The Problem of Overfishing and the Need for Proper Fisheries Management
Overfishing is a major problem globally as it leads to the depletion of fish stocks, which provides food and livelihoods for millions of people. The problem of overfishing has been caused by various factors, such as population growth, increasing fish demand due to rising income and population growth, government subsidies, and declining fish stocks. Overfishing has impacts on ecosystems, species and livelihoods. In order to conserve fish stocks, proper fisheries management is needed, as well as reducing consumer demand for overexploited species and changing subsidies to stop hurting fisheries.
2. The Problem of Overfishing
2.1 Types of Overfishing
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), overfishing is defined as “the catch of fish in excess of what is considered sustainable” (FAO, 2018). There are three main types of overfishing: High-grading, catching juvenile fish, andBycatch.
– High-grading is when fishermen catch only the largest and most valuable fish, discarding the smaller ones. This practice leads to the depletion of breeding stock and decrease in genetic diversity which makes populations more vulnerable to diseases and climate change. Furthermore, it can take decades for these high-graded areas to recover (World Wildlife Fund [WWF], 2016).
– Catching juvenile fish decreases the number of adult fish that can be caught in the future as they have not had a chance to reproduce yet. This type of overfishing often happens with shrimp trawling where small fish and other animals are caught along with shrimp (WWF, 2016).
– Bycatch is when fishermen unintentionally catch other marine species or animals that they do not want while fishing for their target species. This often happens with longline fishing where hooks intended for tuna end up catching dolphins, turtles, and sharks instead (WWF, 2016). Not only does this type of overfishing lead to death among these non-targeted species, but it also hurts the reproductive potential of the target species as well (Watson et al., 2001).
2. 2 The Need for Management
The need for management arises from the increased pressure on fisheries from human activity. According to an assessment by the FAO in 2013, over 31 percent of fish stocks were being fished at biologically unsustainable levels (FAO, 2013). In order to prevent further decline in fish stocks and allow them to recover and rebuild, proper management through regulations is necessary (Watson et al., 2001). Regulations on fishing need to consider factors such as the type of gear being used, how many boats are allowed in an area, what size limit there should be on catches, and what season is best to close an area off to fishing altogether (Watson et al., 2001). Proper management can help reduce bycatch rates by 60-90 percent (Watson et al., 2001). Management actions need to take into account the entire ecosystem in order to be successful. This means taking into consideration not just the target species being fished, but all the other species that could be impacted by fishing activities as well (Worm et al., 2009). Efforts have been made globally to reduce overfishing through management. For example, in 2006 the United States passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act which set strict quotas and fishing seasons in order to rebuilding overfished stocks (Worm et al., 2009). As a result of this act, seven out of the thirteen fish stocks that were overfished in the US have been rebuilt as of 2016 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], 2016).
3. Causes of Overfishing
3.1 Population Growth
One of the main drivers of overfishing is population growth. As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the demand for fish. In 1950, the world’s population was 2.5 billion people and it is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 (United Nations [UN], 2015). This increase in population will lead to an increase in the demand for fish which could potentially lead to more overfishing (Worm et al., 2009).
3. 2 Increasing Fish Demand due to rising Income and Population Growth
Not only is population growth a driver of fish demand, but so is economic growth. As incomes rise, people have more money to spend on fish and other seafood products. In addition, as populations continue to grow in cities, there is an increased demand for fish as a source of protein (Worm et al., 2009). The global per capita consumption of fish has more than doubled since the 1960s from 9.9 kilograms in 1961 to 20.2 kilograms in 2014 (FAO, 2016). This trend is expected to continue as incomes rise and populations grow (Worm et al., 2009). Increasing fish demand due to population growth and economic development is one of the main drivers of overfishing (Worm et al., 2009).
3. 3 Government Subsidies
Another cause of overfishing are government subsidies. Subsidies are financial assistance given by the government to fishermen which can take on various forms such as fuel subsidies, subsidies for fishing vessels, or subsidies for catches (Worm et al., 2009). Subsidies act as an incentive for fishermen to keep fishing even when fish stocks are low because they lower the costs associated with fishing (Worm et al., 2009). As a result, subsidies can contribute to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks (Worm et al., 2009). It has been estimated that government subsidies account for between 20 and 30 percent of the total value of fisheries globally (Worm et al., 2009; FAO, 2011). In order to stop subsidizing overfishing, governments need to reform their subsidy programs and redirect them towards activities that would help reduce pressure on fisheries such as investing in science and data collection or promoting sustainable aquaculture (Worm et al., 2009; FAO, 2011).
3. 4 Declining Fish Stocks
Declining fish stocks is another cause of overfishing. When fish stocks decline, fishermen are forced to either move to new areas or change their fishing methods in order to catch fish (Worm et al., 2009). This can lead to overexploitation of other areas or species which can further contribute to declining fish stocks and ultimately lead to more overfishing (Worm et al., 2009). The problem of declining fish stocks is often a result of overexploitation due topopulation growth and economic development (Worm et al., 2009). As the demand for fish increases, fishermen are often forced to fish in areas that are beyond their traditional fishing grounds or employ more destructive fishing methods in order to catch fish (Worm et al., 2009). This can lead to the depletion of fish stocks which then leads to more overfishing in an attempt to catch fish.
4. Overfishing Impacts on Ecosystems, Species and Livelihoods
Overfishing can have a negative impact on ecosystems. When fish stocks decline, it can cause a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem as other species that depend on fish for food are impacted (Worm et al., 2009). For example, when a predator’s main food source declines, it can lead to a decline in the predator population which can then have impacts on the prey population (Worm et al., 2009). This can lead to a decline in biodiversity and an overall decrease in the productivity of the ecosystem (Worm et al., 2009). In addition, overfishing can also lead to habitat destruction as a result of fishing activities such as trawling (Worm et al., 2009). This can further damage ecosystems and make them less productive.
4. 2 Species
Overfishing not only impacts ecosystems, but it also impacts species. When fish stocks decline, it can put whole species at risk of extinction (Worm et al., 2009). For example, the Atlantic bluefin tuna has been overexploited to such an extent that its population has declined by 96 percent since 1950 (Worm et al., 2009). As a result, the Atlantic bluefin tuna is now considered an endangered species. In addition to putting whole species at risk of extinction, overfishing can also lead to a decline in the size and age of fish (Worm et al., 2009). This is because when fishermen catch juvenile fish or fish of reproductive age, it decreases the number of fish that can be caught in the future as they have not had a chance to reproduce yet. As a result, over time, the average size and age of fish caught will decline (Worm et al., 2009).
4. 3 Livelihoods
Overfishing not only impacts ecosystems and species, but it also impacts livelihoods. For millions of people around the world, fishing is their main source of income and food (Worm et al., 2009). When fish stocks decline, it can lead to job losses and poverty as people are forced to find other ways to make a living (Worm et al., 2009). In addition, overfishing can also lead to high prices for fish as a result of decreased supply and increased demand (Worm et al., 2009). This makes it difficult for people who rely on fish for their livelihoods to afford it. As a result, overfishing not only impacts ecosystems and species, but also the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.
5. Towards Conservation: End Overfishing and Restore Fish Stocks to Healthy Levels
5. 1 Proper Fisheries Management
In order to conserve fish stocks and end overfishing, proper fisheries management is needed. This includes setting quotas, closed seasons, and limits on the number of boats and size of catches.
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