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The Problematic Overfishing in Low-Income Areas

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As our world has become more aware of conservation and sustainability, we have come to understand the importance of the environment and natural resources. Organizations and specific laws were made to protect what is essential to us, one of which being natural resources from the ocean. Issues such as overfishing aren’t too big of a deal in developed countries due to strict regulations and accepting sustainable use. However, some may state this isn’t the case in other low-income countries around the world and there will be significant consequences in the near future. National and international organizations have tried to spread awareness that there is an over-exploitation of natural resources from the ocean. Issues involving natural resources and the ecosystem are never simplistic. Low-income countries are very dependent on the ocean for more than just a food source and can’t just stop fishing suddenly as it would disturb their economy. Some scientists believe that the main issue is that we don’t understand all of the factors that are at the root of overfishing (Srinivasan et al. 2010). Therefore, the event of overfishing will not have quick and superficial solutions.

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It is a fair claim to make that there’s a high percentage of the world’s population that understands that overfishing is detrimental and should not be tolerated. There have been significant effects that have taken place and will be hard to completely recover from. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that fishermen have overfished over 80 percent of the world’s fish populations (Bird 2012; Teh et al. 2016). That is a staggering number whereas the percentage in low-income areas is even higher. Some of the most heavily fished areas are China, Japan, and Thailand as studies show that these areas are almost fully exploited of fish populations. Overfishing created a loss in biodiversity and habitat, which both would severely change ecosystem structures (Teh et al. 2016). Endangered/threatened species are taking a serious blow from overfishing. The bluefin tuna for example is struggling to keep its population up in the waters off of Japan due to the demand for this species. This is due to 81 percent of the world’s tuna consumption originates from Japan (Bird 2012). Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that the wild populations will recover every year.

These statistics aren’t just shown off the Asian-Pacific coast. Global fish populations have demonstrated staggering deficits. Eggert & Greaker (2009) state that, “20 percent of fish stocks have crashed, 40 percent are over-exploited, and the remaining 35 percent are fully exploited” (p. 2). Consequently, over 50 billion dollars were lost in revenues and benefits are depleted every year. This includes welfare of countries that export much of their resources (Eggert & Greaker, 2009). These countries tend to be less developed and have lower income. This could be significant considering that fishing is a necessary factor in coastal communities as it provides food, jobs, and trade products (Teh et al. 2016).

Many may think that the only root cause of overfishing is that there are too many fishermen fishing for too little populations of fish. However, the source is more complicated than it may seem. It is evident that the primary reason for fishing is for food consumption. Srinivasan et al. (2010) states that, “the linkage between overfishing and food security have not been well understood”(p. 1). Fishermen could argue that the more fish that they catch, the higher their paycheck will be. Although true for a short term scale, that will negatively hurt them in the future. This is due to the catch loss: the fish that could have been caught if overfishing had not taken place (Srinivasan et al. 2010). If overfishing didn’t occur and fishermen harvested through more sustainable means, the money that they could have made and the number of people that could have been fed would have been larger. It is estimated that if the catch in the year of 2000 was through subsistence fishing, over 20 million people facing undernourishment today could have been helped (Srinivasan et al. 2010). It can be hard to decipher what short term benefits will have long term consequences.

One of the biggest factors that also contribute to overfishing is poaching/illegal fishing. This has such a significant impact because regardless of what regulations are put into place, there will still be a negative effect on the fishery. Certain areas are regulated or even marked off for no fishing as the populations of fish may be struggling and it may be an important resource that is greatly depended upon. However, some still choose to make the decision to fish in these areas which is stripping away the fish populations in these coastal communities (Fox, 2013) This is significant as 2.6 billion people rely on fish as a food source and about 526 million people depend on fishing (Fox, 2013; Teh et al. 2016). Common results from this act are risk for food security and regional stability. Illegal fishing also stimulates the global supply chain (Fox, 2013). The global supply chain is the network of goods and services sold and shipped internationally. Illegal fish have been incorporated into the system and can be hard to detect at times, putting a major burden on trying to decrease overfishing.

As necessary as it is to stop overfishing immediately, the opposing side can argue there are valid reasons for why it occurs. Low-income countries don’t always have the luxury to have a variety of food in their reach at all times. Therefore, the ocean has always been a dependable resource for them (Teh et al. 2016; Bird 2012). We see this specifically common in areas of high population growth and high poverty levels which are characteristics of low-income areas (Finkbeiner 2017). This is also why overfishing has become a more important topic because as the population rises, hunger will rise and lead to a greater dependence on the ocean to supply for that need.

