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The alarming reality of overfishing is driven by the ever-increasing global demand for fish, which has more than doubled since the 1980s. With over 3 billion people relying on fish as their primary source of protein and a world population that has quadrupled since the 1960s, our oceans face immense pressure. Approximately 30 percent of commercially fished waters are now classified as 'overfished.'

The map shows the regulatory area of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) which functions as the Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) overseeing the North East Atlantic, which stands as one of the globe´s richest fishing grounds.

In the chapter 'Overfishing Definition: What is Overfishing,' from the article 'Overfishing Statistics: Data and Facts' by Coty Perry for Anglers, we explore this critical issue that profoundly impacts our oceans and ecosystems."

Overfishing Definition: What is Overfishing?

First, take heart: As a recreational fisherman you are almost certainly not guilty of “overfishing.”

This is an issue for commercial fishermen in the fishing industry who are trawling the ocean depths with massive nets to catch enough fish to make a living for themselves and their families, not the angler who enjoys a little peace and quiet on the weekends.

12 Percent of the world relies on fisheries

Overfishing is, in some sense, a rational reaction to increasing market needs for fish. Most people consume approximately twice as much fish as they did 50 years ago and there are four times as many people on earth as there were at the close of the 1960s.

This is one driver of the 30 percent of commercially fished waters being classified as “overfished.” This means that the stock of available fishing waters are being depleted faster than they can be replaced.

There is a simple and straightforward definition of when an area is being “overfished” and it’s not simply about catching “too many” fish.

Overfishing occurs when the breeding stock of an area becomes so depleted that the fish in the area cannot replenish themselves.

At best, this means fewer fish next year than there are this year. At worst, it means that a species of fish cannot be fished out of a specific area anymore.

80 percent of fish are caught in nets

This also goes hand-in-hand with wasteful forms of fishing that harvest not just the fish the trawler is looking for, but just about every other organism big enough to be caught in a net.

Over 80 percent of fish are caught in these kinds of nets but fish aren’t the only things caught in nets.

What’s more, there are a number of wide-reaching consequences of overfishing. It’s not simply bad because it depletes the fish stocks of available resources, though that certainly is one reason why it’s bad. Others include:

Increased Algae in the Water:
Like many other things, algae is great but too much of it is very bad. When there are fewer fish in the water, algae doesn’t get eaten.

This increases the acidity in the world’s oceans, which negatively impacts not only the remaining fish, but also the reefs and plankton.

Destruction of Fishing Communities:
Overfishing can completely destroy fish populations and communities that once relied upon the fish that were there. This is particularly true for island communities.

And it’s worth remembering that there are many isolated points on the globe where fishing isn’t just the driver of the economy, but also the primary source of protein for the population.

When either or both of these disappear, the community disappears along with it.

Tougher Fishing for Small Vessels:
If you’re a fan of small business, you ought to be concerned about overfishing. That’s because overfishing is mostly done by large vessels and makes it harder for smaller ones to meet their quotas.

With over 40 million people around the world getting their food and livelihood from fishing, this is a serious problem.

Ghost Fishing:
Ghost fishing refers to abandoned man-made fishing gear that is left behind. It’s believed that an estimated 25,000 nets float throughout the Northeast Atlantic.

This left behind gear becomes a death trap for all marine life that swim through that area.

While much of this is caused due to storms and natural disasters, much of it is the result of ignorance and neglect on behalf of commercial fishermen.

Species Pushed to Near Extinction:
When we hear that a fish species is being depleted, we often think it’s fine because they can be found somewhere else.

However, many species of fish are being pushed close to extinction by overfishing, such as several species of cod, tuna, halibut and even lobster.

If you’re old enough to remember people being concerned about dolphins caught in tuna nets, you know what bycatch is:

It’s when marine life that is not being sought by commercial fishermen is caught in their nets as a byproduct. The possibility of bycatch increases dramatically with overfishing.

Overfishing creates waste in the supply chain. Approximately 20 percent of all fish in the United States is lost in the supply chain due to overfishing.

In the Third World this rises to 30 percent thanks to a lack of available freezing devices. What this means is that even though there are more fish being caught than ever, there is also massive waste of harvested fish.

Mystery Fish:
Because of overfishing, there are a significant amount of fish at your local fish market and on the shelves of your local grocery store that aren’t what they are labelled as. Just because something says that it’s cod doesn’t mean that it actually is.

To give you an idea of the scope of this problem, only 13 percent of the “red snapper” on the market is actually red snapper.

30 percent fish in the Third World lost in the supply chain due to a lack of available freezing devices

Most of this is unintentional due to the scale of fishing done today, but much of it is not, hiding behind the unfortunate realities of mass scale fishing to pass off inferior products to unwitting customers.

So why is overfishing happening? There are a variety of factors driving overfishing that we will delve into here, the bird’s eye view is below.

Regulations are incredibly difficult to enforce even when they are carefully crafted, which they often are not.

The worst offenders have little regulations in place and none of these regulations apply in international waters, which are effectively a Wild West.

Unreported Fishing:
Existing regulations force many fisherman to do their fishing “off the books” if they wish to turn a profit. This is especially true in developing nations.

Mobile Processing:
Mobile processing is when fish are processed before even returning to port. They are canned while still out at sea. Canned fish is increasingly taking up the fish consumption market at the expense of fresh fish.

Anyone familiar with farm subsidies knows that these are actually bad for the production of healthy food. Subsidies for fishing are similar.

They don’t generally go to small fishermen whom one would think are most in need, but rather to massive vessels doing fuel-intensive shipping.

What’s more, subsidies encourage overfishing because the money keeps flowing no matter what — the more fish you catch, the more money you get, with no caps influenced by environmental impact fishing regulation.

Indeed, according to the World Wildlife Fund, subsidies drive illegal fishing, which is closely tied with piracy, slavery and human trafficking.

The University of British Columbia conducted a study that found that $22 billion (63 percent of all fishing subsidies) went toward subsidies that encourage overfishing.

Of these, the main driver of overfishing is, predictably, government subsidies. 

Read the full article Overfishing Statistics: Data and Facts

Source: Anglers - Coty Perry

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