Category Archives: Overfishing

OVERFISHING: THE BASICS

Fish have been a food source for humans since the very beginnings of our species. It is the 3rd major source of food for humans, after grain and meat, and in coastal areas, especially Asia and Africa, fish accounts for all animal protein consumed. In the olden days, people used to use small, wooden fishing boats, single fishing poles, and manually use nets to catch fish. Now, however, technological advances have provided us with gasoline-powered fishing ships and mile-long nets to catch as many fish as possible. Human population growth and the popularity of fish delicacies have heavily contributed to this increased demand for fish.

A fishery is a commercially harvestable population of fish within a particular ecological region. Examples include the salmon fishery of Alaska and the tuna fishery of the eastern Pacific Ocean.

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Overfishing is defined as catching more fish than the ecosystem is able to naturally reproduce. Fishers are working harder and catching less fish as a result of overfishing. Overfishing causes problems such as resource depletion, the extinction of whole species , and the upset of entire marine and terrestrial ecosystems. By catching too many fish now, we gain food in the short term, but we lose this food source in the future. From a human-centric view, if overfishing continues, one of the largest protein sources will disappear, exacerbating the food shortage crisis. When the fish from a fishery disappear from overfishing, the fishers of that specific fishery lose their jobs.

From a more ecological standpoint, just like what the European sailors did with the dodo bird in the 17th century, we will drive certain species of fish to extinction. This is a very big deal because the extinction and even the decreased population of fish will cause huge imbalances to the ecosystem. Take a typical food chain in the oceans.

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By overfishing tuna, for example, we rid a certain ecosystem of a top predator, or level 4 organism. We leave the fish below that in the 3rd level without a major predator. Without this population control mechanism, the level 3 fish thrive and overpopulate. Because these fish also need food, they feed on the level 2 organisms. The increased pressure on the level 2 organisms cause a depopulation. The level 3 fish population, as a result, also decreases. This snowballing effect leaves even more species of fish on the verge of extinction. This also further lowers the amount of fish that we can catch, eat, and sell on the market.

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Sources:

1) http://overfishing.org/pages/Overfishing_in_one_minute.php?w=pages

2) http://see-the-sea.org

3) http://nationalgeographic.com

4) http://endoftheline.com/blog/archives/427

Overfishing- the Consequences

Here is a quick preview of the End of Line documentary that informs viewers of the negative effects of overfishing.

INSTANCES OF OVERFISHING

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CANADA

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.

Sources:

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.

3) http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/news/story/2011/07/27/science-cod-ecosystem-reverse-recover.html

4) http://www.oceansentry.org/lang-en/overfishing/campaign.html

TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS AND THE NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

This cute yet subtly depressing cartoon illustrates one of the effects of overfishing

This cute yet subtly depressing cartoon illustrates one of the effects of overfishing

Overfishing is commonly explained by the tragedy of the commons, which is the tendency of a shared, limited resource to become depleted because people act from self-interest for short-term gain. Fish are not confined to a certain region, such as within national borders, and thus do not belong to any one individual or country. Even if one country limits its catch, others are likely to make up the difference.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is a major global authority on overfishing. Its main goal in the overfishing problem is to collect, analyze, and disperse data to all countries and encourage intensive cooperation among them. “The focus in modern fisheries management is mainly on economic control through the control of fishing capacity, fishing effort, and the allocation of catch quotas and […] access to resources.” While the FAO cannot declare laws and reinforce compliance with them, it is a legitimate source of data and it provides trends and analyses for other organizations and NGOs to use to inform the mass public and to push for legislation to protect fisheries. It diminished uncertainty so fisheries know when their stock is at dangerously low levels.

Similarly, the Save Our Seas Foundation, located in Switzerland, supplies generous contributions of both financial, practical and scientific support to facilitate marine research and conservation projects around the world. One of the biggest obstacles to limiting overfishing has been the number of unknown factors of the oceans. It is difficult to tell how robust a certain year’s fish stock will be and how beneficial or harmful some fisheries are. By providing scientific support, the task of managing overfishing will be much easier.

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In this day and age, branding is extremely important to a business. Many people pay a little more for fair-trade chocolate because it makes them feel better to know that workers who made the chocolate were treated fairly. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a social enterprise, also utilizes this branding technique. It places the 100% Federal At-Sea Monitoring label on boats and fisheries that comply with the fishing quota allowed. By using this method that makes it easier for consumers to purchase fish without contributing to the overfishing problem, the EDF has created a new way to help save the environment.

