In the first chapter we already discussed that globally fishing fleets are at least two to three times as large as needed to take present day catches of fish and other marine species. To explain why overfishing is a problem we first have to get an idea on the scale of the problem. This is best done by looking at some figures published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The FAO Fish and Aquaculture organisation - http://www.fao.org/fi/default.asp The FAO scientists publish a two yearly report (SOFIA) on the state of the world's fisheries and aquaculture. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) can be found on http://www.fao.org/sof/sofia/index_en.htm. Figures on this page are taken from the 2006 version of the report. As of 2011 the situation has became worse. The report is generally rather conservative regarding the acknowledging of problems but does show the key issue and trends. Due to the difficulty of aggregating and combining the data it can be stated that the SOFIA report is a number of years behind of the real situation.
The above shows that over 25% of all the world's fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted. Another 52% is fully exploited, these are in imminent danger of overexploitation (maximum sustainable production level) and collapse. Thus a total of almost 80% of the world's fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. In the real world all this comes down to two serious problems.
The single best example of the ecological and economical dangers of overfishing is found in Newfoundland, Canada. In 1992 the once thriving cod fishing industry came to a sudden and full stop when at the start of the fishing season no cod appeared. Overfishing allowed by decades of fisheries mismanagement was the main cause for this disaster that resulted in almost 40.000 people losing their livelihood and an ecosystem in complete state of decay. Now, fifteen years after the collapse, many fishermen are still waiting for the cod to return and communities still haven't recovered from the sudden removal of the regions single most important economical driver. The only people thriving in this region are the ones fishing for crab, a species once considered a nuisance by the Newfoundland fishermen.
It's not only the fish that is affected by fishing. As we are fishing down the food web Fishing down the food chain: After depleting the most valuable fish we move on the second most valuable fish etc etc. This both involves physically fishing on different locations (from sea mount to sea mount) as well as changing to different, usually smaller, species. Between 1950 and now we systematically worked down our way along the food chain by fishing out all the top predators one after the other. the increasing effort needed to catch something of commercial value marine mammals, sharks, sea birds, and non commercially viable fish species in the web of marine biodiversity are overexploited, killed as bycatch and discarded (up to 80% of the catch for certain fisheries), and threatened by the industrialized fisheries. The total amount of fish we take from the system and consume is rising every year. In 2005 we consumed 95 million tonnes of fish. 86 million tonnes of this came from marine fisheries and 9 from inland fisheries. Fish farming accounted for another 50 million tonnes (43%) of production, indirect much of this was fed with the fish from the marine fisheries. In 1980 less than 10 percent of all fish came from fish farming. Scientists agree that at current exploitation rates many important fish stocks will be removed from the system within 25 years. Dr. Daniel Pauly describes it as follows:
„The big fish, the bill fish, the groupers, the big things will be gone. It is happening now. If things go unchecked, we'll have a sea full of little horrible things that nobody wants to eat. We might end up with a marine junkyard dominated by plankton.” Dr. Daniel Pauly and others, "Fishing Down Marine Food Webs" SCIENCE Vol. 279 (February 6, 1998), pgs. 860-863.
Dr. Daniel Pauly, Professor and Director of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Centre, gives a short introduction on the problem of overfishing. A fragment from an Oceana video. Fisheries on the Brink, Oceana. video.google.com. Edited by the author of Overfishing.org.
Continue to chapter three: What can I do to help.
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