The Effects of Overfishing & Bycatch

Ever since I can remember I have loved the ocean—the beautiful colors, the unseen depths, and most of all, the countless numbers of fish and amazing marine life. Research shows there are “more than 230,000 species in our oceans,” yet many of them face extinction due to climate change, degraded habitats, pollution and overfishing—all attributed to humans.

People may think that fishing is a harmless everyday activity, but what they don’t know is that overfishing is hurting our oceans and marine life. Overfishing is when a mass number of fish are removed from their environment faster than they can naturally reproduce; it can happen in oceans, lakes, and even ponds. Once overfishing occurs, the specific species may not be able to reproduce again.

The effects of overfishing start when small fish are removed from the ocean, causing the food chain to get rattled. The fewer the fish in the ocean, the less food the larger marine animals have to survive on. This results in the unfortunate loss of fish. With this loss, consequences can be felt at many levels. For example, it's known that urchins are very important for the reefs by grazing the algae, so that they cannot overgrow the corals.1 On the other hand, if they become rampant, due to the overfishing of their predators, it's possible that they injure the reefs.2

Bycatch also has an effect on overfishing; it occurs when fishermen come through with large nets to catch bigger fish. Many times, larger fish and mammals are caught in the nets such as dolphins, sharks, sea lions, and porpoises. Rather than releasing these beautiful creatures back into their habitat, many are sold or disposed of. According to WDC: “More than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every year as a result of being caught in fishing gear and nets.” It is the number one killer of these animals world-wide. If the animal does survive after being caught in the gear or net, they suffer serious, life-threatening injuries like oxygen loss and distress while trying to escape. If they do manage to get free, they typically suffer amputations and other complications that result in death. 

Even though bycatch is used to provide restaurants with fish, overfishing also impacts humans and the job market. Many people rely on fishing as their means of income. With the fish population decreasing, fishing jobs will become scarcer causing people to lose jobs and having to find other work.

Those who frequently eat fish from non-sustainable resources are also contributing to the overfishing effects we see today. With such a high demand for fish in restaurants and daily meals at home, the need for fishing remains in great demand. With such a high demand, overfishing will continue and our oceans will lose multiple fish species.

Without protection, some fish species are at a high risk of extinction. One solution would be to create more nature reserves to protect fish while they reproduce. Another remedy is to encourage “fishermen to shift toward using sustainable fishing methods,” according to the Marine Conservation Institute. Both of these options would help save fish species and give them time to reproduce. We as humans can help decrease overfishing by trying to limit the amount of fish we eat, as well as educating others about the effects of overfishing and bycatch. Some people may not even be aware that this threatening phenomenon is happening at all.

Our ISF Youth Team also previously covered a story about this issue. Their article: “Plenty of Fish in the Sea? Not Really” is another perspective about the effect of overfishing. Click on the link to check it out!

http://www.isfoundation.com/news/youth/plenty-fish-sea-not-really

Sources cited: 

1 http://www.iucn.org/content/despair-repair-dramatic-decline-caribbean-corals-can-be-reversed

2 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/09-2059.1/abstract;jsessionid=99C715EF84ED325EF922B1011696BC7A.f04t01

-Photo Credit: Ashley L.

-Written by: Melissa S.