The ocean is reaching a tipping point from climatic change, pollution, resource extractions and overfishing. Such stresses have broader implications for food security as well as the future of the world’s wildlife.
Plundering Our Oceans
Guest Post by Thomas Penfold, a recent graduate of a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, currently working in Laos.
Overfishing combined with destructive fishing practices such as the use of explosives, as well as trawlers and by-catches, are threatening the survival rate of oceanic species.
According to a United Nations Environmental Program report ‘Challenges to International Waters’, the rate of decline of fish stocks have been influenced by excessive industrialized fishing practices. The report noted that large scale fishing fleets through the use of trawlers have contributed to both the destruction of natural habitats and a mass decline in fish stocks. Added to this, bycatch from trawlers are posing a huge threat to other species of marine life caught in nets, such as turtles and dolphins, causing huge disruptions to the ocean’s fragile ecosystem.
Fish stocks globally have reached a disastrous tipping point from decades of overfishing, the expansion of global fishing fleets, advanced technology, as well as the increased consumption of fish stocks over the last 3 decades.
Commercial fishing, fueled by technological advancement, and compounded by global population growth has expanded to a broader base of species, leading to a mass depreciation of global populations of marine life. Fish stocks have now been pushed to a catastrophic tipping point – without sustainable fishing practices and conservation programs, the problem of overfishing will wreak havoc on marine life, as well as threatening the food security of billions of people.
Another notable problem is the lack of ocean governance. A recent article in the Economist ‘How to Catch the Overfishermen’, attributes the depletion of fish stocks to the oceans’ being ungoverned. Essentially, this is an anarchic situation, where there is a “free for all” attitude.
A major problem has been the subsidies given to the fishing industries, which has promoted the expansion of national fishing fleets. Essentially, subsidies undermine sustainable fishing policies. There is also a problem of too many boats for a rapidly dwindling population of fish, which is worsened by illegal fishing that continues to strip the oceans bare. Overall, overfishing in the context of governance is a thoroughly difficult global problem to counter or to establish policy around, given the ‘free for all’ attitude that is systemic within industries.
With over a billion people dependent on our global oceans for the delivery of animal protein, the seas are often thought of as a never-ending food basket. That is certainly not the case.
Overfishing, and the policies and poor governance relating to it need to be addressed urgently by individuals, industry and governments before our marine life plunges further into irreparable catastrophe.
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