Overfishing, Conservation, Sustainability, and Farmed Fish

Overfishing and other environmental problems associated with fishing are serious problems, just like many other parts of government policy, but it's not evident that government involvement is the answer. In fact, it may be one of the primary causes of overfishing as well as other problems with sustainability and conservation brought on by commercial fishing. There are significant ethical concerns that concern the common angler, much like there are with drone fishing.

Another similarity between overfishing and environmental challenges in general is that the Western firms most interested in real attempts to stop overfishing are not the ones who are most at fault. This means that the nations with the lowest levels of involvement in activities that work against attempts to make commercial fishing more sustainable while also promoting fish species conservation bear a disproportionate share of the costs of overfishing.

All of these are significant challenges not only for commercial fishermen but also for people who are concerned about sustainability and conservation in general, recreational anglers, and indeed everyone who consumes fish. Since the health of the ocean determines the health of the globe, it is crucial for everyone to become informed about overfishing's causes, effects, and preventative measures that may actually be implemented rather than just acting as though "something is being done."

In fact, fish is the main source of protein for more than three billion people worldwide. Approximately 13% of the world's population depends on fisheries in some capacity, 90% of whom are small-scale fisherman who utilize equipment similar to what you undoubtedly use—small nets, rods, reels, and lures—on a boat with a small crew, not a ship. 90% of the 18.9 million fishermen in the globe fall under the same category as the small-scale fisherman mentioned above.

Overfishing Definition: What is Overfishing?

First, be encouraged: You are most likely not guilty of "overfishing" as a recreational fisherman. This is not a problem for the weekend fisher who just wants a little peace and quiet; this is a problem for commercial fishermen in the fishing business who are combing the ocean depths with huge nets to catch enough fish to make a life for themselves and their families.

In some ways, overfishing is a sensible response to the expanding market demand for seafood. There are currently four times as many people on the planet as there were at the end of the 1960s, and the majority of them consume roughly twice as much food. One reason for the 30 percent of commercially fished waters being labeled as "overfished" is due to this. This indicates that fishing waters are running out quicker than they can be replenished.

Overfishing it's not just about catching "too many" fish—there is a clear and concise definition of what it means to "overfish" a region. When a region's breeding stock is so low that the fish there can no longer replenish themselves, overfishing takes place.

The best case scenario is that there will be less fish next year than there are this year. At worst, it means that a species of fish can no longer be fished out of a certain location. This is also related to wasteful fishing techniques that catch almost every other organism large enough to fit in a net in addition to the fish the trawler is hunting for. In fact, these kind of nets, which sweep everything into them, capture almost 80% of fish.

Additionally, overfishing has a number of far-reaching effects. Even though this is undoubtedly one of the reasons why it is negative, it is not the only reason because it depletes the fish populations of accessible resources. Others consist of:

  • Increased Algae in the Water:

Algae is beneficial, but too much of it is very, very harmful. Because less fish are present in the water, more algae grows than is healthy. This makes the oceans more acidic, which harms not only the remaining fish but also the reefs and plankton.

  • Destruction of Fishing Communities:

Communities that once depended on the fish that were there can be utterly destroyed by overfishing, as can fish populations. For communities on islands, this is especially true. It's also important to keep in mind that there are numerous remote regions of the world where fishing serves as both the main economic engine and the population's principal source of protein. When one or both of these vanishes, the community also vanishes.

  • Tougher Fishing for Small Vessels:

Overfishing is something you should be concerned about if you support small businesses. This is so because overfishing, which is typically carried out by large vessels, makes it more difficult for smaller ones to comply with restrictions. This is a big issue because fishing provides food and a living for more than 40 million people worldwide.

  • Ghost Fishing:

The phrase "ghost fishing" refers to what is essentially ocean trash. The illicit fishermen who are the result of poorly written legislation and subsidies frequently just leave their equipment in the ocean where it was utilized. Not only does this result in pollution due to the waste, but it also draws scavengers who become entangled in the trash and are unable to continue performing their essential role elsewhere in the water.

  • Species Pushed to Near Extinction:

We frequently assume it's okay when we learn that a fish species is becoming extinct because they may still be found elsewhere. But, overfishing is putting numerous fish species at risk of extinction, including various kinds of cod, tuna, halibut, and even lobster.

