Overfishing: Extinction of Most Species by 2048

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Fishing is a way of life essential to the livelihood and food security of 200 million people who mainly live in developing countries. One of five people on Earth depends on fish as the main source of protein. However, the ocean is not limitless and we are catching fish faster than they can reproduce; the advent of industrial fishing and government effort brought favorable policies, loans, and subsidies for mass production.

Nowadays fishing is also extremely profitable in commercial fishing circles. Modern technology and poor management of governments mean that fish stocks don’t stand a chance. An example, perhaps to be considered a warning, came in 1992 in Newfoundland, Canada where the cod stock collapsed due to over-exploitation and lack of management of fish stocks. The government declared a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery, causing around 40,000 people to lose their jobs in the industry. The cod stocks of Atlantic Canadian coast never recovered, and the episode deeply changed the ecological, economic and sociocultural structure of the region.

Unfortunately this warning didn’t have the impact it should have and history is about to repeat itself. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Sushi lovers must know that Bluefin tuna populations are threatened all over the world. A new report from PEW environment group shows that the population of Pacific Bluefin tuna population has dropped 96.4% from un-fished levels. Since 1970, the Atlantic Bluefin tuna populations declined by 72%, and the Western and Eastern Atlantic by 46%. In fact, a study featured in Nature Magazine pointed a decrease of 90% of large predatory fish.  Specialists from Dalhousie University, in Canada, say that by 2048 all the species we fish today will be extinct.

The depletion of the big top predator fish – like tuna and grouper – can lead to a shift of the entire marine ecosystem. This process was named as ‘fishing down the food webs’: the fishing industry deplete the top predator fish first, then smaller and medium size species, and finally all we have left is spurned small fish and invertebrates.

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The removal of these larger fish families from the oceans around the globe will increase the amount of the small organisms; like plankton, algae and jellyfish. This can bring problems such as red tides (small algae blooms) and jellyfish blooms which we even see here in Playas del Coco. Over time, a dead anoxic zone can be developed, where nothing can live except bacteria. Not good for our budding underwater photographers! Suddenly all those Porcupine Fish we love to interact with on Tortuga will have been taken for granted…

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Another very real threat is the problem of by-catch. Bottom trawling, for example, is amongst the most destructive human activities carried out in the ocean. It consists of dragging a net between two heavy trawl doors across the seafloor, to get deep fish and shrimps. Now imagine if hunters and loggers just set up a huge net device running through the Amazon forest, killing all vegetation and dragging all animals it finds on its way. Sounds bad; that is exactly what happens on the seafloor. This activity is responsible for habitat destruction, including fragile deep coral ecosystems. The damage is so bad that it can actually be seen from space.

And if that wasn’t enough, estimates are that annually 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die entangled in fishing nets, together with thousands of endangered sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. For every pound of seafood that goes to market, more than 10 pounds, even 100, may be thrown away as by-catch. Shrimp trawling is amongst the most destructive, responsible for a third of the world’s by-catch, while producing only 2% of all seafood.

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How you can help:

Chose your food carefully! See websites fish2fork and the Good Fish Guide to help with the right choices. Eat smaller fish in the food chain for example.

Get informed and share the information with others via social networking!

Send letters and petitions to government bodies.

Information cited from Marcelle Muniz Barreto

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