When ancient tribal-man set out in a small canoe with a net and a small fishing pole, none could have envisioned a future where massive fleets of trolling ships could strip the oceans bare of an entire species of fish. As occurs with many of mankind’s modern achievements, the push for more, more, and more will eventually overwhelm and collapse the delicate balance of nature that humanity too often takes for granted. Much research has been done which indicates that overfishing is severely impacting the population of many large ocean-dwelling fish. Interestingly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that presently swordfish are not in danger and overfishing is not occurring with this particular species. Their report says that the populations of swordfish are “very healthy” and within range to support maximum yield. (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2009) While this national data seems contradictory to the points presented by the video, it can be said that if the existing practice of overfishing a species continues, it is likely that many of these species will be completely eliminated from this habitat.
Overfishing is defined as harvesting more fish from a particular environment or region at a rate beyond that which the fish can naturally repopulate. Current research indicates that over 80% of the large fish population has been stripped from the oceans by commercial fishing enterprises within the last fifty years. Tuna and swordfish, the two most heavily sought after species, were once plentiful in many oceans but now are nearing extinction.
It is almost difficult to envision the impact on global markets if these species were to disappear off the face of the Earth. Beyond the obvious inconvenience to mankind, nature’s carefully balanced ecology is disrupted as well. Consider the birds and other marine creatures which rely on fish as a food source. Reducing, or eliminating, a food source has catastrophic effects to an entire ecosystem.
With the conclusion that humanity is endangering the balance of nature out of the way, there are some solutions to reverse the course of our careless actions. As discussed by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in the video, the largest impact comes from commercial fishing. A clear first step is to legislatively limit the activities of commercial fishing programs and to promote the idea that commercial enterprises must provide for a sustainable living program within the fish populations that they harvest. To encourage this, limits could be placed on the quantity of fish removed from a particular region as well as limits on the times in which fishing is allowed. Often, seasonal limitations are enforced during mating season to encourage the growth of a population by protecting fertile adult fish. As indicated by the research of Barclay and Cartwright (2007) these actions will help to rebuild the ecosystem and curtail the demise of the larger species of fish.
Aside from the creation of new laws, a program of enforcement must be established. Without effective legal enforcement, unscrupulous commercial fishermen could have a significant advantage over those who choose to follow the law. As with any law, if plans are not in place to enforce the program, there is little chance of any successful result. Perhaps the commercial fishing companies which profit heavily off of the destruction of our environment could be made to fund the enforcement of these laws themselves. Through strictly monitored self regulation, these entities can ensure that one another follows the proposed changes necessary to ensure a healthy and thriving marine environment.
While the changes proposed are needed, it is likely that they will be difficult to implement and enforce. Environmentalists, such as Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, believe the changes to be necessary and, in fact, dire. Some even believe that the problem is too far out of hand and may not be correctable at this point. Humanity will have to acknowledge some hardship if we are to do what is right.
The impact of these proposed regulations will not just hit commercial fishermen. The impact will also be felt to the consumer who may go to a local restraint and order sushi or a fish dinner. As with any supply and demand issue, if the supply is decreased because of ecological restrictions, the cost of the product will rise until the demand is balanced. Interesting research by Logan, et al (2008) shows that often times commercial fisheries will rebrand the fish that they catch with a more common, although misleading name. In their research, they find that several different species of fish are all being sold as ‘Red Snapper’ because of the desirability of that name. This confuses the consumer market and makes it difficult for consumers to effectively make informed choices. While this will affect many, the impact should be seen as insignificant compared to the potential demise of the entire fish population as a whole.
Perhaps the hardest hit by the change will be the smaller commercial fisherman. Fishing represents their livelihood. Limiting the size of their catch or the frequency of their activities will certainly impact revenue and income. While the changes are clearly necessary for the protection of a species, the fisherman impacted will undoubtedly feel hurt, singled out, and frustrated. Given this fact, not all fishermen are opposed to taking corrective action. Even Pete Dupuis, the suggested counter-view presented in the video to the ideas of Jeremy Jackson, believes that we should take care of the problem. They understand that the elimination of the fish population will also eliminate their job as fisherman. The balance comes in achieving what the environmentalists want while still allowing the fishermen freedom to have productive careers. This balance does exist.
Barclay, K. and Cartwright, I. (2007). Governance of tuna industries: The key to economic
viability and sustainability in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Marine Policy, 31(3), 348-358.
Logan, C. A., Alter, S. E., Haupt, A. J., Tomalty, K., and Palumbi, S. R. (2008). An impediment to
consumer choice: Overfished species are sold as Pacific red snapper. Biological Conservation, 141(6), 1591-1599.
National Marine Fisheries Service. (2009). FishWatch – U.S. Seafood Facts. National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration Web Page. Retrieved on July 27th from: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/pac_swordfish.htm