The ocean is big, but humans have a huge impact on its health
Oceans cover about 70% of the planet. You might wrongly assume that oceans are so big that nothing, not even human actions could hurt them. Health of the oceans however goes hand in hand with sustaining life on land. For that reason, overfishing of the fish population really is a problem which should be taken seriously. It’s one of the biggest threats to the ocean biodiversity. Since 1970, the amount of fish in the oceans has decreased by 50%. Scientists have estimated that if humans continue to overfish, all fish stocks will be totally collapsed by 2048.
What is overfishing and why consumer demand must go down
Let’s put it really simple; it means that fish are caught from the oceans at such a fast pace that the fish population doesn’t have time to recuperate (or they’re already too depleted to do so). Demand for fish is simply too high. Due to vast demand, there are too many huge commercial vessels, (and many illegal fishing boats), catching fish in an unsustainable matter. The fishing rate outpaces natural preproduction, which leads to fish stocks eventually being too depleted to recover, and eventually drives the species to extinction.
Overfishing is something that can’t be maintained if you’d like to see the oceans lively and healthy in the future. Even if you don’t go into the oceans yourself, if you simply want to keep eating some fish now and then, things need to change.
Avoiding the effects of overfishing by encouraging local fishing operations
There are 192 countries that border the oceans. Many small coastal communities and millions of people rely entirely on oceans to survive. Also, fish is the main part of a diet for more than three billion people. The people in these coastal communities shouldn’t need to abandon their livelihood and main food source because of poorly regulated fishing methods elsewhere. Those communities tend to have more sustainable way of fishing anyway because they are not big money operations. They don’t pay for huge industrial vessels to haul fish for them. It’s the commercial vessels that create the biggest problem because sustainability is not exactly high on their priority list. On the other end, smaller scale fishing, when well regulated, can be sustainable.
What is bottom trawling?
Overfishing not only affects the fish you eat, it affects the whole ecosystem. Many sea creatures, like dolphins, seabirds and corals are suffering and dying because of harmful, illegal and unregulated fishing practices.
Bottom trawling is the fishing method that causes the most harm to the aquatic world. The way it works is by dragging a weighted net across the sea floor. This catches every creature in its track and causes massive habitat destruction. They end up pulling out a lot of non-target species, which is called by-catch. Juvenile fish get killed before they reach maturity and are able reproduce. Unwanted fish, dead or dying, are just thrown back to the sea. Needless to say, that’s a hugely wasteful way to operate.
A lot of eatable fish get discarded just because they need all the space on the boat for the current target species. Fish stocks aren’t unlimited. A lot of harm and (food) waste is already created before you buy the “end product.”
Fishing contributes to the plastic problem in the ocean too
Have you ever thought that fishing also actually contributes to the ocean plastic problem? Everyone knows that plastic pollution is a huge issue and that you should reduce your plastic consumption. In landfills, plastic items can take up to a thousand years to decompose. In water, it takes at least 400 years to degrade.
It’s estimated that fishing gear makes up 10% of all marine debris and more than 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost or dumped in the sea every year. These ‘ghost-gears’ nets, lines and traps, which are abandoned in the oceans aren’t only a plastic pollutant but also causes entanglement and death of a lot of marine species. For decades they remain in the oceans causing destruction. Oceans can’t be treated as garbage cans.
Why is it important to make a change and leave overfishing behind
The ocean ecosystem is the driving force of the planet. Humans need water and oxygen, hence we need oceans. Marine plants produce 70 percent of the earth’s oxygen. Oceans also absorb roughly 30 percent of all the CO² emissions produced by humans. Overconsumption has its price and human actions can make a big impact on certain ecologies that are easy to ignore. Fisheries can actually collapse and the food crisis will be real if we keep going like this.
Time to consider what role we all have in this crisis
As a diver, you go to enjoy the ocean playground and admire the beautiful aquatic life within. If in the next moment, these beautiful creatures are on your lunch plate, isn’t that a bit phony? Maybe you would never eat a turtle, a manta ray or a shark, because you like to admire them in the wild while diving. You might already realize that they are under a threat. Shark finning, turtle poaching and demand for manta ray gills are problems that shouldn’t be ignored. However, the less beautiful fish (the ones that tend to end up on a plate) have important functions in the ocean as well. Unfortunately none of them can outstrip these fishing vessels and their big nets.
Did you know that beautiful coral reef fish like humphead wrasse are severely overfished and on the endangered species list of CITES? Market price is high and people just see dollars in their eyes. This is the kind of thing that must change and it will happen if you vote with your dollars.
Where can we make improvements and reduce this environmental pressure?
Poorly managed fisheries, illegal fishing and by-catch are the problems which need to be tackled to fight overfishing. There need to be more laws and regulations, more surveillance and monitoring, and obviously less demand for fish in order for our oceans to revive and survive. More marine protected areas need to be established for the oceans to recover and thrive again. Only less than one percent of the oceans are currently protected from any kind of fishing. Bottom trawling should be banned, so that less harmful methods can take their place in the industry.
As a consumer, you should consider more about your food choices and where the fish on your plate come from. Be more selective. Think about the fish species and go for more abundant ones. Eating only sustainable, locally caught seafood could also be a good way to start. There are ‘sustainable seafood guides’ you could download to help you to get started. You might also give a thought about eating less seafood or giving it up completely (you don’t need all that mercury and micro-plastic in your system anyways!).
We are a PADI dive center in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia offering daily dive trips to the Komodo National Park. The PADI courses available include Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, EFR, Divemaster and Sidemount. Join us for an unforgettable experience diving in one of the top dive destinations in the world!