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Overfishing: Are We Doing Enough?

It’s not an overstatement to call overfishing a prominent issue. Though are we doing enough to address it? On May 23rd, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission informed the public of the recreational flounder season’s cancellation. While North Carolina’s coast provides a perfect habitat for flounders, their popularity has led to overfishing. 


Overfishing occurs when the number of fish harvested exceeds the number renewed. Without oversight, overfishing’s effects are potentially disastrous. If left unchecked, overfishing can deplete the stock, damaging their ecosystem. The removal of a species impacts the natural order of prey and predators. This damages biodiversity and climate stability by impacting habitats that contribute to climate regulation, air quality and food sources." Coral reefs are one particular underwater resource that suffers severe impact from overfishing. Surgeonfish and parrotfish prevent algae overgrowth and as they continue to diminish in number, reefs become unhealthy or at worst, collapse.

 

What causes overfishing? A driving factor behind overfishing is demand. As the human population continues to increase so does seafood consumption, and both are only expected to climb. To keep up with an increasing population, seafood consumption is projected to grow by 15% by 2030. The result is a higher demand than supply, and fishers “fish out” spots to try and meet that demand regardless of dwindling supply.

 

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing contributes to overfishing. Illegal fishing involves fishing activities that directly violate a region’s law. Unreported fishing is failing to report or intentionally altering fishing activities. Unregulated fishing methods refer to fishing where management or conservation efforts do not exist in concordance with the laws.


Climate change also impacts overfishing. As climate change worsens and oceans warm, fish migrate to cooler temperatures. This is harmful as fish are monitored regionally, and migration occurs faster than stock assessments. This results in regions where fish migrate from experiencing a drastic deficiency in fish stock while regions where fish migrate to meet or exceed their quotas, leading to continued overfishing.

 

Who is monitoring overfishing? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) handles marine fisheries within a 4 million-square-mile zone from 3 to 200 nautical miles of the U.S. coast called the exclusive economic zone. Each state within the U.S. oversees fishery management from its coast and three miles beyond. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) is a law that includes objectives to prevent overfishing. It also includes parameters to bring back overfished stocks, maintain sustainable seafood supply and increase the economic and social benefits in the long run. To further strengthen the impact, all fishery management plans (FMPs) must align with 10 national standards that further enforce sustainability practices and prevent overfishing.

 

However, even with these measures in place, overfishing continues to be a problem in the U.S., and considering climate change, rebuilding stocks is only going to grow more difficult. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most recent report to Congress outlines that the number of stocks on the overfishing list slightly decreased and two stocks were rebuilt. Although it’s progress, with climate change looming, it’s far from enough for complete restoration. It’s time to reevaluate our goals through a climate change framework and work towards producing more fruitful and expedient results.


Ocean Conservancy, a D.C., United States environmental advocacy group, highlights the issues with our current framework. We operate under a system that sees a problem and reacts to it. If the U.S. wants to make waves in numbers, anticipating stock migration is vital. The future of overfishing will rely upon expanding research. The research should involve monitoring ocean warming and weather predictions. Overall, increasing the budget to fund staffing to develop and monitor climate-ready practices should be a priority.  


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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1 Comment


Hi, Alexis,


I really appreciated this article. I knew that overfishing was a problem with marine mammals, but I never thought about the possibility that regular fish could be overfished. I just assumed that they reproduced fast enough that their population was steady. After your article, I realized that the problem is much more complex than I had thought.

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