Overfishing:Death of an Ocean
What's On Your Plate?
It is a beautiful evening. The stars are out, the moon is full, and there is a gentle breeze coming off the coast. The perfect night for a romantic dinner by candlelight with a loved one. The smell of the ocean carried on the breeze makes the mouth water for some succulent fish. Then menu has several species to choose from Bluefish Tuna to Red Snapper. Whatever the choice is, it had better be made wisely. The fish that we have come to know and love are disappearing from our oceans. How can this happen? The fish are not in hiding nor are they on vacation. They are disappearing due to overfshing. The threat of extinction for many species of fish is a reality, but it is not too late to reverse the damage.
The Truth Hurts
Overfishing happens when fish are removed from the ocean before they can reproduce. This not only reduces the population at an accelerated rate, but also upsets the ecosystem. It is estimated that 90% of big fish have been taken from the ocean. If this continues, we are at risk of losing a valuable resource and starting a chain reaction that could have dire consequences. Across the globe, the human population relies on fish for food and as a source of income.
The human population is not alone in the threat that overfishing imposes. Many species of land animals and ocean life also rely on fish for their survival. If the fish are depleted, these species will suffer greatly. In addition to the effects that overfishing has on living organisms, overfishing also has an effect on nonliving subjects. The seabed is often destroyed by trawlers as they drag the ocean floor to catch lobster. This process destroys the habitat for various sea creatures and damage is feared to be irreversible (Nichols, 2008)
Humans: Friend or Foe?
"Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money" (John Muir).
Within our ocean, lies a resource so valuable, so precious, that many people have come to rely on it for survival. However, like other resources on Earth, they run out. Some are renewable, while others are not. Fish are considered to be a renewable resource, yet because they have been fished to such an extreme, we are at risk of losing this resource. Consequently, the renewable can become the nonrenewable. Therefore, a plan must be put into action to preserve our ocean life. New policies and regulations must be set in place to manage our waters.
With the right sustainability plan, fishermen and environmentalists can work together ro secure the future of this precious resource. Currently, there is not a sustainability plan in effect. Instead there are laws and acts with loopholes. These laws and acts, such as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Endangered Species Act, serve to "protect the intentional trapping, harassing, selling, or possessing animals on the endangered species list" (SeaZone 2008). While these acts and laws are enforced, they do not address the need for a sustainability plan.
Meet the Fishers
Commercial fishermen, whether small privately owned businesses or large corporations, find their livelihoods in the ocean. The fish they catch literally put food on the table and pay the bills. For many privately owned businesses, the very idea of putting restrictions on the amount of fish they can catch is a touchy subject. For fishermen Pete Dupuis (Axia College, 2009), fishing is the only trade he knows. Dupuis states, "This is all I know. I mean, I have my life's savings invested in this boat. This is it."
Like Dupuis, many commercial fishermen want fish to remain a renewable resource. If the ocean is stripped of its resources, then there is no future for the fishing industry. What they may fail to realize is that if there are not restrictions put on the fishing industry, the thing they fear the most will inevitably come upon them sooner that they think. Especially with today's technology that enables them to catch a vast amount of fish at a rapid rate.
There are dozens of methods to catch fish. The use of nets, trawls, dredging, trolling, fish attracting devices, and even explosives (yes explosives!) and poisons, are common. Although explosives and poisons have been banned, they are still being used due to the high demand of certain fish species (Fishonline). The fish are not the only creatures to be affected by these methods; bycatch, or the unintentional trapping of unwanted ocean life, is often damaging and even fatal to its victims.
"Scientists recently found that nearly 1,000 marine mammals, dolphins, whales, and porpoises, die each day after they are caught in fishing nets" (Carr). Sadly, these animals are tossed overboard where they fall prey to birds and other predators. The unintended victim is then unable to reproduce and the population suffers.
The Environmental Factor
Scientists and environmental advocates are trying desperately to find a solution to problems that plague our planet. Overfishing is one such problem. Research has shown that we cannot continue to allow the fishing industry to remove mass quantities of fish from the ocean. Doing so will ensure a future that does not include biodiversity. Dr. Jeremy Jackson of the Springs Institute of Oceanography states, "We will never be able to fish at the level we've been fishing." A 2-year study conducted by Jackson and a team of scientists shows overfishing to be more destructive to the ocean than toxic pollution or degrading water quality (Axia college, 2009).
Organizations like Ocean Conservancy have been working with fishery councils and officials in Washington, D.C., to find intelligent ways to manage fisheries, while still meeting the consumer's needs (Ocean Conservancy, 2009). According to the Grinning Planet Web site, "All of the recent studies on our ocean problems recommend a comprehensive, ecologically based approach to fisheries management, not just simply trying to limit catch numbers" (2005). We can only hope that our government officials heed the advice they are receiving and allow our oceans to begin the healing process.
In a good management and sustainability plan, it should be proposed that catch sharing be implemented. By doing this, "incentives change from spurring fishermen to capture the most fish they can, to spurring them to maximize the value of their share instead. As the fishery becomes more efficient, fewer boats and gear are needed and seasons lengthen" (Environmental Defense Fund, 2008). Catch shares are beneficial to everyone. The efficiency of this method saves the fishermen money by using smaller amounts of boats and less high tech equipment. If the fishermen should go over the allotted amount of fish, he or she has the option to additional quota or be hit with penalties (EDF, 2008). This ensures that the fish population not be overfished and gives ample time to reproduce. Catch shares also help to alleviate bycatch.
By implementing the proposed sustainability plan, both environmentalists and fishermen can achieve the results they desire. Fishermen may believe that by implementing this policy, they will not be able to catch as many fish as they need to make a living. Likewise, environmentalists may think that this policy may not be honored by fishermen. These are valid concerns but can be resolved with the proper education and the assurance that violators of the policy will have serious consequences. The proposal also protects the health and product quality, which in turn, benefits the community. "In addition, catch shares provided more secure, full-time jobs, eliminated recapitalization and alleviated the substantial stress and instability of short 'derby' fishing seasons" (EDF, 2008).
We're All in This Together
Even the most perfect plan becomes invalid if it is not executed properly. To ensure success, there needs to be involvement on every level. Lawmakers need to continue to work with scientists so that research can be funded and their findings considered. The governments of the world must work together to police our waters and enforce new policies. Likewise, the citizens of this planet must be educated in the area of endangered species. The next time we go to dinner or buy fish from the market, it is our responsibility to check where the fish came from and how it was caught.
We can save our ocean life. The damage that has been done is detrimental, but does not have to be permanent. Jackson has stated that damage to our fish stocks is "close to complete, and is almost irreversible" (Axia, 2009). Jackson goes on to say that to make the damage reversible, it will take a new attitude as to how we use our oceans. This attitude must include the belief that if our oceans cease to produce life, then the consequences could prove to be catastrophic. the exact result is unknown, but may very well lead to the collapse of the ocean's ecosystem, If that happens, we may never know life on Earth as we know it now.