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The Global and Personal Perspectives on Overfishing

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Causes and Consequences
  • Global Perspectives
  • National Perspectives
  • Courses of Actions
  • Credibility of Resources
  • Personal Perspective

Introduction

As the world population continues to rise at an unprecedented rate, it brings along an increasing demand for nourishment to sustain it. This would result in further imbalances in the already intricate ecological systems as various nations attempt to stabilize their own populace. Fish stocks have been classified as “non-renewable resource if overused by humans” which is contrary to the common belief of fish being an inexhaustible resource. This misconception has led to aquatic creatures being looked upon as commodities instead of valuable constituents of active ecosystems.

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Throughout this report, I will be investigating into how the overreliance on seawater organisms by humans has ensued dire repercussions on marine biodiversity throughout the world. For in-depth analysis of the severity of this issue, I will be scrutinizing national, along with global case studies, hence emphasizing on the international scale of this problem.

Causes and Consequences

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replenish through natural reproduction.” Overfishing can be attributed to various human-induced factors. The lack of protected areas is a major cause of overfishing as only 1.6% of the world’s oceans have been declared as marine protected areas (MPAs). Moreover, the advent of superior equipment has allowed trawlers to travel further meanwhile the drift-nets can trap unwanted fish. This unwanted fish, referred to as “by-catch” is dumped into the ocean, mostly dead or severely injured. By-catch accounts for up to 40% of fish caught through drift-netting. Despite falling stocks, fishermen residing in coastal communities having invested heavily into this activity and depending on it as a sole source of income continue the overexploitation of marine resources. This is supported by a study into European coastal communities which revealed that 388 coastal communities highly dependent on fishing account for around 54% of total fisheries employment in the region. Above all, continual rise in human population is the basis of overfishing with the aforementioned causes mainly stemming through it. The graph presented above provisions this statement reasonably well.

The most glaring consequence is the declining marine biodiversity. Targeting a particular group in marine community can initiate imbalance within the ecosystem. Pursuing large shoals of smaller fish can result in less nutrient availability further up the food web, threatening the entire aquatic population in the process. This is reinforced by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): classifying 37 species as “threatened-by-extinction” while 14 others as “near-threatened” between Angola and Mauritania only. Consequently, depletion of fish stocks has adverse affects on countries with coastal communities over-reliant on fishing industry for employment and sustenance. According to IUCN director general Inger Anderson “fish provides a major source of animal protein for the coastal communities, which account for around 40% of this region’s (Africa’s) population.” Therefore, a rather direct repercussion of declining fish stocks can be the malnutrition and loss of livelihood in the small coastal-communities.

Global Perspectives

The implications of overreliance on marine life are apparent throughout the world. West Africa being less affluent region, is no stranger to illegal trawling and overexploitation of it’s rich fishing reserves. More specifically, Ghana situated in this region has been particularly vulnerable to the misuse of its marine resources by Chinese trawlers. Although the Ghanaian government banned the foreign trawling corporations from probing in their waters in 2002, the management of open oceans is an arduous responsibility. Moreover, 90% of the vessels licensed in Ghana itself are built in China this indicates the foremost involvement of Chinese trawlers operating within the Ghanaian maritime boundary. This not only deprives local government and communities from the potential financial profits, it also contributes to the drastic decline in pelagic fish catch (herring, mackerel, sardine) in the region, as reported by USAID and Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project. This poses a substantial threat to small-scale Ghanaian fisheries with the possibility of irreversible ramifications in the future.

A prime example of complications caused during the enactment of international fisheries policy when the interests of various nations are involved can be seen in the European Union (EU). It operates common fisheries policy (CFP) among all its members but the governments under pressure from local coastal communities and those involved in large-scale commercial trawling are reluctant to meet the radical reductions required to achieve the goal of sustainable fisheries in the future. The “error-prone” policy is no stranger to constant criticism as it does little to truly halt overfishing. The extra catch (mostly deceased) that unavoidably comes up in the nets for which there is no quota is dumped back into the oceans. Iceland opted to stay out of EU primarily due to the implementation of CFP in EU so that it could retain total control the management of its rich marine resources. Denmark is considered as one of the worst countries in Europe when it comes to overutilization of marine resources, exceeding its total catch allowance by 19.7% which roughly translates to 50,000 tonnes.

These statistics pose an immense doubt on the success of CFP as well as on its strict implementation in the region. Sweden, the foremost in this category has been known to obtain more than half of its fish outside the annually allotted quota as evident in the figure above. The current quota for endangered Baltic Cod in Denmark is significantly higher than the scientific recommendation resulting in 40% of Baltic and Atlantic Fish stocks being overfished within the Denmark’s maritime boundaries. Eventually this could lead to declining biodiversity in oceans world-wide, something that has been already observed in the above-mentioned examples and will be further researched upon in this report.

