Overfishing: 10 Essential Facts and How You Can Help

Our oceans and seas are suffering. Plastic pollution is a huge problem, climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and many marine life populations are decreasing due to overfishing. But it is not too late to turn things around. 

Before we can do that though, we need to be armed with the facts. In this article, we will talk a little about the impact of commercial fishing practices, discuss what the future could look like if we keep overfishing, and what you can do to help protect our oceans. 

Let us dive in and find out more:

What is overfishing and what causes it?

Simply put, overfishing is when we take too many fish from the oceans. The main cause of this is commercial fishing practices. Not only do commercial fishing practices take far too many fish, but they also kill and injure millions (yes, millions) of ocean animals and sea birds in the process. This is called bycatch: ‘The portion of fishing catch that consists of marine animals caught unintentionally’.

Fish and seafood are some of the most traded foods in the world, but unfortunately, they are unsustainable at the current rate at which we are catching and consuming them. When fishermen used simple reels from a small boat there was plenty of fish to go around, the seas were thriving and healthy. But today:

Fishing boats the size of football pitches cover the seas to find fish using state-of-the-art tracking electronics. 

These boats scoop up thousands of tonnes of fish with every voyage and can stay at sea for months at a time, storing their catch onboard.

There are different types of commercial fishing practices, and some are worse than others. Trawling is known to be the most damaging and involves huge nets being dragged behind the boats to catch huge amounts of fish.

Trawling nets can be up to one mile long and big enough to hold ten jumbo jets. 

Not only does trawling catch far too many fish to be sustainable, but it can also damage the ocean floor and damage corals and marine habitats. Trawling also captures massive numbers of bycatch, including sharks, whales, and turtles.

What is ghost fishing?

Commercial fishing practices can also pollute the seas with discarded fishing nets, which usually contain plastic. Marine life continues to be trapped and injured or killed in these ghost nets even after the boats have long gone. It is important when fishing on any scale, to always make sure not to leave fishing nets and lines behind on beaches or in the ocean.

Love weird and wonderful marine life? Check out: The Fascinating World of 8 Deep-Sea Creatures.

Overfishing – The essential facts and stats

It is important to know the facts to make the best and most ethical decisions for the planet. As divers, snorkelers, and ocean lovers we see firsthand the damage being done in the ocean. So, it is our job to stay educated and to inspire change in others to help protect our precious oceans.

Here are 10 essential facts and stats about overfishing:

1. Around 40% of the animals caught in commercial fishing practices each year are unintentional, including  250,000 turtles and 300,000 sea birds. 

2. Approximately 650,000 marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, are seriously injured or killed each year by commercial fishing practices.

3. The global Bluefin tuna population declined by 96 % in the last century because of overfishing.

4. Around 34% of the world’s fish stocks suffer from overfishing today.

5. Almost 90% of global marine fish stocks are fully exploited or overfished.

6. The Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea suffer from around 62% overfishing; the Atlantic Ocean around 59%; and the Pacific Ocean approximately 39%.

7. Overfishing was the reason for the extinction of the bull walleye in North America’s Great Lakes in the 1980s.

8. Overfishing has contributed to a 71% drop in the world’s shark and ray populations.

9. 33% of the world’s fish catches are by illegal fishing accounts.

10. Global jellyfish populations have risen because of overfishing.

Do you have an ocean lover in your life? Here are 7 Eco-friendly Gifts for Divers.

So, what can we do about it?

Amongst all these negative stats, there is a glimmer of hope! Some fish populations are increasing, and there are things that ordinary ocean lovers like us can do to help turn things around.

To start with, have you joined the SSI Blue Oceans movement? This awesome global community supports the conservation of aquatic environments and is the place to go to get inspired and create positive change. You will learn how to be a responsible diver and what you can do to actively protect underwater environments.

Here are some more ideas to help you reduce overfishing:

1. Look for certified sustainable seafood

If you want to keep seafood in your diet, look on the label to check that the fish you are buying was caught using sustainable fishing practices:

  • The blue tick from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a label you can trust. 
  • If you buy your seafood from a fishmonger, ask questions about their fishing practices.
  • Find out which fish species are in danger, and which are okay to eat. The WWF Sustainable Seafood Guides are a great place to start.

2. Consume less fish and seafood

If you can lower your seafood consumption, you will be playing a huge part in helping the overfishing crisis. Try to avoid wasting the fish you cook and eat by preparing it properly and only buying/catching/cooking what is necessary.

3. Spread the word!

Lead by example and share your knowledge about overfishing with others. Many people do not realize how big the problem is and the simple ways in which they can help. Share your knowledge and set an example.

4. Donate

Support a charity that is working to improve fishing populations and protect the ocean. There are numerous marine conservation societies to choose from, including in the USA, UK, and Australia. Not sure which to choose? The MSC is a good option.

5. Reduce single-use plastic

This is not a solution to overfishing, but it is a solution that helps protect marine life from harm. It is thought that around 100,000 marine animals are killed by ocean plastic ingestion or entanglement each year, so reducing your plastic waste can help fish populations massively.

Overfishing is a huge problem for the survival of marine species and therefore, us! But there is still hope. If we all make better choices, we can turn it around.

Start making a difference today by joining SSI Blue Oceans