Some facts are so stark that they have the power to make us pause and think. At the current rate of fishing, all seafood will run out by 2050. That means no fish to eat for the generations who will follow us and the loss of a nutritious and delicious food source. While 2050 may still seem distant, what we do right now will influence whether this prediction will turn out to be true. Should we choose just to carry on as if there is no problem then we will responsible for this long-term damage to our fish stocks and the broader ecosystem of our oceans.
Fish remain an abundant natural resource. If we manage fishing properly it should be possible to protect fish stocks while still having supply available for the fishing industry to catch, process and distribute.
Overfishing means that the pace of catching a particular species of fish is such that it is unable to reproduce itself and either dies out completely or survives in only small numbers. There are all sorts of causes ranging from too many boats, increasingly sophisticated and bigger nets, and a failure by authorities to set and monitor sustainable fishing quotas.
There are other serious consequences from overfishing too. Techniques like deep-sea trawling are indiscriminate with what gets scraped from the ocean’s floor. Along with inappropriate netting, these methods lead to the catching, rejection and waste of many species as boats chase the expensive seafood which we want to see on our plates. Fishing in such an unsustainable way ties in closely with the issue of bycatch—the capture of unwanted sea life while trying to fish for a different species. This, too, is a serious marine threat that causes the pointless loss of billions of fish, along with countless sea turtles, whales, dolphins and porpoises.
As catches decline, the temptation is to fish even harder which only makes things worse for future stocks. So, we are sacrificing our ocean wildlife populations in the drive to catch more and more.
Of course, there is pressure on the incomes of fishing communities especially in poorer parts of the world. However, there needs to be a broader approach to this issue. We cannot just turn away from activities we know to be harmful to the marine environment.
The scale of overfishing has to concern us right now. Currently, we push around one third of the world’s fisheries beyond their capacity to replenish fish stocks. Overfishing has in fact tripled in just 50 years according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The damage done by overfishing is real indeed and extends far beyond the marine environment. Billions of people rely on fish for the protein they need and fishing is the main livelihood for communities around the world.
Work is happening within fishing communities to support conservation and sustainability. However, given the rate of catch it is just scratching at the surface of the problem. WWF is a key player and has an active programme to work with a range of stakeholders to think about fishing in a new and sustainable way. It is a tough challenge but one where success is essential. Getting it wrong will mean depleted ecosystems, empty oceans, damaged livelihoods and weaker food security. Something to ponder as you bite into your tuna…