Overfishing: The Negative Impact on the environment

Overfishing: The Negative Impact on the Environment

Fishing is a prehistoric practice that can be dated back at least 40,000 years. Our ever growing population has resulted in overfishing. We’re on a fishing frenzy and we need to stop. There are just too many people on this planet for us all to be big meat eaters. One trillion fish are slaughtered each year for human consumption. Therefore, marine ecosystems are suffering massively as a result of growing demand. We’re about to delve into the deep blue and pull apart just how harmful fishing is to our environment.

negative impact of over fishing on the environment

What is the impact of overfishing?

Firstly, what does the term ‘overfishing’ mean? According to the oxford dictionary, it is to deplete the stock of fish in excess.

definition of overfishing

“Overfishing is the removal of a species of fish from a body of water at a rate that the species cannot replenish, resulting in those species becoming underpopulated in that area” Wikipedia, 2020

Overfishing, in layman’s terms, is the over-exploitation of our marine ecosystems. We exploit fish populations because we don’t give them enough time to repopulate at a healthy rate. Fishing has several negative physiological and psychological effects on fish. These include increased stress levels and bodily injuries resulting from lodged fish hooks. If we continue to fish at the rate we are currently, our fish friends will cease to exist.

over-exploitation of the marine ecosystems with fishing nets

What species are at high risk of extinction due to overfishing?

There are many species in our oceans subject to risk from overfishing. Many include predators of the sea. Monkfish, rays, all sharks, and Bluefin Tuna are particularly high risk. Other animals, not usually associated with the seafood industry, are also affected. Bycatching is the unintentional capture of other species such as loggerhead turtles, sharks, dolphins and whales. Species getting stuck in nets is directly caused by overfishing (larger nets means there’s higher chance of this).

high risk of extinction of species due to overfishing

Bluefin Tuna:
Bluefin tuna at risk of extinction due to overfishing
HowStuffWorks (2020)

Our love for eating tuna has resulting in these beautiful giants being at risk of dying out. Bluefin tuna can live up to 40 years old! Weighing up to 2000 pounds (900 kg) and measuring nearly 15 feet (4.6 m) in length.

Why are Bluefin tuna so important? As a top predator, they play a huge role within the marine life food chain. This helps maintains a balance in the ocean environment. The Bluefin tuna is at high risk of extinction because of commercial fishing and a large consumer demand, especially in Asian markets.

Bluefin tuna are not bred in captivity. Consumer demand does not match up with their natural breeding rate. As a result Bluefin tuna is very expensive to consume. This is also why illegal fishing plays such a huge problem when fishing for Bluefin.

Scallop Hammerhead Sharks:
Scallop Hammerhead Sharks at risk of extinction
(Jha, 2008)

Sharks are at the top of the list of species that could go exist in our lifetime. According to the guardian, “shark numbers can become depleted very quickly because they take a long time to mature – 16 years in the case of a scalloped hammerhead”

This explains why extensive fishing has caused a such a decline in shark populations across the world. There is particular appetite for shark fins, commonly in China. They are very highly priced which means a big pay out. This decline has an overall impact on marine life. Less predators in the ocean will shift the entire marine ecosystem.

Current fishing pressure i.e. consumer demand, lack of management strategies and high rates of capture, poses a real threat to the species. The scallop hammerhead is also often misidentified. Grouped together with other similar species which offers an even bigger threat of being captured unintentionally.

Winter Skate:
Winter Skate at risk of extinction due to overfishing
Winter Skate by Andrew J. Martinez (HowStuffWorks, 2020)

Winter skate are harvested for human consumption, for the meat in their wings. Although not currently overfished, they are often caught whilst fisherman are searching for other species. They are therefore considered an endangered species. They take a long time (11 to 12 years) to become old enough to reproduce and produce a few young at a time. Thus their population grows slowly and is vulnerable to exploitation. They could be “one the first marine fish driven to extinction by commercial fishing” according to the Houston Press. It would take a considerably long time for them to recover from overfishing.

What is the impact of bottom trawling?

“Bottom trawling is a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor, in an effort to catch fish. It’s a favoured method by commercial fishing companies because it can catch large quantities of product in one go.” – GreenPeace

Fishing methods such as bottom trawling impact sea-floor habitats. Equipment is heavy and large so has the ability to cause quite a lot of damage. Deep-sea corals are especially impacted by bottom trawling. Coral beds are the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Vital homes not just for the communities of fish, starfish, crabs, sea urchins, brittle stars, mollusks, sponges, and worms that live there, but also thought to be vital stop off points for migratory species like whales. ”About 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs.” – NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.

impact of bottom trawling

Coral reefs play such an important role in protecting coastlines from storms, providing jobs for local communities and are even used in new medicine. Coral has extreme economical value and cultural importance to indigenous people. Particularly with tourist attractions, such as snorkelling and diving. These tourists provide millions to local communities and businesses. Without coral these attractions would fizzle out indefinitely.

How does climate change play it’s part?

Of course, climate change plays deeply into all of this. Without our oceans we simple cannot survive. Providing over half of our worlds oxygen, absorbing 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere, the ocean is the vessel to regulating our earths climate.

Impact of climate change on the world ocean

Let’s not forget that climate change is also the greatest threat to our coral ecosystems. As our ocean become warmer, more and more beautiful coral reefs are being destroyed. Unsustainable fishing practices such as bottom trawling add another element to an already tremendous problem. It has a large bycatch rate which is why this is such destructive impact. Anything not intended to be caught will be discarded back into the sea, dead or dying. Here is a petition to BAN BOTTOM TRAWLING ON SEAMOUNTS.

impact of climate change on coral reefs

What can we do to lessen our impact on our marine life?

  • Buy sustainable seafood, eat less fish or keep it off your plate altogether! Remember the fishing industry relies solely on supply and demand. If you demand they will supply. SAY NO! As we’ve proven you can obtain omega-3 from algae oil so there no need to harm the middle man (fish).
  • Don’t buy or gift coral souvenirs. This include jewellery made from coral reef. This is yet another reason for the decline in coral. Coral is already a gift of nature. Let’s leave it where is belongs for us all to enjoy!
  • Reduce waste, especially plastic pollution. Dispose of it properly so it doesn’t even up in the ocean and harm marine life.

In summary, there are plenty of actions we can take in order to help save our oceans. From reducing our plastic to simply leaving fish off our plates. Above all, this is not to dismiss the livelihood for fisherman but the excessive exploitation needs to stop. The greed we have for the industry is what keeps it going.