The ocean used to be considered an endless source of valuable resources such as food. Due to its size nobody could have ever imagined that we could even have an impact on the stocks. Now we know this to be untrue but it doesn’t stop people from taking as much as possible. To understand why, we have to consider the reasons why people take and take, even though they may know of the impact that they are having on the ecosystem.
Without a doubt poverty plays a huge part in overfishing. There are many parts of the world where fishing is the only income for people living in remote areas. The Bay of Ranobe in South West Madagascar is home to a huge barrier reef. It extends the entire length of the bay, around 35 km and goes out as far as 3 or 4 km in some places. There are thousands of people living in villages that run along the coastline of the bay. This is a very remote area, with no medical clinics, or no transport options. The only thing the villagers can do to sustain a living is to fish. They may sell the fish or just cook it to feed themselves and their families. The problem is that as the population continues to grow more fish need to be taken from the bay. Now we have more mouths to feed, and less fish to feed them! This then makes people resort to new, more destructive ways of fishing. This could include dynamite fishing, seining (dragging nets) or poisoning the water. These methods are indiscriminate, taking everything out of the water, and also destroying the reef at the same time. In many parts of the world the skeletons of such reefs are a grim reminder of the desperation of local fisherman to sustain a living and keep themselves and their family’s fed. The reefs are reduced to piles of rubble, with no marine life in sight.
On the other end of the scale completely, wealth also plays a big part in overfishing, especially selective species. The highly prized blue fin tuna, which stocks are well known to be severely depleted is still heavily fished as eating its meat is seen as a status symbol. Similarly sharks are overfished in many parts of the world, sometimes for all the meat on the shark, but many times it is just for the fins. Shark fin soup is again a status symbol, indicating wealth and power. There are not specific shark species chosen for this meal, any shark fin will do, with the larger ones fetching a higher price. Some reports claim the fins of the vulnerable whale shark (the largest fish on the planet) can fetch up to $10,000. Often the fins are just cut off as soon as they have been caught, and the still living shark is thrown back into the sea where it will die painfully. This way the fishermen can carry more shark fins back to shore, as that is the only thing of real value on the creature. Luckily this practice is being stopped in many parts of the world, and many airlines are banning the commercial transport of shark fins. Although the problem is being addressed seriously, there is still a long way to go, with more evidence being revealed all the time of shark fins being dried by the tens of thousands.
Generally we all have our fish of choice when it comes to eating. This is presenting a huge problem for many fish stocks around the world. For instance in the UK fish and chips is a very popular fast food, especially during the summer holiday periods at the sea side. The most common fish chosen for this classic English dish is Cod, This fish is also very popular in Northern Europe and Scandinavia and the Cod stocks in the North Atlantic have been pushed to a point where it nearly collapsed not too long ago. Strict laws were put in place dictating the amount of Cod that could be fished in certain areas and luckily the stock levels are coming back. Despite the media describing the depleting stocks people still wanted it, not because they dislike the taste of other fish, but because that’s all many people know and are unwilling to try other fish. Since then, alternative fish have been pushed heavily such as Coly, Haddock and Whiting. Although Haddock proved to be very popular also, resulting in the stock levels depleting heavily. The only real solution to this problem is to change people’s eating attitudes and habits, many supermarkets have a sustainable fish guide which informs the consumer of what they should avoid buying to help maintain the stock levels.
It is very common in our culture for us to point the finger and blame others for the deleting fish in the oceans. We might say that it is disgusting for certain people to eat shark fins, or whales, or use dynamite to catch everything that lives down there. But at the same time we are pulling mass amounts of fish from the same patches of sea daily, we are dragging huge nets (trawling) across huge parts of the sea bed killing everything in its path just to get a few scallops, and we are laying tens of thousands of meters of baited line that will catch anything that goes for the bait. We are equally to blame for the oceans destruction. The only way to help protect our oceans is to educate others about the impact we are having, and imposing stricter laws. For the millions of people in the world who rely on fishing for a living need to be offered an alternative method for living such as Eco-tourism or aquaculture, which are both incredibly difficult to set up in many remote areas of the world. Luckily the younger generations are now being taught from a young age about the impact we have on the oceans and the planet in general, which will hopefully result with the future being full of people who are trying the repair the damage we have caused to our fragile planet.
‘Overfishing. A Global Issue’ was written by Mike