

Standard Page - 2011-06-21
Almost three quarters of the world’s fisheries are ‘fully exploited’, ‘over exploited’, or significantly depleted.

Almost three quarters of the world’s fisheries are ‘fully exploited’, ‘over exploited’, or significantly depleted.

The modern fishing industry is far too good at catching fish. Equipped with advanced technology, giant ships can catch massive quantities of fish quickly. When too many fish are caught, the remaining fish can’t reproduce enough to sustain the population – and as a result the fish population plummets.

Simply put, more and more people are competing for less and less fish and worsening the oceans crisis.

The fish don’t stand a chance

Often, the fishing industry is given access to fish stocks before the impact of their fishing can be assessed. What’s more, regulation of the fishing industry is woefully inadequate.

The industry is dominated by fishing vessels that far out-match nature’s ability to replenish fish. The ships are fitted out like giant floating factories – containing fish processing and packing plants, huge freezing systems, and powerful engines to drag enormous fishing gear through the ocean. Using state-of-the-art sonar, the ships can also pinpoint schools of fish quickly and accurately. Put simply: the fish don’t stand a chance.

An aerial view of a tuna cage, full of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. Greenpeace

Ocean life health check

The vast majority of the large fish that we love to eat – such as tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder – have been fished out since large-scale industrial fishing began in the 1950s.

Their rapid decline in numbers can cause a shift in entire oceans ecosystems, as commercially valuable fish are replaced by smaller, plankton-feeding fish.

The disappearance of these big fish spells disaster for the ocean – as top predators at the top of the marine food chain, they are critical to ecosystem health. Not only that, but their loss also threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on the oceans, both now and in the future.

Scoop of tuna and bycatch from the net of the Albatun Tres, the world's largest purse seiner.

Fisheries collapse

The over-exploitation and mismanagement of the fishing industry has already led to some spectacular fisheries collapses. The cod fishery off Newfoundland, Canada collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. The cod stocks in the North Sea and Baltic Sea are now heading the same way and are close to complete collapse.

Instead of trying to find a long-term solution to these problems, the fishing industry is instead looking towards the Pacific – but this is not the answer. Politicians continue to ignore the advice of scientists about how these fisheries should be managed and the need to fish in a sustainable way.

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