  • Bycatching:

Bycatching is when marine life that is not being sought for by commercial fisherman is caught in their nets as a byproduct, and if you're old enough to recall when people were worried about dolphins captured in tuna nets, you know what it is. With overfishing, the likelihood of bycatching substantially rises.

  • Waste:

The supply chain is wasteful as a result of overfishing. Due to overfishing, over 20% of all fish in the United States is lost in the supply chain. Due to a lack of freezing equipment, this jumps to 30% in the Third World. This indicates that even if there are more fish being captured than ever, a significant amount of fish is being wasted.

  • Mystery Fish:

There are a sizable number of fish at your neighborhood fish market and on the shelves of your neighborhood grocery store that aren't what they are labeled as as a result of overfishing. It doesn't necessarily indicate that anything is cod just because it says it is. Only 13% of the "red snapper" on the market is genuinely red snapper, so you can see the extent of the issue. The amount of fishing done now makes most of this unintentional, but much of it is because it hides behind the sad facts of mass scale fishing to sell subpar goods to unaware clients.

So why does overfishing occur? We shall examine a number of the elements that contribute to overfishing, but from a high perspective, they are as follows:

  • Regulation: Even when they are correctly written, which they sometimes are not, regulations are very challenging to enforce. In international seas, which are essentially a Wild West, the worst offenders have few restrictions in place, and none of these regulations apply there.
  • Unreported Fishing: Many fishermen are forced to fish "off the books" in order to make a profit by current restrictions. Particularly in developing countries, this is true.
  • Mobile Processing: Before the fish is even brought back to port, mobile processing is used. Even though they are at sea, they are canned. The market for fish consumption is rapidly being dominated by canned fish at the expense of fresh fish.
  • Subdisides: Anyone who is familiar with farm subsidies is aware of how detrimental they are to the production of wholesome foods. Fishing subsidies are comparable. They typically go to large ships engaged in fuel-intensive shipping rather than small fishermen, who one would assume would be the ones that need them the most.

Furthermore, subsidies promote overfishing because the money keeps coming in regardless of what is caught; there are no caps influenced by fishing regulations with regard to environmental damage.

The World Wildlife Fund claims that subsidies do in fact encourage illegal fishing, which is strongly related to piracy, slavery, and human trafficking. In a study done by the University of British Columbia, it was shown that $22 billion, or 63% of all fishing subsidies, went to support overfishing.

Government subsidies are, unsurprisingly, the biggest cause of overfishing among these. Therefore, it is worthwhile to set that apart from the rest of these concerns and give it some extra time.

More on Overfishing and Government Subsidies

The overfishing is fueled by extremely profitable subsidies: Every year, the governments of the world give away more than $35 billion to fisherman. That represents around 20% of the annual value of all fish that is commercially captured worldwide. Subsidies are frequently used to lower the costs faced by megafishing firms, such as covering the cost of their enormous fuel budgets, the equipment required to harvest fish, or even the vessels themselves.

This essentially favors large commercial fishing enterprises over their smaller rivals by allowing them to enter the market or recapitalize at rates that are much lower than those of the market.

The main cause of overfishing and unsustainable fishing methods is this advantage that big, mega-fishing firms enjoy. This has some benefits for consumers but makes it much more difficult for smaller companies to produce a profit. The final effect is not just decreased populations but also lower yields owing to long-term overfishing and lower costs of fish at market.

What Role Do Farmed Fish Play?

Today, we take farm-raised fish for granted, yet this practice is an innovative way to get fish out of the sea and onto our dinner plates. It was initially thought of as a means of protecting the wild fish population. The idea was that while the wild stock restocked, we could eat fish from fish farming.

Communities affected by overfishing would also discover new sources of revenue in a market that was becoming more competitive. The protein requirements of developing nations would be satisfied in a way that didn't harm the environment. It was seen as a significant victory that was simple for everyone.

As is frequently the case, the truth was a little bit different. It turns out that housing large numbers of fish in confined spaces away from their natural habitat has a lot of negative effects. The surroundings of fish farms start to become contaminated by waste materials, mostly fish waste, surplus food, and dead fish. Additionally, because of the large numbers of fish present as well as the parasites and diseases that thrive in these types of environments, fish farms, like other factory farms, require a lot of pesticides and medications.

