In 2003 “Nature” published a study showing that 90% of the large fish living in our oceans were fished out of existence. A group of scientists recently predicted, major seafood stocks will collapse by 2048. This is a staggering number, considering the technology and amount of people needed to cause overfishing is a relatively new phenomenon, starting really only in the late 19th century.
Most governments have shrugged these claims off, and continued their fishing practices. Alaska has shown to be the only sovereign state willing to self-police their fishing practices. Sarah Palin jokes aside… Threatened with the loss of one of its top industries, Alaska began limiting the number of fishing vessels, restricting the size of their catches; and perhaps most importantly, giving incentives to fishermen. Alaska currently gives fishermen a stake in the long-term viability of salmon and other fish.
Alaska’s policies have shown that governments can prevent the onslaught being brought forth on our oceans, yet their policies are the exception to the rule. Only about 6% of the global fish catch is certified as “sustainable,” meaning that fish are not pulled from the ocean faster than they can reproduce and are not caught in ways to protect underwater habitats. Much of the 6% of sustainable catch comes from Alaska itself.
Fish and other marine animals help maintain the ocean’s ecosystem. Fish eat algae and keep microbes in check. Overfishing accelerates the spread of algae and microbes, which smother coral reefs and create “dead zones” in coastal waters that starve most sea life of oxygen. In other words, disturbing the balance of the ecosystem by overfishing creates a vicious cycle that sucks even more life from our oceans.
The problem lies with humans’ emotional detachment from our oceans. Large parts of our oceans here on earth go unexplored, while planets not of this earth are meticulously studied. The ocean is foreign to most humans; we cannot live in them, and it is not sustainable for our type of living (namely, breathing air). This emotional detachment has allowed us to go on slaughtering animals that make up our oceans.
Like most problems our environment faces, education is the key. We must educate what overfishing does to not only our environment, but to our economy. When 2048 comes along, and major economic fishing stocks have collapsed, it will be a sad day for environmentalists and fishermen alike. I hope that everyone can look at the example that Alaska has given us. The key to solving this problem is having scientists and fishermen working together to protect a common interest. Only then will future heartbroken generations be able to hear the phrase: “Well, there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
Author’s Note: If you would like to do your own part for the future of fish in the sea, please visit The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website. There you can download or send for free pocket guides detailing fish which are safe to eat.