“All we do is touched with ocean, yet we remain on the shore of what we know.” — Richard Wilbur.
We are all connected to the ocean, part of the vast blue depths that cover over 70 percent of our planet in an immense blanket of aqua blue. Ranging from the warm coral reefs of the tropics to the cold frigid seas of the poles; the waves that are surfed here in Florida may at one time have originated from the far flung continents of Europe or Africa. Just as the stars are connected by one infinite sky the world’s oceans are connected by water. Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, although separately named converge to form one, in no way heeding the named boundaries that humans have set for them. The single ocean hangs in a delicate balance that when disturbed can truly be damaging to us all, for when there is a problem with the ocean it is global. Overfishing is a dilemma that has plagued the world’s ocean for many years as entire species of fish are being depleted, wiped from this earth entirely. Unsustainable as well as careless and irresponsible methods, are used to harvest seafood creating an all too harmful effect on the environment. The problems concerning overfishing and the methods commercial seafood operations perform are truly one of most imminent threats to health of our planet.
With bycatch numbers reaching into the staggering range of 98 percent the seafood industry is far from efficient. Bycatch is the surplus or extra fish not used or taken by the individual vessels that once pulled onboard and sorted is thrown overboard to die, essentially being killed without cause. Items such as nets are obviously indiscriminate and entangle animals such as sea turtles (all 7 species of which are endangered), along with dolphins, manatees, and sharks, as well. Bycatch is a measurable amount of valuable non-renewable resources being taken from our planet promoting a disastrous effect on the ocean’s fragile marine food chain.
Although seemingly complex when broken down, it is quite easy to understand the ocean’s food web. In a sense the ocean is like a wall in which just one brick removed can initiate total collapse. In this case the wall is the marine ecosystem. One example of this can be seen when further examining how the marine food chain works. For instance, if one takes a region like Alaska one must ask them self what would happen if the Bering Sea was on the verge of being fished out. If the Bering Sea was fished out, the seals that eat the fish would leave those waters in search of more plentiful areas. If the seals left and there were not enough fish, the orcas would be forced to hunt sea otters (which are already endangered) for sustenance. If there were no more sea otters that would create a surplus of sea urchins, which are the sea otters primary prey. Too many sea urchins in that area would result in the death of the kelp; the urchins main food source. If the kelp were eaten, at that point all of the smaller animals that lived in and around the kelp would then die from lack of food, habitat, and nutrients. If this happened it would be reason enough for an entire collapse of a local ecosystem which in turn would affect the entire ocean.
As mentioned before shrimping vessels, called trawlers tend to take on the most bycatch compared to any other type of seafood and is therefore statistically the most inefficient commercial catch there is. The average number of bycatch (taken from a United Nations Fisheries and Aquaculture Department survey (1) was a substantial 85 percent while in some areas numbers were as high as 98 percent (1). Because of the fact that shrimping does collect so much bycatch, commercial shrimping operations have also tried other methods such as farming which in turn have also further exploited the land by using more pounds of food to feed the shrimp in the process of raising them than the actual pounds of shrimp harvested.
Super Trawlers are enormous factory vessels designed to sail out and collect as much fish as possible. They are, understandably because of their large size, better equipped to process and harvest millions more pounds of fish than an ordinary trawler. In some cases individual countries have gone so far as to ban these types of ships from their international waters. David Helvarg author of the article “Full nets empty seas – harmful effects of super-trawlers on ocean fisheries” states that:
Using sonar-directed nets with mouths wide enough to snare several 747 jumbo-jets, the factory trawlers bring in up to 300,000 pounds at a time. . . . They also haul up “non-target species”–crabs, sunfish, sharks, squid, and seals–which the ships chop up and flush overboard. Some 750 million pounds of this so-called by-catch are wasted each year on the North Pacific fishing grounds alone.(1)
One example of this can be seen when the South American countries of Chile and Peru banned the super-trawler The American Monarch due to its potential threat of overfishing the Pacific waters off the coast of South America. Such ships can harvest as many as one million pounds of fish in a single day and be out at sea for months on end creating a massive loss in our oceans valuable fish stocks.
