Will the ocean ever run out of fish?

When most people think of fishing, we imagine relaxing in a boat and patiently reeling in the day’s catch. But modern industrial fishing — the kind that stocks our grocery shelves — looks more like warfare. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Jennifer Jacquet explain overfishing and its effects on ecosystems, food security, jobs, economies, and coastal cultures.

“The exponential growth in human population experienced in last decades has to lead to an overexploitation of marine living resources to meet growing demand for food. Worldwide, fishing fleets are two to three times as large as needed to take present day catches of fish and other marine species and as what our oceans can sustainably support. The use of modern techniques to facilitate harvesting, transport and storage have accelerated this trend. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) over 25% of all the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted and 52% are fully exploited [1]. Thus a total of almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are nearly to overexploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Although, these estimates are considered rather conservative. Recently, a study showed that 29% of fish and seafood species have collapsed (i.e their catch has declined by 90%) and are projected to collapse within by 2048 unless immediate action is taken. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already collapsed.

Overexploitation does not only affect open ocean or pelagic ecosystems, but also coastal and intertidal areas. For example, intertidal limpets in Hawaii (Cellana spp.), the Azores, Madeira and Canaries (Patella spp.) have all shown declines, and in the case of the Azores, dramatic population crashes owing to food gathering.” http://www.marbef.org/wiki/over_exploitation

“Overexploitation, also called overharvesting, refers to harvesting a renewable resource to the point of diminishing returns. Sustained overexploitation can lead to the destruction of the resource. The term applies to natural resources such as wild medicinal plants, grazing pastures, game animals, fish stocks, forests, and water aquifers.

In ecology, overexploitation describes one of the five main activities threatening global biodiversity. Ecologists use the term to describe populations that are harvested at a rate that is unsustainable, given their natural rates of mortality and capacities for reproduction. This can result in extinction at the population level and even extinction of whole species. In conservation, biology term is usually used in the context of a human economic activity that involves the taking of biological resources, or organisms, in larger numbers than their populations can withstand. The term is also used and defined somewhat differently in fisheries, hydrology and natural resource management.

Overexploitation can lead to resource destruction, including extinctions. However, it is also possible for overexploitation to be sustainable, as discussed below in the section on fisheries. In the context of fishing, the term overfishing can be used instead of overexploitation, as can overgrazing in stock management, over logging in forest management, over-drafting in aquifer management, and endangered species in species monitoring. Overexploitation is not an activity limited to humans. Introduced predators and herbivores, for example, can over-exploit native flora and fauna.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overexploitation

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