When humans get too good at fishing, global fisheries suffer

Overfishing threatens global fish stocks


United Nations Food and Agriculture estimates that more than one-third world's fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits
April 11, 2018

Humans have gotten too good at fishing

This is both an amazing fact and a sad fact. When you consider the technology that humans have invented, we now have the ability to catch every last fish on the planet. Think about it; drift nets, trawl nets, drag nets, long lines, sonar, and huge fishing boats. The danger is that we are so good at fishing that many fish populations are being overfished. That means too many fish are being caught at one time so the breeding population becomes too depleted to recover through natural reproduction.

More than three billion people depend on seafood as a protein source

At first glance, catching as many fish as possible might seem like a smart business practice. However the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization estimates more than one-third world's fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. That is likely an underestimate, since many of the world’s fisheries have not been closely studied.

And overfishing is a problem that not only affects the balance of life in the oceans. It also harms the social and economic well being of the coastal communities who depend on fish for their way of life. And in a much larger sense, overfishing is also a threat to human life on the planet since more than three billion people depend on seafood as a protein source.

Well-managed Fisheries are Key

The good news is that data shows overfishing can be reversed. In a 2009 report, ecologist Boris Worm and his colleagues looked at fish catch and fish stock assessments and found that fisheries in North America and Europe were recovering. In the United States, catch limits and market-based permit programs helped fish populations rebound.

The bad news is that the fish stocks analyzed in the report make up about 16% of the global catch and are found in well-managed fisheries in wealthier countries. The rest of the world’s fish are caught in poorer counties where fisheries are not well managed. More intense study of the issue is urgently needed. Those findings could help prompt government’s to impose catch limits and use other management tools before it is too late.

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!


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