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April 26, 2009

I’ve been focusing a lot on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and plastic water bottles polluting the Ocean lately, but many marine ecologists believe that the greatest threat to our oceans today is overfishing. Our appetites for fish and our efficiency at catching fish is exceeding the capabilities of the fisheries to replenish. We’re simply catching fish faster than they can reproduce. 

Hungry Oceans Report from Oceana

It’s estimated that we’ve taken approximately 90% of the large fish (such as tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder)  from the sea already. Off New England, cod were once so plentiful that boats had trouble pushing through them. Now the cod are nearly gone. Other overfished species include sharks, bluefin tuna and many kinds of West Coast rockfish. When one kind of fish is no longer plentiful, fishermen must move on to new species. Monkfish and sharks were once discarded as “trash fish,” but now they’re valuable—and are themselves overfished! Overfishing has also forced fishermen to look deeper for new species like orange roughy and Chilean seabass.

Overfishing results in profound changes in our oceans, not only affecting what’s on our dinner plates, but whole ecosystems. As we are fishing down the food web, the increasing effort needed to catch commercially viable fish takes its toll on marine mammals, sharks, sea birds and non-commercially viable fish. 

Overfishing is also starving large marine mammals like whales and dolphins. Our appetite for fish is so large that we’re also depleting the ocean of its smaller prey fish and krill that marine mammals like dolphins, seals and whales depend on. A new report (PDF) from the group Oceana reports that “scrawny predators – dolphins, sea bass and even whales have turned up on coastlines all over the world.” Much of the fish we’re catching is going to feed fish in fish farms or or used in fish oil. 

So, what can you do? First, learn more about the issue, by checking out some fo the links below. Next, make informed decisions about what fish you choose to eat and make more sustainable seafood choices. For example, by choosing locally wild caught fish you help encourage sustainable levels of fishing. Check out more in the links below:

Sustainable Seafood Choices

Make More Sustainable Seafood Choices

Sustainable Sushi

Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity

Overfishing Imperils Ocean Life

Overfishing: A Global Disaster

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 28, 2009 1:35 am

    Really good post about a very important subject. Mankind MUST change the way it fishes the seas and oceans if we want there to be anything left for future generations.

    The documentary The End of the Line deals with this issue and says that as consumers we should educate ourselves about what fish we should be eating and what fish should be avoided. It also says marine protection zones should be set up to protect species.

    Check out the website for details of screenings – End of the Line.

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