Overfishing is one of the greatest threats to our ocean’s ecosystems. It occurs when fish are captured at a faster rate than they can reproduce and replenish — the breeding population becomes too dispersed and sparse to be able to recover from the loss.
Many commercial fishing industries are to blame for this threat because they often waste much of what they catch. When they cast nets or use other methods to catch fish, any other unwanted seafood captured is discarded rather than put back into the ocean.
Overfishing isn’t a new phenomenon. It dates back to the 1800s, when people realized that they could use whale blubber as oil for lamps. Sailors began to prey on whales, endangering them. Today, overfishing represents a threat that must be dealt with before more ecological damage is done.
Primary Causes of Overfishing
Typically, poor management in the industry is the cause of overfishing. Some fisheries don’t have many rules or regulations to follow, or they choose not to listen to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) guidelines. Hence, the workers do whatever they can to catch a certain amount of fish. However, increased demand for seafood has also led to overfishing.
In the past, overfishing didn’t occur because fishermen couldn’t access the vast number of locations fisheries can now. Also, their boats were smaller, so they could only fit a certain amount of fish in their vessels. Large factory ships have since replaced those boats. Plus, advancements in technology have provided fisheries with sonar and global position systems (GPS) to locate massive schools of fish.
Additionally, larger nets, hooks and machines can reach deeper depths and can hold thousands of pounds of fish. Plus, the ships can freeze seafood on-site, so they don’t have to return to the base until the freezers are full.
Illegal fishing is also to blame for overfishing. People try to find rare species to get a high price for them. The illegally caught fish often cannot be traced.
Threats of Overfishing to the United States
What threat does overfishing pose to the United States? Fish populations are declining, which means there’s not as much available for consumption. On average, an American eats at least 16 pounds of fish every year. This number continues to rise, though.
Fish is a staple food throughout the country. Those that eat it or have a specific diet requiring them to consume more seafood than other proteins will be in for a shock when prices rise and availability declines.
Overfishing threatens more than the American diet, however. Those who look to the seas daily as a means of income are also affected by overfishing. Although many anglers practice sustainable seafood gathering methods, overfishing still exists, and it hurts those that rely on the ocean to provide for their families.
Fisheries lining the coasts support nearly 2 million jobs. Lower fish populations mean the number of available positions will decline, putting more Americans at risk for unemployment. This also hurts the national economy since fishing is a $200 billion industry.
Industries Affected by Overfishing
The fishing industry affects other industries within the United States. Anglers aren’t the only ones who have issues with overfishing. Here are some other sectors that are directly or indirectly impacted by overfishing:
- Restaurants: Restaurants that sell seafood are affected by overfishing. Some have had to take various species off the menus, which decreases sales.
- Grocery stores: Grocery stores and supermarkets may not sell as much in the future if overfishing continues.
- Food production: The food production industry also relies on seafood, so as seafood populations dwindle due to overfishing, it will lose money.
- Charter boat excursions: Those who enjoy recreational fishing may decide to skip charter boat excursions if they aren’t allowed to fish for rare species.
- Tourism: Many tourist places border the oceans. However, the tourism industry could be affected because people won’t be able to try the seafood that can be found in these locations.
Other industries are affected by overfishing as well. Still, these examples provide a vast array of the economic sectors that may be hurt because fisheries decide to take in too many fish.
Environmental Issues With Overfishing
Besides the economic issues with overfishing, there are also environmental problems.
Overfishing can degrade entire ecosystems within the ocean. It affects the growth of fish and even how fast they can reproduce. The imbalance of predators and prey erodes the food web. Plus, habitats are obliterated due to the various methods of capture, like trawling and blast fishing.
Threatens Species Endangerment
Unfortunately, because ocean animals have a more challenging time reproducing without an array of potential mates, species can no longer breed to meet their original population. This has led to some fish becoming endangered or even on the verge of extinction. Some of these vulnerable species are different types of tuna and sea turtles.
Pollutes the Ocean
Marine debris left behind from fishing, such as traps and lines, can harm ocean life. Plus, plastic can break down into microplastics to further pollute even the deepest parts of the sea.
Antibiotics, pesticides and parasites also enter the ocean due to overfishing. Many of the fish captured in the sea are ones raised in fenced-off cages in the sea.
Kills Coral Reefs
One of the largest ecosystems — coral reefs — is threatened by overfishing. Unsustainable fishing on coral reefs depletes critical species. Fishing gear can damage coral, seagrass and other habitats that marine life creates.
Mitigating Overfishing for a Healthier Ocean and Planet
A large amount of the seafood collected goes to waste. Fortunately, there are some solutions to stop or at least mitigate the effects of overfishing. Sustainable fishing is one way to reverse the effects of overfishing. Those who love to consume seafood should carefully consider where their food comes from, ensuring that it wasn’t from a fishery that uses damaging practices.
Additionally, fishermen can speak out about overfishing and only take what they need. Plus, they can follow the guidelines for fishing established by NOAA.
Those who care about the oceans and environment can spread awareness about overfishing. Although many environmental problems exist, this is one that often gets overlooked. Speaking out about illegal fishing and protecting marine areas can slow the damage.
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