Something is lurking beneath the waters of the world’s oceans. However, that something is far less that it has been in centuries past. That something is fish. According to Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institute of Oceanograph, ninety percent of the largest fish in the ocean have been depleted. A ten-
year study has revealed that most of the large fish have been removed from the ocean and only ten percent are remaining. This revelation has come as a surprise to many people who believe the adage, “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. The current belief is that over fishing is depleting the world’s fish supply. However, pollution, habitat loss and climate change all factor into the loss of ocean life. It is estimated that “29% of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90%” due to changes in the ocean’s biodiversity (DeNoon, 2006, ¶ 8).
The ocean’s biological diversity—the living resources that compose it and the ecological processes that sustain it—forms a foundation for the quality of human life as well as the raw materials to enrich it. Biological diversity, or biodiversity, refers to the variety and variability among living organisms, and among the ecological complexes of which they are a part. Marine living resources provide essential economic, environmental, aesthetic, and cultural benefits to humanity. Sixteen percent of all animal protein consumed worldwide comes from the ocean.
(Hourigan, T., n.d., ¶ 2)
A closer look at the ocean’s troubles reveals that most of the ocean’s loss of biodiversity is directly related to human activity. Pollution is a large contributing factor to the ocean’s decrease in biodiversity. Pollution is caused by multiple sources such as toxic waste, boats, garbage, runoff, and automobiles. Some of these sources are obvious, except perhaps automobiles. Consider this, exhaust from automobiles ends up being acid rain. When it rains, acid rain falls into the ocean polluting the ocean and killing fish.
Overfishing is also a contributing factor, Overfishing has substantially depleted or made certain species extinct. Continued fishing, without significant regulations or changes, is seen by some people as the coming oceanic apocalypse. Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., believes “[I]f biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all” (DeNoon, D., 2006, ¶ 7).
Aquaculture is an example of a way to continue to supply fish for human consumption. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines aquaculture as “the propagation and rearing of aquatic organisms in controlled or selected aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational, or public purpose” (NOAA, ¶ 3).
Aquaculture or fish farms allow the demand for fish to be met while allowing for the same fish in the ocean to replenish. If we can change how we think about fishing and couple aquaculture with reduced marine fishing quotas and protected marine life areas (it is estimated that less than one percent of the world’s oceans are protected) the idea of replenishing the world’s oceans can become a reality.
Currently, however, aquaculture is in its infancy. Current practices need to be revised for a more environmentally friendly solution. According to Nathan Ayer, coastal salmon aquaculture “pollutes the ocean floor, spreads disease and could play havoc with wild salmon genetics.” Farmed fish live in a densely populated environment. As with most living creatures, living in close quarters leads to the spread of disease and parasites. Environmental harm can be caused by farming pens. If a farming pen contains non-native species and they escape, the invasive species can weak havoc on the ecosystem and spread parasites and disease.
In response to these environmental concerns, aquaculture farmers have started using land-based systems that use concrete tanks to house the fish. The claim is that these land-based systems are capable of isolating farm-raised fish from wild fish and recycling and treating fish waste and feed. However, the land-based systems do not operate without their own environmental impact. The feed used requires production and delivery (something not necessary for wild fish). This production and delivery causes the consumption of fuel and the creation of greenhouse gases. It has also been found that land-based systems require large amounts of energy to pump water, oxygenate water, temperate water, and treat water.
It is understood that the risks of aquaculture are to the farmed fish, the surrounding environment, and the human population. Does this mean that aquaculture should be abandoned? Absolutely not! What all this means is that we need to understand the risks and rewards associated with aquaculture and build a plan that helps replenish our oceans, feed our planet, and has a limited environmental impact.
One such plan is offshore aquaculture. Offshore aquaculture “takes place in federal waters” which begins approximately 3 nautical miles offshore and ends approximately 200 nautical miles offshore (NOAA, ¶2).
Because of the distance from shore, offshore aquaculture operations require technologies that can withstand open ocean conditions, exposed to wind and waves. Experts believe that the offshore has great potential for all kinds sustainable aquaculture for many reasons, including the fact that there are fewer competing uses further from shore and that the deep water and strong flow make the offshore a desirable location from an environmental standpoint.
Due to the swift waters in offshore aquaculture operations there is less concern of contamination to the ocean floor due to debris. Additionally, offshore aquaculture operations will not have the environmental impact caused by land-based systems with regard to energy consumption for pumping, oxygenating, and treating water.
It is important to remember that traditional fishing techniques do cause more harm than aquaculture. Ocean trawling, for example, damages ocean beds that are needed for food and living environments of many sea creatures. Trawling also causes the unintended catch and death of non-targeted fish. In addition, the large fishing ships dump raw sewage, and gray and oily water into the oceans. The aforementioned actions all lead to the depletion of the very fish we are in desperate need of replenishing.