Naturally, the chemicals that are utilized to make farmed fish conceivable are not contained in such locations. They spread into the nearby seas before simply assimilating into the global water supply and accumulating over time. In many cases, farmed fish are farmed in areas that are already heavily polluted. This is where the advice to limit your seafood consumption due to concerns over toxins like mercury originated.

Additionally, there are other fish living in the fisheries besides the ones we eat. The fish that humans want to eat are frequently carnivores, which require a lot of other fish to grow to the right size to be sold. These fish, also referred to as "reduction fish" or "garbage fish," need to be treated similarly to the larger fish they feed.

In total, 26 pounds of feed are required to produce just one pound of tuna, making farmed fishing a very inefficient method of supplying the market with food. Indeed, compared to 7.7 percent in 1948, 37 percent of all seafood consumed globally today is used as fish feed.

Worst of all, farmed fish lack nearly all of the Omega-3 fatty acids that make fish such a treasured component of the modern diet, making them nutritionally inferior to their wild counterparts.

For instance, salmon is only wholesome when it is taken in the wild. Salmon that is farmed is simply junk food. This is mostly because fish in fish farms are fed a diet that is heavy in fat, genetically modified, and uses soy as the main source of protein. Salmon's fatty tissue is where the toxins from the farms concentrate. Eight times more of the dangerous chemical PCB is present in farmed fish than in salmon that is usually caught in the wild.

Of fact, pesticides are employed for a reason—the abundance of pests brought on by the large fish concentrations in fisheries. These pests, which may consume a live salmon down to the bone, include sea lice.

These pests swiftly move to the nearby waters and infect both wild and farmed salmon, leaving the fisheries where they originated. Not only pests but even farmed fish frequently escape from their environments, competing with native fish for food and become invasive species.

The amount of subsidies varies from nation to nation, and it is typically difficult to obtain precise figures on how much goes to fish farms. However, fish farms effectively shift the overfishing issue away from the open waters and toward more confined spaces. This does not address any of the overfishing issues. Simply said, it just produces more of them, with no less impact on the environment.

Which Countries Are Overfishing?

As previously mentioned, developed nations from the rest of the world and portions of Asia are more often than not the worst offenders rather than developed Western nations. Sadly, the only country from the West to be included on Pew Charitable Trusts' "shame list" is the United States. The Pacific Six are those individuals. Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea, and Indonesia are among the other members.

The list solely mentions overfishing in relation to bluefin tuna, however it offers a general picture of overfishing on a global scale. According to overfishing statistics, these six nations fish 80% of the bluefin tuna in the globe. In 2011, these nations removed 111,482 metric tons of bluefin tuna from the ocean.

China, however, stands out as the top in detrimental subsidies. In 2018, China supplied $7.2 billion, or roughly 21% of total global support, in the form of damaging subsidies that encourage overfishing, according to a University of British Columbia study. Furthermore, the amount of subsidies that are useful compared to harmful decreased by 73 percent.

The detrimental impacts of overfishing are not occurring in a remote location or in an extremely abstract manner. Communities in the United States are collapsing because of them. Early in the 1990s, overfishing of cod in New England led to the demise of entire villages. It is quite challenging to undo this once it has occurred. The marine ecosystem is affected, as well as the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing.

The Japanese fish market is another illustration of economic volatility. Because Japanese fisherman are able to catch far less fish than they once could, the Japanese are now consuming more imported seafood than ever before, frequently from the United States. As a result, America sells the majority of its best salmon to foreign nations while consuming some of the poorest fish produced today.

Just How Bad Is Overfishing?

Would you say that overfishing couldn't really be that awful, can it? The oceans are simply teeming with fish, and it would take a very long time for us to overfish them to the point where they started to completely vanish.

Think again. The amount of overfishing is unsustainable from a biological standpoint. The population of the fish species mentioned in the section above, the Pacific bluefin tuna, has decreased by 97% overall. This is significant because one of the most significant predators in the ocean food chain is the Pacific bluefin tuna. The entire aquaculture will be irrevocably harmed if it becomes extinct.

Larger fish with longer lifespans and later sexual maturity are the first fish to vanish from an ecosystem. These fish are also the most sought-after ones available for sale. The damaging fishing practices just shift down the food chain to less desired species like squid and sardines when these fish disappear. This process, known as "fishing down the web," gradually kills the entire ecosystem by removing both the prey and the predator fish.

