The most well-known example of the detrimental effects of overfishing is the collapse of the Atlantic northwest cod fishery. For 500 years, the economy of Canada’s eastern coast had depended on the northern cod fisheries. In the summer of 1992, Canada declared a moratorium, a suspension, on the Northern Cod fishery because the Northern Cod biomass had fell to 1% of its earlier level due to mismanagement. “The collapse of the Northern Cod fishery marked a profound change in the ecological, economic and socio-cultural structure of Atlantic Canada.” Because the economy depended on the fishery, many lost their jobs and the supply of northern cod in that area diminished significantly. To this day the fishery is still closed, allowing the cod to attempt to repopulate.
In around the 1950s, technological advances allowed fishers to increase the volume of their catch by increasing the area and the depth at which they fished. Many fish caught were not the northwest cod, but other non-commercial fish that were important ecologically. This bycatch further disrupted the ecosystem by removing predator and prey species.
Not only did the people of the region lose their jobs, they also lost entire businesses, investments in the form of fishing boats, and part of their cultural identity.
A study by CBC News in the summer of 2011 indicated that the northern cod fishery may recover in the future, suggesting major changes to marine ecosystems may be reversed with time and government regulation. Thus, it is not too late to save many of the fisheries.
THE GLOBALIZATION OF SUSHI
Ever since sushi became popular in the United States, the demand for fish has increased dramatically. East Asian cuisine has always featured fish, but the popularity of sushi in other parts of the world have caused bluefin tuna, a central ingredient in popular sushi rolls, to become so overfished that even Japan, the world’s primary market for fresh tuna, needs to import the fish to satisfy domestic demand. While the world economy does benefit from this increase in trade among nations, this short-term gain is still only temporary. Furthermore the fact that even Japan must import fish points out that overfishing is a global problem.
THE SHIFT TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
While developed countries have technological advances to make fishing “easier” (in quotes because now it is even harder to catch fish due to the problems caused by these advances), developing countries like Senegal still use traditional fishing, a low-technology approach, low initial investment and a large workforce. Because of their traditional fishing methods, they have not depleted their fish stock and thus the European Union and other developed countries had started to turn to their fisheries.
“According to Oceana, the fishing companies of the lobby known as the G-10 (Pescanoca, Freimae, Pescapuerta,…) register most of their vessels in developing countries like Namibia, Senegal and Mozambique, which are lacking in scientist assessments, fishing management or controls like the ones require in Europe. The most revealing point about the agreements between the European Union and Senegal is that they don’t impose catch fees in order to preserve stocks. Spain is the biggest consumer of hake from Namibia, receiving 61 percent of the countries entire hake exports.
Almost 77 percent of the world consumption of fish comes from developing countries. 80 percent of the fish caught in 2006 came from the developing world and were consumed in the rich world.”4
Overfishing in developing countries only exacerbates the food crisis. As fish become scarce, the prices rise. The people in developing countries are mostly peasants and nearly all of their income already goes to paying for food. If the price rises even just a little bit, they often cannot afford to buy the food. Neoliberalism, which refers to free trade, open markets, and deregulation, does not apply to food. Food cannot function unregulated. The best way to regulate fish would be to put quotas on the amount of fish allowed to be caught. In this way, the governments of developing countries will not need to subsidize the fish prices, which would indubitably cost more than their treasuries can afford. In most cases, the government cannot or will not subsidize and regulate the prices, and riots and protests will increase in these areas.
1) Hamilton, Lawrence, et al. “Above and Below the Water: Social/Ecological Transformation in Northwest Newfoundland.” Population and Environment 25.3 (2004): 195-215.
2) Gien, Lan. “Land and Sea Connection: The East Coast Fishery Closure, Unemployment and Health.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 91.2 (2000): 121-124.