The economy is also one of the major attributes to overfishing. Fisheries alone in China supports over 3 million jobs and about 12-22 billion dollars in value annually (Teh et al. 2016). Similar statistics are found in Japan as they are one of the world’s leading exporters of seafood. Japan’s seafood retail is very competitive, therefore fishermen and seafood salesmen have to be as productive as they can be. Trade is necessary for Japan as 50 percent of their seafood is exported to other countries, one of which being the United States (Bird 2012). By doing so, there are other economic benefits that are created which includes fish processing, boat building, ice manufacturing, and a multitude of other fishing-related services. As stated previously, the catch loss contributes to poor economies in those countries, primarily China, Japan, and Brazil; all have over 1 million people directly affected (Srinivasan et al. 2010).

It is clear to say that low-income countries have great dependence on the ocean. Putting drastic regulations by conservationists have the potential to take away many individuals’ source of income, way of living, and make contemporary problems worse than they are such as hunger and poverty (Teh et al. 2016). Inventions and technology also contributed to the development of overfishing. Bigger and better equipment allows fishermen to catch more fish in a shorter amount of time (Srinivasan et al. 2010). The advancement of larger boats, mechanized trawls, monofilament nets, and deep-water gear gives fishermen the ability to stray from shallow water and move into deeper water where stocks potentially could be higher in numbers (Finkbeiner 2017). This can lead to a greater issue when fishermen may come across a fortunate bounty of fish that would benefit them to harvest regardless of regulations: Tragedy of the Commons. Tragedy of the Commons is the idea that fishermen may think that if they keep one more fish or keep a fish that isn’t legal to harvest then the population won’t be harmed. However, if there are more than one fisherman that has this similar ideology, the consequences could be detrimental to that population (Finkbeiner 2017). This issue is specifically prevalent in areas lacking regulations and appropriate enforcement, usually characteristic of low-income areas.

Although overfishing is still prevalent due to the specific factors listed above, there have been movements by organizations, governments, as well as seafood corporations making changes to practice more sustainable fishing. Marine conservationists and seafood industry executives in Japan have met in order to come up with a solution to satisfy both sides regarding sustainability at the annual Seafood Summit (Bird 2012). This was a major step for the country in terms of a significant change to how people fish in marine waters. Market-based efforts originated from the United States and Europe and created organizations to be established in these areas in order to set standards for appropriate fishing, one being the Marine Stewardship Council (Bird 2012). There is still exploitation in some areas more than others as shown with bluefin tuna, salmon, shrimp, and crab. However Japan has started to shift their cause for more sustainable seafood (Bird 2012). The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization have been studying and keeping track of the catch loss caused by overfishing. By doing so, they are showing the consequences that are occurring would not have developed or been less impactful if the catch loss had not taken place (Srinivasan et al. 2010).

One of the most significant and well-known movements to decrease overfishing is done by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They have explicitly focused on the issue of illegal fishing/poaching as it is one of the leading factors of overfishing. The WWF uses a technological-based approach by utilizing satellites to identify illegal fishing; their software is called DETECT IT (Fox, 2013). DETECT IT helped the organization with traceability of illegal seafood: the capability to locate and track the seafood from location to location. The WWF stated that this has been very effective in determining where illegal fishing is originating from and the routes that the seafood is taking. However, traceability is a big role for just one organization. Therefore, the WWF teamed up with FishWise, Future of Fish, and the Global Food Traceability Center (Fox, 2013). By doing so, the organizations were able to maximize the efficiency of traceability and potentially limit some of the illegal fishing taking place. This would in terms contribute to the organization’s goal of decreasing overfishing globally.

Regardless of national and international organizations helping to decrease the overall impact of overfishing, the developing countries are taking action themselves. As the natural fish populations were diminishing, developing countries adopted aquaculture: the practice of farming fish. The method grew popular through-out low-income areas; over 50 percent of the world’s fish now comes from aquaculture (Belton et al. 2019). This decreases overfishing as it lowers the direct pressure on natural resources as well letting those populations recover (Rinkesh, 2018). Aquaculture directly creates added benefits for these countries. Belton et al. (2019) explains that most low-income area aquaculture farms are “small-scale to feed the poor… and are 70-80 percent of the world’s aquaculture production.” This is significant as economic and social problems were improved as aquaculture creates revenue through exporting some of the fish as well as feeding the poor more locally and efficiently. Therefore, one could say that overfishing is under control in low-income areas due to success aquaculture generated.

It is simple to deduce that overfishing occurs in our contemporary world. However, the true question that must be looked at is if overfishing is derived from and a serious matter in low-income countries. The question was effectively examined by analyzing what effects overfishing has had on low-income areas, the reasons for why it occurs, and what organizations, policies, and countries have done to come up with solutions or decrease its impact. By doing so, this natural resource issue is looked at in a more diverse context which will help conclude the overall impact of overfishing in low-income areas.

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