Beyond only the fish, the ecology as a whole is affected, with repercussions felt in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The algae that develops on coral reefs is eaten by many of the smaller fish. When these fish are overfished, the algae gets out of control, harming the reefs. This severely disrupts the ocean ecology by robbing numerous marine life forms of their native habitat.

What Are Some Alternatives to Government-Driven Overfishing?

Even though there are undoubtedly political solutions to the widespread overfishing, not all of them will come from the state. For instance, there are new technology developments that will reduce the prevalence and harm of bycatching and other types of garbage.

Simple improvements that build on existing technologies, like Fishtek Marine, aim to protect marine mammals from being caught in the nets of commercial fisherman while also boosting profit margins for these businesses. Small and affordable, their technology does not place an excessive strain on either huge commercial fishing vessels or small fishermen trying to make a living in a competitive market.

We must also admit that the laws as they are are ineffective. In one extreme instance, fishing for specific types of tuna was prohibited three days a year. The large commercial fishing corporations simply used techniques to harvest as many fish in three days as they were previously getting in a whole year, which had no effect whatsoever on the population of tuna.

As a result, there was more bycatch and garbage produced. The shortened fishing season favored quantity over quality with predictable effects because the fishing operations lacked the luxury of time to guarantee that they were only capturing what they intended to catch.

The "individual transferable quota" system, which is adopted by New Zealand and many other nations, does not appear to function as intended for a variety of reasons. First off, as the name might imply, these quotas are transferrable. This implies that rather than starting their own business and starting over, small-scale fishers may think it would be preferable to simply sell their quota to a huge commercial fishing enterprise.

Generally, quotas appear to be a cause of waste more broadly. Here is how they function: A certain amount of a particular type of fish from a specific tonnage is allotted to a fishing operation. But not all fish are made the same. Therefore, when commercial fishing enterprises examine their catch and discover that some of it is of higher quality than others, they throw away the lower-quality fish in favor of the higher-quality fish, resulting in significant waste. Sometimes, these discards account for 40% of the catch.

A system that strikes a balance between the need for fish as a source of protein for the entire world and a long-term perspective on the ecosystem, planning for having as many fish as there are today, and thereby a sustainable model for feeding the world and creating jobs, would be an improvement over the current one. Instead of just handing cheques to major commercial fishing enterprises to fund the construction of new boats and the purchase of new equipment, one approach to do this would be to link subsidies to conservation and sustainability initiatives. A similar plan would favor smaller-scale businesses over larger ones. Fish from a wider variety of sources would likewise be more hardy.

Territorial use rights in fisheries management is one such approach (TURF). In this instance, individual fishermen or groups of fishermen are given perpetual licenses to fish in a certain area. They have a stake in the outcome because of this. Because doing so would kill the goose that laid the golden egg, they don't want to overfish the area. As a result, they only catch as many fish as is sustainable. They have a stake in preventing overfishing in the fisheries that have been assigned to them and a long-term interest in doing so.

This not only increases the appeal of sustainable fishing, but it also means that less red tape and bureaucracy are involved. Fishermen using TURF are free to take as much fish as they like. Since the fishermen with rights wish to protect the fishery for the next generation and those after it, it is considered that sustainability is built into the equation. Chile, one of the nations with the highest levels of economic freedom (higher, in fact, than the United States), has employed this strategy to combat overfishing and promote sustainability. It is a market-driven paradigm that favors modest producers with stakes in the outcome over large, impersonal multinational conglomerates.

Other nations that have employed TURF are having overwhelmingly beneficial outcomes, those countries include Belize, Denmark, and even the United States.

While it's good to back small-scale fishing over big-scale, and we undoubtedly support sustainability and conservation initiatives, there is another, arguably more crucial, and immediate reason to back changes meant to end overfishing: food security. For instance, bluefin tuna will not reappear after it becomes extinct. That indicates that there won't be any more tuna cans on the supermarket's shelves.

That's a major thing for citizens of wealthy, first-world nations, but it's even bigger for citizens of emerging nations. There will be fiercer competition for the remaining resources once the world's major protein sources have been permanently depleted. Additionally, this causes dissatisfaction in nations that lack the resources and capacity to compete on a global basis. Even if you are not worried about overfishing, unless action is taken before it is too late, overfishing and the issues it causes will soon arrive at your door.


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