Page - September 21, 2007
Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. You could compare it to alien abduction – massive numbers of fish are being snatched out of the water by high-tech factory fishing trawlers. This nightmare scenario is real, and the impacts on our ocean's ecosystems are extensive. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom.


The United States has a poor record of ocean management. The current system allows fishery managers to completely overfish one species and then quickly move on to start overfishing another species. This is a horrible way to manage our precious ocean resources. Instead of managing one species at a time, the United States should take a look at the entire ocean ecosystem and manage fishery resources with that in mind.

Overfishing happens when the amount of fish caught exceeds the amount of fish needed to sustain fish stocks in a given region. Put simply, there are too many boats, especially large-scale, industrial vessels such as factory trawlers, with too much capacity for devastating fish stocks. To picture how many fish a factory trawler, can catch at one time, imagine a net as large as four football fields, with a circumference at the mouth of the net big enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty standing head-to-toe.

As a result of overfishing, fish populations decline and formerly productive fisheries may be forced to close. Long-term costs of overfishing can also include social dislocation due to loss of jobs, lost biological diversity and ecosystem collapse.

Greenpeace is engaged all along the U.S. coastline to identify and take action to prevent overfishing. We are working on solutions in-New England, along the Atlantic coastline, the North Pacific and the Bering Sea.

12 (Not so) Fun Facts about Overfishing

People used to think that the oceans were too big for us to impact very much. Unfortunately, over the past few decades scientists have realized that in fact, fishing has already radically transformed our oceans through a combination of illegal fishing, habitat destruction, bycatch, and just plain catching too many fish.

Here is a short list of where we have gone wrong:

12. Since 1950, one in four of the world’s fisheries has collapsed due to overfishing.

Illegal Pacific Tuna Transhipment

11. 77 percent of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or slowly recovering.

Young Ocean Defenders in Philippines

10. The cod fishery off Newfoundland, Canada collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. Twenty years later, the fishery has yet to recover.

9. Scientists estimate that 90% of the world’s large fish have been removed from our oceans, including many tuna, sharks, halibut, grouper, and other top level predators which help maintain an ecological balance.

Grey Reef Shark in Thaiti

8. Of the 3.5 million fishing vessels worldwide, only 1.7 percent are classified as large-scale, industrial vessels, yet these vessels take almost 60 percent of the global fish catch.

7. Tuna purse seine vessels using Fish Aggregating Devices entangle and kill a million sharks a year in the Indian Ocean alone.

6. Every year, the world's fishing fleet receives roughly $30 billion in government subsidies. Most of the subsidies are given to the large-scale, industrial sector of the fishing industry.

5. Industrial fishing fleets kill and discard about 27 million tons of fish on average each year. That means that one-quarter of the annual marine fish catch is thrown overboard dead. For every kilo of shrimp landed, over 10 kilos of tropical marine life is caught and dies.

Purse Seiner Fishing in the Indian Ocean

4. Bottom trawling, a fishing method which involves dragging giant nets and chains across the seafloor, damages fragile corals and sponges which provide habitat for fish and creates scars on the ocean bottom which can even be visible from space.

3. Globally more than US$20 billion is lost to pirate fishing each year, much of which involves European or Asian vessels. The United Nations estimates that Somalia loses US $300 million a year to the pirates; Guinea loses US $100 million.

2. The Patagonian toothfish (often sold as Chilean sea bass) fisheries around Crozet, Prince Edward and Marion Islands were fished to commercial extinction in just two years.

An albatross bird sails behind the Esperanza in the southern Pacific.

1. Of the 24 albatross species, 20 live in the Southern Ocean and all 20 are under threat. Two species are critically endangered. Scientists estimate that in 1997 alone, illegal fishers killed more than 100,000 albatrosses and petrels in the Southern Ocean.

Greenpeace is working towards establishing 40 percent of the world's oceans as marine reserves, allowing the time and space to rebuild our oceans to healthy ecosystems.