National Perspectives

Despite having over 1000km of coastline, Pakistan’s fishing industry only constitutes around 1% of the GNP and 2% of the total exports’ worth. This indicates towards fishing being considered as a minor sector in the country’s economy. Despite little financial contribution to the country, marine resources have been drastically affected due to foreign trawlers, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices in the region over the past few decades. Unsustainable practices mainly comprise of the use of illegal, fine-mesh nets that capture economically unviable but ecologically vital organisms towards maintaining marine biodiversity and stability in Pakistan. WWF Pakistan’s marine fisheries technical advisor Moazzam Khan addressed the issue of illegal net sizes, signifying the irreversible damage being caused as approximately 10,000 dolphins and 30,000 turtles succumb to these mesh-sized nets annually. He further connoted the severity of this issue as 99% of fishermen use nets longer than the allotted length (2.5km) by UN. The species known to be jeopardized by these practices include shrimps, lobsters, sharks and stingrays and Moazzam Khan goes on to state: “Recovery of these resources is very slow and even if these fisheries are closed down, it would still take decades to restore their stock.” This wholly reflects upon the extreme nature of the impairment caused by human interferences in an already delicate marine ecological system.

Most of the local catch is within 12 nautical miles of the coast due to the lack of equipment to venture into deep-waters. This disadvantage for the locals is heavily exploited by the “prohibited” foreign trawlers that face little competition and opposition in deep-waters within the Pakistan’s maritime boundary. These external trawlers mainly from India, deliberately overexploit marine resources within the vicinity of Pakistan’s sea limits. Essentially around 600 vessels are involved in fish poaching in close proximity of the rich Indus delta monthly, responsible for PKR 8-billion loss in revenue over a four month period. Undeniably, this radically adds to the deteriorating marine biodiversity around Indus Delta as well as severely undermining the development in Pakistan’s already lagging fishing industry. 70% decline in the catch of large-sized shrimp over the last four decades and catch of colossal sized shrimp being reduced to zero further supplements the inference above.

Courses of Actions

I believe there is no simple or universally viable solution to the overexploitation of marine resources. After decades of plundering, it only makes sense that it would require decades for these fisheries to achieve a sustainable population once again. Consequently, to overcome the long-lasting concern of overfishing in Europe, amendments to the Common-Fisheries-Policy is a necessity. After 7-years of negotiations and disputes, the unsustainable practice of discarding the by-catch is expected to cease from 2019 as quotas have been slightly increased to accommodate the by-catch. Furthermore, the policymaking would not be as centralized as previously. Unarguably, the involvement of regional authorities and local stakeholders in decision-making would better assist in coping with issues encountered on a local level.

At the UN Law of Sea Conference (1982), agreement was reached between governments of coastal countries to establish zones of 200 nautical miles around their shores called economic-exclusion-zones (EEZ). The nations would have exclusive rights to all natural resources within their EEZs. Annual limits (quotas) were set for catch allowances. As the facts and figures mentioned throughout this report present, it is evident that these quotas need further reduction and support by other management strategies to achieve sustainability in this field. It is essential to enforce policies like prohibition of fishing during the breeding season and reduction in net-sizes (banning mesh-nets) to limit the by-catch accumulation. In addition to this, nations facing the prospect of overfishing can develop marine protected areas (MPAs), where human activities are outlawed for conservational purposes. Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador is amongst the world’s most bio-diverse MPAs covering an extensive 133,000km2 area.

Credibility of Resources

Overall, my resources are reliable. I have consulted two course-books, endorsed by Cambridge for O-levels and IGCSE syllabuses of Pakistan Studies and Environmental Management respectively 1,5,12,17,21,26; although the latter one was published in 2011, containing most statistics from early 21st century (before 2010). I also consulted reputable sources like The-Independent, The-Telegraph and The-Guardian 7,13,24 (well-known in UK) for articles. Two personalities (Inger Anderson Director-General IUCN and Moazzam Khan WWF-P marine-fisheries technical advisor) referred to during this research are both highly accomplished and respectable individuals in this field. I also consulted the official website of European Commission for content.6,25; however, a link leads to an article from 2013, which may not be as relevant today as it was back then.25 WWF is a leading global NGO, striving towards sustainable management of marine resources.3,4 Referring to Ghanaian government’s and UN’s official websites further solidifies my claim of reliability of resources.8,11 The statistics and graphs are largely obtained from National Geographic and (UN)FAO.2,27 Locally I have mostly referred to recent articles from leading local news-firms “Dawn” and “The Express Tribune” although an article from 2014 from a relatively unknown source “undercurrent news”2 ther may be considered as outdated and unreliable.

Personal Perspective

My personal view on the declining marine biodiversity is adamant: humans and their utilization of marine resources beyond sustainable levels are largely responsible for this. I believe the change has to come at an individual level to prompt governments to hasten their conservational efforts. Consumers should be more cautious and aware whether the fish-related products they are consuming have been obtained lawfully and justly. Although we rarely consume fish in my family, my father purchases fish-products from METRO, a reputable store that obtains its catch from registered vendors (no foreign trawlers) that abide by the quotas fixed by the government. Additionally, the companies involved in this occupation need to shift their priorities from financial gain to ecological conservation. Instead of catering their short-term needs, they should focus towards attaining a sustainable future that would yield greater profits in the long-term.

From my research, I can conclude that overexploitation of marine resources has led to a steep decline in marine biodiversity. Through writing this report, I became acutely aware of the harms humans inflict upon the environment to satisfy their own needs. I also learned to accept and recognize views that may contradict mine, analyzing the reasons for disparity in these perspectives. Overall, I am fairly optimistic that the fishing authorities would recognize the repercussions of their unfeasible actions on marine ecology and I look forward to the day marine biodiversity would become stable and unperturbed as it formerly used to be, before human intervention. 

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