To reverse the effects of over fishing, it is important to develop a plan that educates the commercial fishing community. The plan will need to teach the fishing community how certain actions impact the declining fish population and what we can do as a community to reverse this impact. The goal is to meet with members of the fishing community to discuss and research ideas to prevent over fishing and rebuild the fish population through offshore aquaculture, mandatory preserve areas, and implementation of a replenishment program.
(in the correct order) Action Steps Timeline
Research and identify the effects of over fishing. Review environmental Web sites and journals.
Document the effects of over fishing and the environmental impact.
Document video interviews of environmental researchers and commercial fishermen. Month 1-3
Develop a program about fish replenishment.
Develop a presentation about why a fish replenishment program is needed and include the negative effects of over fishing, the commercial fishing changes that will be required, and the benefits and challenges of change. Month 1-3
Schedule a presentation day and time. Try to obtain the support of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the NOAA Fisheries Service. Contact commercial fishing companies, NMFS and NOAA to present the benefits of the fish replenishment program.
Document the audio and visual equipment needed for presentation and layout of the room. Month 4
Identify and invite community participants.
Invite members of the fishing community to meet and participate in the presentation of the fish replenishment program. Month 4-5
Finalize plan based on outcome of meeting discussions. Information gathered during discussions with the fishing community will be used to finalize a program. The final program will be distributed to NOAA, NMFS and the commercial fishing community. Establish a deadline for final comments from NOAA, NMFS and the commercial fishing community. Review and incorporate final comments into the plan. Month 5-7
Implementation Begin implementation of plan by developing commercial marine aquaculture farms. Month 8-10
The benefits of aquaculture are economic, social and environmental. According to Meserve (2005) of Duke University, aquaculture can provide annual revenue in the billions, decrease our dependence on foreign food sources, provide needed employment to displaced fishermen, and reduce the harmful impact of traditional fishing. The challenge will be in trying to convince fishermen that these changes are good for everyone. Convincing the fishermen to embrace this change instead of fearing the end of their employment may be difficult. Alaska, in an attempt to save their fishing jobs, refused to allow the aquaculture of salmon. As a result, Alaska lost business and jobs when other states implemented the aquaculture of salmon fishing leading to the very thing Alaska was trying to prevent…the loss of jobs.
Obtaining the support of NOAA towards implementation of the fish replenishment program could provide significant inroads with the fishing community. According to Carlowicz (2007), the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 has tasked NOAA “with establishing stringent standards and coordinating offshore aquaculture with efforts by individual states.” Past programs, such as those referenced above in this article, have been criticized for their environmental impact. The National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007 contains legislation for environmentally sound practices.
The 2007 act would establish requirements to ensure offshore aquaculture development proceeds in an environmentally responsible manner that protects wild stocks and marine ecosystems; establish a coordinated permitting process for offshore aquaculture that integrates requirements under existing state and federal environmental laws and fills in regulatory gaps; and authorize a research and development program for all types of marine aquaculture.
Seeking a better way to sustain a food source for the human population while trying to repair a damaged environment is a good solution. Aquaculture, fishing reserves, and replenishment programs are all possible solutions to the problem. By implementing multiple programs, it is possible to protect the oceans from the loss of biodiversity. The oceans are an important part of our world. If the oceans die, there is a high probability that human life will also die. “The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest” (DeNoon, 2006, ¶ 15). To quote Jacques Cousteau, “…we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology. We need to farm it as we farm the land…” (NOAA, p. 1).
Ayer, N. (2006, August). Less bad: Raising fish on land is not eco-panacea some would have us believe. Alternatives Journal, 32(3), p. 31. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Gale database.
Carlowicz, M. (2007, July). New regulations proposed for offshore fish farms; WHOI-led task force recommended tough environmental standards. Oceanus, 45(3), p. 19. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from Gale database.
DeNoon, D. (2006, November 2). Prediction: Oceans’ fish gone by 2048. International study by ecologists & economists predicts collapse of world ocean ecology. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from http://www.webmd.com/news/20061102/oceans-fish-gone-by-2048
Hourigan, T. (n.d.) Conserving Ocean Biodiversity: Trends and challenges. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/websites/retiredsites/natdia_pdf/7hourigan.pdf
Meserve, N. (2005, Spring). Aquaculture in America. Is it worth it? Benefits, costs and the future. Retrieved November 9, 2007, from http://www.biology.duke.edu/bio217/2005/ncm3/index.html
U. S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Offshore Aquaculture. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from http://aquaculture.noaa.gov/us/offshore.html
U. S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). What is aquaculture? Retrieved November 9, 2007, from http://aquaculture.noaa.gov/what/welcome.html
University of Phoenix. (2007). Declining fish stock VLR. Retrieved November 9, 2007, from https://axiaecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/aapd/axia/sci275/multimedia/video/declinining_fish_stock.htm