The silent killer of the ocean: eliminating overfishing
– You don’t have to look too far to find an information network or media talking about water pollution, plastic waste, CO2 emissions and climate change.
Yes of course our plastic bottles are blowing in the ocean and it’s all our fault. We have to start using straws and paper cups because we are responsible for our polluted and uninhabitable waters.
The reason you see and hear about these factors all the time is because it puts you on your back. The media tell you, it’s your fault, you have to do better, you have to change.
While I’m sitting here I run my ultra light spinning reel, they are pumping billions of dollars down the throats of commercial fishermen around the world.
The greatest threat to our oceans are the very people put in place to protect them. Globally, more than $ 30 billion is believed to go to the commercial fishing industry per year.
This money is intended to offset the costs of operating their mega-ships and paying their deckhands in an industry hard hit by climate change and regulations.
But what is this money really used for? It supports overfishing by giving the big ships the ability to outsmart the little guy. Offshore communities that depend on fish for trade and food cannot keep up with mega-ships with advanced technology, huge trawls and a crew of 25 on board.
Some might say it’s just a natural reaction to the need for more fish. We almost consume twice as many fish as 50 years ago, so it is the classic supply and demand associated with the canine nature of commercial fishing.
I’m saying it’s not just about the fishery and even the communities that depend on it, it’s about the quality of our oceans and the impact of overfishing on them. The reason you don’t hear about this stuff is that it’s the governments of the world that are fanning the flames behind the scenes.
Over 60% the world’s fish stocks are gone. That’s 60% of our fish population, completely gone, never to come back. How can you get over something like this? Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Having said that, although I have spoken primarily of the United States as the main offender, they are pale compared to the People’s Republic of China. China is beyond the biggest culprit of overfishing in the East and West.
Often, overfishing, water pollution and plastic waste are all seen as poor judgment or a “miscalculation”.
This is not the case with China. They don’t just fail to control their fishermen, they encourage overfishing and spend astronomical sums to make it happen. Indeed, in 2018, they spent $ 7.2 billion to support the crime of overfishing. This country alone accounts for 21% of global subsidies.
This country and many others fish organically unbearable levels. Take the Pacific bluefin tuna for example. This species alone has experienced a 97% decrease in population. You’re probably thinking, “who cares if this tuna population dies, what’s the problem”?
It’s not just about the fish population, it’s about the seascape as a whole. Overfishing causes a ripple effect that affects not only the water but everyone who feeds on the water.
China has up to 800,000 fishing vessels fishing illegally around the world. Who is probably fishing on these vessels? I doubt that they pay decent wages and provide comfortable conditions and accommodation for those on board.
They probably live in extremely cramped quarters, are fed the bare minimum, and forced to work around the clock for next to nothing.
But I digress, it’s not just about China, and it’s not about the United States either. It’s not just a matter of politics and not everyone is there to fish the waters to extinction. In many cases, this is a policy and a procedure. There are other specific reasons for overfishing:
Regulation – Many countries, including the United States, have regulations in place to prevent overfishing. The problem is, these regulations are loosely developed and do not apply across international borders, so other countries can enter our waters and fish as they see fit. Even with the regulations, the agencies set up to enforce them do not have the time, money or resources to do so.
Undeclared fishing – Fishing is not an easy industry and it is becoming increasingly difficult for commercial fishermen to make a living. As a result, they do what I probably would too. They rig the numbers and prepare the books to make a profit. This happens most often in developing countries and among small fishing communities.
Mobile processing – Much of the fish goes into a box to be stored and shelved for years. This process actually occurs at sea, which means the fish will never even see the land. It is difficult for law enforcement agencies to identify the amount of fish caught because of this process.
So what are the solutions or alternatives? What can be done to stop overfishing so that we can save marine life from extinction? Awareness is paramount when the media controls everything you see and hear.
The good news is that there are many organizations that are implementing technologies to combat overfishing. Fishtek Marine is a prime example. Bycatch is also a huge problem that occurs when fish and marine mammals are caught in giant trawls several miles long that commercial fishermen use to save time and money.
Dolphins, seals and other creatures get caught in the net and many of them will die trying to get out.
Fishtek has created a small device that is placed in fishing nets. The device makes a sound that only large marine mammals can hear, discouraging them from swimming near the nets. It’s such a simple concept with the potential to make a huge difference.
Shared capture is a strategy that has potential. The way the fishing seasons are structured now promotes haste and corruption as it is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for a number of months.
Instead, setting catch limits and sharing water based on seasonal fishing will provide more structure while limiting the need to hunt as many fish as possible in a short period of time.
A US-Colombian study focused on this point and noted that shared catches actually increased total catches while reducing bycatch by 66%. This will reduce the amount of waste and even if the fishermen catch more fish, it will not have a negative effect on the ocean.
There are a lot of opinions in the overfishing debate and with more than three billion people relying on fish as the primary source of protein is a discussion we need to have. No country is to blame and no specific agency is to blame, but awareness is key. We must do something before it is too late.
The best way to solve the problem is to get as many people talking as possible.
Coty Perry is Editor-in-Chief of YourBassGuy.com. As a third generation fisherman, he has a plethora of knowledge and experiences on the water and loves to share what he knows.