The biggest issue concerning overfishing is considered by many to be the increasing demands for seafood worldwide. A study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association stated that:
Seafood consumption trends, overall, have been steadily increasing . . . . This trend is particularly relevant in light of a growing US population and recent studies that predict global fisheries may collapse by mid-century if they are not managed more sustainably.(1)
One way that people can help is by observing responsible eating habits when related to seafood. Certain species are obviously more vulnerable than others due to a variety of factors that may include range, breeding habits, and food sources. It is not uncommon for certain species to become endangered or extinct for no other reason than human consumption. Private organizations such as Monterey Bay Aquarium have designed special plans that inform the public about the dangers of overfishing and these plans go over the fish that should and should not be eaten at certain times of the year. The plan also takes into account the fact that some species even when farmed are not environmentally friendly to harvest and gives detailed instructions as to what seafood the public should eat. This information can be downloaded by everyone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium website in the form of a Seafood Watch Card that is even region specific such as the Southeastern US or Northwestern US depending on where one lives in order to be the most beneficial to each consumer.
As much as 52% of the current fish harvested are critically overfished implies the results of a recent report by “Points of View Charts & Graphs: Earth & the Environment”. This results in the eye-opening awakening that as authors Peter Gills and David C. Morley point out in their article “Point: Overfishing Has Severely Depleted Fish Populations”. “Fish are like any other creatures on earth. They cannot be killed in gigantic numbers without consequence.” Without a doubt there is a consequence and with the fate of the ocean in the hands of man, it is imperative that responsible actions are taken in order to replenish the natural stocks of ocean life that are currently being exploited.
Overfishing is a problem that is not solely effecting countries that are far away from ours. As mentioned before the oceans are all connected therefore connecting us all by one huge body of water. Although the ocean is rough and expansive it is also sensitive and balanced and when a problem arrises such as overfishing we all undoubtedly suffer. Overfishing is a prominent issue that has been increasing for years with a direct result of fish populations decreasing. Trevor Day author of Oceans asserts that “Fish compromise 85% [of the] weight of marine life extracted from the oceans” (1). Not only is the fate of the ocean one of the most important problems that we now face it is also one of the most often overlooked. Much more time, money, and research go in to so many trivial matters avoiding the reality of this rising threat. Overfishing is a problem that can be avoided and it is up to the consumer to not purchase seafood that is irresponsibly harvested. If we eliminate the demand, there will be no need for the harvesting of these resources from our fragile seas.
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came..
John F. Kennedy
Brooks, Ron. “Shrimp Industry By-catch”. About.com. n.d. Web. March 13, 2010
Damassa, Tom. “Recent Trends in U.S. Fisheries and Seafood Consumption.” Earthtrends.wri.org. World Resources Institute, February 2, 2007. Web. March 20, 2010
Day, Trevor. “Oceans”. New York: Facts On File, Inc. 1999. Print
Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. “Fish Populations by Status” Graph. Points of View Charts and Graphs. 2010: 1. Web. March 14, 2010
Gills, Peter, and David C. Morley. “Overfishing Has Severely Damaged Fish Populations” Points of View (2009) 1. Points of View Reference Center. Web. March 15, 2010
Helvarg, David. “Full nets empty seas – harmful effects of the supertrawlers on ocean fisheries.” The Progressive (1997): 1. Web March 16 2010
Knight, Danielle. “Environment: Super Trawler Threatens Marine Food Chain” Internal Press Service Internal Press Service News Agency. n.d. Web. March 17, 2010
Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey Bay Aquarium.Seafood Watch Card. Monterey: Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2010. Print
United Nations Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. “Estimated bycatch and discard levels from shrimp fisheries of the world” Chart. http://www.fao.org Fisheries and Aquaculture Department : table 11. Web March 18, 2010