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The old saying “there are plenty of fish in the ocean” might not be so true anymore if our current fishing practices don’t change.
An increasing global population, new technologies, and skyrocketing demand has led to a rapid rise in the production of fish-based foods and products. Unfortunately, this also contributes to overfishing, which means that we are fishing huge amounts of marine life out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce.
If our current fishing practices don’t change, this could spell disaster for our oceans, the earth, and millions of people around the globe.
So why is overfishing a problem, exactly? Here's how overfishing effects are hurting our marine life and how you can help slow the depletion of our oceans.
16 Overfishing Facts And Statistics
1. Our demand for fish products is increasing, even more so than our population growth.
We have more than doubled our fish consumption in the last couple of decades. In 1961, people were eating an average of 9.0 kg of fish food products per year. In 2015, that number increased to 20.2 kg - that’s an increase of 3.2% every year! In comparison, our global population has grown at just 1.6% annually.
Experts believe that this increase in fish consumption is caused by a variety of reasons, including increased production.
2. Many of our fish stocks have already been depleted or overfished.
Our fishing resources are limited, and many of them are already running low on fish. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 61% of our fish stocks are fully exploited, meaning they are fully fished. Meanwhile, 29% are already being overfished.
3. Excessive bycatch is another huge problem that comes along with overfishing.
Many commercial fishing practices yield more than just the fish they are aiming for. Bycatch refers to all the other fish and sea life pulled up from the oceans while fishing and discarded as waste.
Experts estimate that our current fishing practices produce a staggering 38.5 million tons of bycatch every single year.
4. The increasing demand for fish oil is also contributing to overfishing.
The fish that are caught from the ocean are used for more than food. The increasing demand for fish oil supplements, a dietary supplement popular for its omega-3 fatty acids, is also creating a spike in fish demands.
Fish oil pills are popular for their omega-3 content, an essential fatty acid used to support heart health, brain health, and fight inflammation*. Unfortunately, the process of creating fish oil is long and wasteful. It involves catching huge amounts of oily fish, separating the oil from the "fish meal" using processes like boiling and applying chemical solvents, and then shipping them around the world to reach the final consumer.
Luckily, there are now vegan alternatives to fish oil supplements like algae oil supplements. These options allow you to supplement your omega-3 fatty acid intake without contributing to the overfishing problem.
5. Marine species have decreased by 39% in the last 40 years.
According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Blue Planet Report published in 2015, this decimation of marine species can be attributed to various factors, including overfishing, habitat destruction, and climate change.
6. Overfishing puts vulnerable communities at risk.
People around the world depend on fishing as their primary source of income, and many poorer cultures also rely heavily on fish as one of their main protein sources. If we continue the pattern of improper resource management and overfishing, those vulnerable communities could face severe economic crises and food shortages.
7. The development of different fishing techniques and technology has made the overfishing problem worse.
In order to increase yield, commercial fishing has developed practices like drift netting, dredging, and bottom trawling. These techniques allow commercial fishing boats to pull up huge amounts of fish, contributing to the overfishing of ocean habitats.
These techniques can also increase bycatch. Casting such a wide net means that other marine life is also pulled up from their natural habitats, only to be disposed of as waste.
8. These fishing techniques can also contribute to environmental damage.
Besides its impact on the aquatic food chains and marine diversity, overfishing can also hurt the ocean's ecosystem.
Take bottom trawling, for example. This technique involves dragging a very heavy weighed-down net across the ocean floor. The weights used in this fishing method can weigh several tons. As it is dragged across the ocean floor, it can crush and destroy fragile living habitats like coral reefs which may never recover from the damage.
9. Certain species of fish are more vulnerable than others.
Fish that have a slow reproduction rate are more at risk of overfishing than others. When we fish too many of these species out of the ocean, the remaining fish don’t have enough time to reproduce and maintain their population.
One example of this is bluefin tuna, a species that now face extinction due to overfishing practices. These expensive fish are especially vulnerable to illegal and unreported fishing practices, and it’s estimated that their populations have dropped between 74-80% in the last couple of decades.
10. The percentage of our sustainable fisheries has decreased in the past 50 years.
A biologically sustainable fishery leaves plenty of fish in the ocean to reproduce and recover. Unfortunately, the amount of sustainable fisheries is not as high as it once was.
In 1974, 90% of our fish stocks were biologically sustainable. When measured again in 2017, only 65.8% of our fish stocks were sustainable.
11. Overfishing has led to the rise of aquaculture, or “fish farms,” but these aren’t sustainable either.
Fish farms, which grow captive fish for consumption, have grown as a way to address the overfishing of natural ocean ecosystems. However, fish farms are also damaging the oceans in the long run.
Aquaculture can negatively impact the ecosystem of the surrounding ocean by allowing drugged or contaminated stock to infect surrounding wild populations. It could also allow escaped invasive species to compete with the native species.
12. We’ve already seriously depleted the populations of some of the ocean’s apex predators.
Apex predators like sharks are at the top of the aquatic food chain. They're integral to the marine life of our oceans because they can control the populations of all of the animals on the food chain below them based on their eating habits.
Unfortunately, humans wipe out more than 100 million sharks every year, contributing to the overpopulation of lesser fish species and ultimately changing entire marine food chains. The diminishing populations of other top predators like bluefin tuna and mackerel have a similar effect.
13. Fishing subsidies are part of the problem.
To keep struggling fishing industries afloat, countries like the United States, China, the European Union, Korea, and Japan pay subsidies to the fishing industry.
Unfortunately, this multi-billion dollar practice often incentivizes larger fishing businesses to continue overfishing rather than helping smaller and more sustainable businesses. One study estimated that $22.2 billion dollars of fishing subsidies contribute directly to overfishing practices.
14. Illegal fishing practices contribute to overfishing.
Regular fishing practices are bad enough on the oceans, but illegal fishing can make it even worse.
There are many rules and regulations to minimize excessive fishing, like setting quotas and prohibiting the catch of certain species to protect their populations. Unfortunately, poor management and enforcement of these rules mean that Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing practices continue to hurt our marine ecosystems.
15. It’s been estimated that we are on track to have “fishless oceans” by 2048.
It’s one of the grimmest overfishing statistics: a 2006 study found that our oceans would virtually run out of seafood by 2048 if we didn’t change our current fishing habits and practices.
16. Luckily, there are things that we can do to slow down the impacts of overfishing on the oceans.
On the bright side, another study estimated that we could fully reverse the impacts of overfishing and rebuild our oceans by 2050 if we changed our harmful fishing practices.
So how can you help prevent overfishing?
The best way to limit your impact on the oceans is to minimize your fish and fish products intake.
Use vegan, plant-based alternatives to fish and seafood whenever possible. For example, swapping your fish oil pills for microalgae pills can reduce your impact on the health of the oceans. Choosing plant-based proteins like legumes, soy, and grains more often can also help.