Environmental Sustainability: The Overuse of Resources: Overfishing

With human populations always on the rise, society demands more and more resources all the time.  Now, more food is needed and demanded by more and more people.  One problem that can arise from this is overfishing.  Overfishing happens when humans catch more fish than the populations can naturally sustain.   If humans fish too much, there will be less fish in the wild to naturally reproduce.  In essence, this can create chain reaction.  Fish populations dip when humans keep fishing them, and when the fish become scarcer, the demand to fish for them will remain steady.  Around the globe, some areas are even extremely dependent on fish for economic reasons.  If overfishing depletes the ocean of most of its fish, many areas could face severe economic problems, along with threatened food supplies.  Evidently, overfishing is big ongoing problem that does not have a discrete solution.  Should society tighten up on regulations on overfishing?  Should the consumers themselves seek initiative to seek sustainable seafood products?

If humans overfish a certain species of fish, the populations can become critically endangered, potentially even to the point of extinction.  According to the WWF, 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to biological limits.  Some populations, such as the important Atlantic Bluefin tuna, have been threatened near extinction.  Overfishing can create an imbalance to the ecosystem, because fish high on the food chain are hunted more while smaller fish, like anchovies, can end up experiencing population blooms.

What potential answers can society look for to curb overfishing?

Global nations could work together to allocate more sections of the ocean to marine protected areas (MPA’s).  MPA’s protect against destructive fishing and are intended to let endangered populations regrow.  However, only 1.6 percent of the world’s oceans consists of MPA’s.  It might help if nations increased this percentage to help further protect these marine life populations.

Additionally, greater and stricter enforcement of laws or the introduction of new laws could help reduce overfishing.  Illegal fishing can run rampant around the world, and this especially is a problem if endangered or sought-after species are specifically targeted.  If the ocean and markets were more tightly regulated, these at-risk populations could have increased rates of recovery.

Also, one potential solution could be if governments would put a tax on at-risk fish to help curb overfishing.  First, the higher price would lower the amount of fish purchased.  Then, the tax money raised potentially could be used to fund marine life protection projects, like MPA’s.  However, a downfall of this is that people would most likely continue to demand high volumes of fish, but would not want to pay the higher price.  If taxes were implemented and caused prices to be inflated too high, then a spike in illegal fishing and smuggling may occur.

On the other hand, many governments subsidize fishing fleets, basically creating the opposite outcome of the previous proposal.  Subsidizing fleets can allow unprofitable fishing operations to continue to fish, and overall promotes overfishing even more.  Perhaps, this government subsidization should be cut, or instead be altered to provide money to fisheries that adhere to regulations and do not overfish.

One real-world approach to help curb overfishing is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), founded by WWF.  This organization set standards to determine which fisheries are operating on a sustainable level.  Fisheries that meet the standards are allowed to become certified and bear the MSC label.  Thousands of fish-related products around the world have the MSC label on them, which is something consumers might desire to look out for in the future.  If the entire market was aware which products were caught sustainably or not, the consumers might be more inclined to purchase the sustainable product.  If consumers demanded sustainable fish products, then fisheries would be more enticed to have sustainable fishing practices.

Evidently, implementing a direct solution to overfishing is almost impossible, since each option may come with some downfalls.  Population will continue to rise, and fish will be demanded even more.  If humans do not fish sustainably, then they risk severe and dangerous drops in wild fish populations and can potentially threaten species to the point of extinction. Even if one approach does not rid the world of this problem, society as a whole needs to address overfishing as best as they can.

“Overfishing.” Overfishing | Threats | WWF. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web.

One thought on “Environmental Sustainability: The Overuse of Resources: Overfishing

  1. mbd5305

    This is a pretty interesting topic and made me think about something I don’t ordinarily think about. That’s one critical part of this issue in my opinion: the fact that not too many people generally think of or are aware of this issue. It got me to thinking about the dining hall, and nights where they serve salmon. I’m assuming a lot of this salmon they serve at the dining halls is produced in fish farms, but the sheer amount they produce and the amount people expect to eat, seems to be a definite problem. That is, I’ve seen people (me included) eat up to 3 large pieces of salmon. This expectation of serving size and prevalence of fish seems like a large part of the problem.

    Saying that, publicity seems to me like one potential approach to the problem. Letting more people know about how overfishing and economic dependence on fishing might go a great distance in helping the issue. I know it will at least make me think twice about the quantity of fish I eat, even if it’s a species with a large population like salmon.

    Besides getting the word out, I liked the idea about the MSC. It would seem that making information available to people about how these fisheries are run might have some sort of an influence on their diets. This is analagous to Chipotle’s decision to cease factory farming despite the extra costs–they ended up appealing to more people than before as a result of their pro-animal and environment policies. Also, it might be a good fix to give the MSC the power to shutdown companies that aren’t operating according to standards. With periodic inspections and annual reports, companies might be incentivized to fish appropriately. Not only could they avoid being shutdown, but also the MSC could offer bonuses to companies operating safely.

    Overall, I thought your topic was fresh and made me think, I’m interested to see what else you have to say,

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