The appetite for fish is exceeding our ocean’s ecological limits. Marine ecologists and scientists across the world think that overfishing is the biggest threat to marine ecosystems today.
The modern fishing industry is dominated by fishing vessels that out-match nature's ability to replenish fish. Giant ships using state-of-the-art fish-finding sonar can pinpoint schools of fish quickly and accurately. These ships are like giant floating factories with fish processing and packing plants, huge freezing systems and powerful engines to drag enormous fishing gear through the ocean. Simply put: the fish don't stand a chance.
Populations of top predators are disappearing at a frightening rate. Ninety percent of the large fish such as tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder have been fished out since large scale industrial fishing began in the 1950s. Their depletion can cause a shift in entire oceans ecosystem where commercially valuable fish are replaced by smaller, plankton-feeding fish. These changes endanger the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems and hence the livelihoods of those dependent on them.
India’s seas are the spawning and breeding grounds of large varieties of fish species. At least 3.5 million people in approximately 4000 fishing villages situated along the Indian coastline earn a living from marine fisheries. However, fisheries resources in several parts of the country are under severe stress.
By offering a variety of subsidies and incentives, governments at the centre and state level have allowed too many mechanised boats to operate, resulting in too many boats chasing too few fish. With overall fish catches showing a tendency to plateau and the share of the artisanal fishing sector falling, measures to restrict fleet capacity and sustain fish stocks are essential.
This can be done by empowering the fisher community to co-manage marine resources. The current regulations and enforcements need to be strengthened by getting more fishermen involved. The enforcement agencies also need the space and flexibility to accommodate and incorporate the use of science for fisheries management. Any strategy dealing with the management of marine resources, including fisheries, needs to use an ‘ecosystem approach’, which considers the entire ecosystem and all the species inhabiting them.
On the positive side, exploitation of distant waters in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is believed to be much lower, though there are efforts from government and industry to increase exploitation. Protection and conservation measures in the EEZ need to be implemented before exploitation levels increase.