I am sure you have heard of the saying, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea.” Well, unfortunately that is not the case any more. Each year our oceans are losing more and more of our underwater friends. This is all due to overfishing, and is sure have a long-lasting impact on the future of our oceans and our everyday lives. Fortunately, we are now creating measures to restrict our fishing practices, but it may be a case of too little too late. Let’s hope not.
Overfishing is simply the process of taking too much wildlife (fish) from the ocean at too fast of a pace for the fish species to breed and replace themselves. It was first recognized as far back as the beginning of the 1800’s when humans all over the world almost completely killed the whale populations. This was all caused by the need for whale blubber to use as oil for lamps. In the 1950’s and 60’s it reared its ugly head again. Back then, some of the popular fish we eat today, like Atlantic cod, California sardines, and herring were almost fished to extinction as well.
Unfortunately, these once regional cases have now ballooned into the global problem that we are experiencing today. The growing population is thirsting for more fish and sea creatures than the ocean can provide, and if we keep fishing like we are now many fish species will become extinct.
Marine biologists and scientists can pinpoint when this widespread commercial fishing began. They also have the ability to tell us when it will end if we do nothing to address the issue. Unfortunately, if we keep fishing like we are now, that time could come rather soon.
During the mid-1900’s governments all over the world were concerned about the growing global population and thought we needed to increase the supply of protein-rich sea creatures for people to eat. This led to the approval of big loans and pro-fishing policies that allowed the rapid spawning of huge industrial fishing operations. Before this time, most of the fish caught in our oceans were from local fisherman with small boats. They did not catch the huge quantities that these new fishing operations were now capable of. So, instead of a group of local fisherman supplying fish for their region, now huge vessels were catching fish for the entire world to eat.
These new large commercial fleets were run by businessmen, not local fishers, who were concerned with nothing but profits. This meant they were extremely aggressive in their fishing methods. They scoured the world’s oceans creating new ways for finding, catching, and processing whatever type of fish they were after. Before you know it, people all over the world became used to being able to eat any type of fish they wanted at much cheaper prices.
The commercial fishing industry hit its high in 1989, but fish numbers have been decreasing ever since. In fact, a report produced in 2003 showed that there were now only 1/10th as many large fish in the oceans and much less plankton than there were prior to the modern industrial era.
The rapid decline of the world’s fish populations has caused modern commercial fishermen to fish much deeper down in the oceans to catch fish farther and farther down the food chain. This “fishing down” is disrupting the delicate balance of marine biodiversity, plankton levels, and the ocean’s sea creatures. In 2006, the Journal of Science predicted that all the large fisheries of the world will collapse by 2048 if fishing rates continued like they are. The declining number of fish in our oceans over the last 50 years has led to the realization that the oceans we thought were vast and contained unlimited life are actually very sensitive and highly vulnerable.
Some scientists believe marine ecosystems and marine biodiversity could be restored with more aggressive management of fisheries, more laws regarding commercial fishing, and better enforcement of those laws. They also propose the rapid increase of aquaculture in order to lessen the need for fishing the oceans. Aquaculture is the process of breeding and raising fish in controlled simulated natural environments, or fish farming.
Overfishing is still a major problem however. A world full of people who have grown accustomed to an abundance of seafood choices and a general lack of caring about the difficult problems marine ecosystems are facing only makes it more difficult to restore the oceans to their once bountiful glory.