The overfishing dilemma
We go fishing to catch fish and if we join we are happy to keep some food. But in some areas of the country we don’t seem to be able to find any fish and this is often due to overfishing.
But what exactly is overfishing? Overfishing catches too many fish at the same time, leaving the breeding population too depleted to recover. Water quality can be a real problem, but the main reason usually concerns the complex area of fisheries management. Many fisheries around the world have rules that make the problem worse. Some have no rules at all.
We are also part of the problem because we eat twice as much fish as we did 50 years ago! This demand means that 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are being pushed too far. In my home waters in the north-east Atlantic, for example, 39% of the species are overfished.
Here are four management problems that make it difficult and challenging to strike a balance.
1. The bottom trawl catches fish but destroys the seabed. Heavy nets, each weighing several tons, tear open the bottom and displace corals, sponges and other sensitive seabed types.
2. By-catch fishing problems. Bycatch is a term used in the fishing industry when fish species are accidentally caught while fishing for other target fish. The problem with controlling one species with trawlers or smugglers is that they will often capture other species that are essential to the food chain. By the time the transport is sorted, a large part of the by-catch dies, thereby changing the normal food chain. Turtles, dolphins, birds, sharks and even other fish are harmed.
3. Apex predators. Over the past 50 years, 90% of the oceans top predators such as sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish, marlin and king mackerel have been harvested. That’s not the problem, but the problem occurs when there is too large a population of smaller, plankton-eating fish that upset the remaining balance.
4. Overfishing has occurred for hundreds of years. Selected whales were harvested for bacon for lamp oil in the 1800s and for cod and herring in the mid-20th century. At one point, California sardines were near endangered.
Finding an overfishing solution is critical. We can help by catching and releasing and limiting the number of fish we harvest. Getting involved in conservation groups and research programs is another great way to help.
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Tom Keer is an award-winning writer living on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a contributing writer for Covey Rise magazine, a contributing editor for Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer is a regular contributor to over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics including fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor activities. When not fishing, Keer and his family hunt highland birds over their three English setters. His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast, was published in January 2011. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or www.thekeergroup.com.