Sources:

1) http://www.fao.org/index_en.htm

2) http://saveourseas.com

3) http://edf.org

4) http://tamara-hawk.deviantart.com/art/Overfishing-196885697

SOLUTIONS

Possibly the best solution to overfishing is to decrease the demand for fish. By spreading information about the detrimental effects of overfishing, more people may stop eating fish. This is extremely unlikely, however, as fish is a main dietary staple in many parts of the world. Thus, there are several other possible solutions to the overfishing problem.

AQUACULTURE

Global harvest of aquatic organisms in million tonnes, 1950–2010, as reported by the FAO

Global harvest of aquatic organisms in million tonnes, 1950–2010, as reported by the FAO

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms. It constructs aquatic ecosystem by stocking organisms, feeding them, and protecting them from diseases and predators. This alleviates human-caused pressure on overexploited fisheries. However some scientists are concerned about the environmental problems it creates, such as the clean water needed to be pumped in and the waste water pumped out, the fish escaping and spreading diseases and creating competition for the wild fish. Overall though, this method seems promising.

INDIVIDUAL TRANSFERABLE QUOTAS AND ALASKA

The rapid decline of the salmon from 1940-1970 exemplified the problems overfishing can cause. In 1973, fishery managers introduced the system of individual transferable quotas (ITQ), also known as catch shares. At the starts of the salmon season, fishery managers establish a total allowable catch and distribute or sell these quotas to individual fishers and fishing companies. Fishers with ITQs have a secure right to catch their allotted quota, so there is no need for bigger boats or better equipment to outcompete others. If they cannot catch enough to remain economically viable, the fishers can sell all or part of their quota to another fisher. ITQs work for varying sizes. In Alaska, most of these ITQs were sold to small, family-run fishing operations. In New Zealand, ITQs are used effectively to control overfishing by large fishing companies.

 

Sources:

1) Friedland, Andrew J., Rick Relyea, and David Courard-Hauri. Environmental Science: Foundations and Applications. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and, 2012. Print.

2) http://faostat.fao.org/site/629/default.aspx

WHAT COUNTRIES NEED TO DO

Ecologists and other scientists have determined that the maximum sustainable yield is one half of the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. The maximum sustainable yield of a renewable resource is the maximum amount that can be harvested without compromising future availability of that resource. It is difficult to calculate and evaluate the effect of the harvest on reproduction rates because these are analyzed after a fishing season. However, because of the tragedy of the commons theory, everyone will act in their own self-interests, which is maximizing the amount of fish they catch, if they are not regulated and held responsible for their actions. Environmental policies must be passed in order to save these fish.

The United States has passed some bills to prevent or reverse the effects of overfishing. The Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act would give more leeway to the current 10-year rebuilding period for overfished areas. The current legislation, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, sets that time limit and other restrictions to prevent overfishing. The European Union has punished France, Portugal, and Spain, the biggest EU culprits in overfishing, with deeper fish quota cuts.

One of the most urgent things that need to be done is preventing Western companies from going to developing countries and overfishing in those fisheries. International cooperation is crucial for this to happen. Countries must all agree to a certain intake quota of fish and prevent their companies from exceeding that limit.

Some countries believe that bluefin tuna, once the most common and popular species in the world, should be listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.  This proposal was recently rejected by the Mediterranean countries, amongst which includes Spain. In order to allow overfished fish populations to replenish, we must give them a chance to repopulate by relieving them of the human-pressure of fishing. Once again, everyone must apply the resource conservation ethic and do what is best for the whole world.

Sources:

1) http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2011/05/17/2162555/officials-backing-fishermen.html#storylink=cpy

2) http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/01/eu-fish-quotas-idUSL6E8J1AVN20120801

3) http://spo.nmfs.noaa.gov/olo6thedition/07–Feature%20Article%201.pdf

4) http://www.oceansentry.org/lang-en/overfishing/campaign.html

WHAT YOU CAN DO

When you do not have political power or a wide sphere of influence, it seems hard to actually make a difference. However, there are several ways to get involved. One is through the market and consumer power. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world have compiled lists of fish to eat and fish to avoid, based on their endangerment level.

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Another easy way to help stop overfishing is to inform others. Encourage family members and friends to use the “good fish guides.” Write to a legislator about your concerns. Sign a petition. Do a project on overfishing. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another and the best way to stop overfishing and protect fish, our ecosystems, and our markets is to spread knowledge.

Sources:

1) http://overfishing.org/pages/guide_to_good_fish.php?w=pages

2) http://www.coastalliving.com