When I hear fishing all I can think of is the thrill and the fun at sea trying to catch a good fish. And I am sure that most of you can relate to that picture. The thing that we do not realize is that the oceans on earth are getting depleted of these wonderful creatures.
Overfishing has risen to such an extent that many of the fish species have either become extinct or are at the verge of extinction. Since many of us are not fully aware of what overfishing is, what are the reasons that lead to overfishing and its impacts on the ecosystem; we are going to tell you what exactly is happening around the world.
What exactly is overfishing? It’s simply the act of catching fish from the oceans faster than the the fish can reproduce and replace the caught fish numbers. Modern day technology and hi-tech equipments have made it easy to catch a larger number of fish in a shorter span of time and with minimal effort. The more and more fish are caught the lesser they are found in the waters. This is one of the main reasons that fishermen have to travel longer distances deeper into the sea to catch fish.
Take a look at this video, it is indeed very shocking to see how much unwanted fish we catch to meet the quota of a targeted fish.
Recreational fishing vs commercial fishing.
Recreational fishing also involves the catching of various species of fish however, the percent of fish caught through recreational fishing is comparatively lesser than that of the number fish caught through commercial fishing. Throwing more light to this argument is the report that was released by the American Sportfishing Association that indicates that of all the saltwater fish that was caught, only 2 percent was caught by the recreational anglers whereas the rest of the 98 percent was caught by commercial fishermen.
Facts and numbers related to overfishing:
Marine ecologists believe that overfishing is the most dangerous threat faced by the oceans’ ecosystem. Extensive overfishing has driven many fish species to be endangered. Commercial fishing with huge fishing vessels is one of the foremost reasons of overfishing. The increase in demand of fish as food has led men to create huge ships capable of storing extraordinary amounts of fish. These ships catch fish weighing 124 million metric tons in a year.
Another important fact that many of us are unaware of is that, overfishing does not only affect the fish species that are targeted. In commercial fishing huge nets are deployed into the water that are dragged along the sea floor (trawling). In this kind of fishing non-targeted fish, other marine mammals and sea birds all get caught accidentally and end up dead. One of the most alarming examples of this is the fact that three tons of other fish are caught and thrown away to get a ton of prawns. These fish that are not used and thrown away are called the bycatch.
Reports state that over 25 per cent of the fish that are caught all across the world are thrown away due to various reasons such as they were not targeted, they were inferior in quality or they were illegal species that are forbidden to be caught.
Species affected by overfishing:
Sharks, dolphins, porpoises are some of the most affected species that are affected by the modern ways of fishing.
Huge numbers of dolphins wash up every year on European beaches. The documentary movie named “The Cove” talks about the illegal mass fishing of these friendly water mammals in Japan. Take a short peek at the trailer below to get an idea of the plight of Dolphins in Japan.
The Bluefin tuna is another species of fish that are considered to be severely endangered. The Atlantic Bluefin is not far behind. The high demand and the greater value of these fish have led to their overfishing and brought them to the verge of extinction.
The Yellowfin and the Albacore tuna are not endangered but are quite vulnerable to be next on the endangered list if proper precautions aren’t taken. The Bigeye tuna is another member of the tuna family that has been targeted a lot after the Blue fin.
When we place the species on a list of most vulnerable to extinction the Bluefin gets the first spot and the second and third are taken by the blue and the white marlins respectively. Because of the scarcity of the Marlins, one of the most prized game fishes, many sport fishing associations and anglers have adopted the catch and release policy that allows these brilliant fish to get back into the ocean, mature, reproduce and thus sustain their species. Organisations like the U.S National Coalition for Marine Conservation and IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) have been running and promoting campaigns to “Take the Marlin off the Menu”. This campaign is aimed at putting an end to the commercial fishing of these billfish species.
The Goliath Grouper is another one such endangered species, catching these magnificent creatures has been banned by the government in the US. In UAE the Grouper locally known as Hamour is one of the most overfished species of fish. It is said that until over 10 years ago ie, by 2003 the numbers of Groupers in the UAE waters had declined by a whooping 92 percent. These fish are said to be fished over 7 times their sustainable numbers from the UAE waters due to their extremely high demand on the dining tables.
Impacts of overfishing:
As mentioned earlier, overfishing does not just affect the species that is targeted but a whole lot of other species that happen to get in the way of the net or the hook.
Destruction of such species not only dwindles their numbers in the ocean but it also disrupts the balance in the food chain. And this in turn is leading to the disappearance of a large number of different species of fish as they are deprived of their natural habitats.
The evolutionary process of a lot of marine species are getting affected by overfishing as well. Relative decrease in the size and premature reproduction are some of the most common evolutionary changes that have been noticed.
Studies have also proven that overfishing decreases the genetic diversity of marine life.
An economic impact of overfishing is that, overfishing cannot be solved immediately since a large portion of the population of developing countries depend on fishing for a source of food and income. If overfishing in checked over a short period of time it will drastically affect the human population in terms of scarcity of sea food and wealth.
Many fishing vessels stay in deep waters far away in the sea for a longer duration and over time they lose their nets. These nets remain in the water and continue to trap and kill millions of fish and other marine creatures.
Pollution is yet another impact of overfishing. The fishing vessels that spill or discard chemicals or oils into the ocean also affect the marine life.
Situation in UAE:
UAE started monitoring the amount of fish stock since the late 80’s and they found that the fish stock has fallen by 80% during the last 20 years. Moreover, they found that the grouper is one of the most affected fish with 90% reduction in its numbers! Watch the video here:
These are some scary numbers. That means some of our kids might not be able to see some of the fish species that we enjoy catching and eating now a days. This rang an alarm telling us that we need to take action. We already had a discussion with the Environment Department at Dubai Municipality on how we can contribute to stop this disaster and we have already agreed on an initial action plan that we will announce in September.
The environment department has already placed regulations on the size of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch, you can see it below:
The problem is that most people who enjoy recreational fishing including captains don’t know about these rules; and our part is to educate them. People who violate these rules will be charged a fine of AED 10,000 (the owner of the boat). Soon the environment department will issue new rules that limit the amount of fish a fishing hobbyist is allowed to keep. Will update you with these regulations soon.
Another initiative called ChooseWisley.ae is also trying to fight the declining fishing stocks in UAE by adapting a bottom up approach. They created a guide to encourage people and restaurants not to buy certain species of fish that are currently endangered. With end users buying less they are hoping fishermen will start catching less of this fish. You can check the guide here>> UAE consumer guide
Fish stocks are declining dramatically across the world. Some countries are taking stronger measures than others, but in general we are doing a terrible job at saving the fish and it’s affecting every human on earth. The thing is, seas and oceans are shared among nations and most fish travel from one place to the other, one day they are in Middle East and in few months they are in Australia (a proven fact).
While fishing is the biggest hobby in the world, recreational fishing only contributes to 2% of the fish being caught. Moreover, sport fisherman and fishing hobbyist are the first people that feel the drop in the stock of fish. We as fishermen have the obligation to take the lead and educate people and kids on how overfishing is ruining our ecosystem and what are the actions that are to be taken to restore fish stocks.
We must understand that human factors influence the ocean ecosystem a lot and we all must do what we can to revert the damages caused by human actions. We at fishfishme.com will join the local and global efforts to stop overfishing and will be announcing campaigns that fight over fishing soon. If you are interested in joining hands with us please contact Abdullah@fishfishme.com.