Years ago, the ocean was a never-ending supply of food, or at least many people thought it was. However, as fishing methods become more destructive, fish become less plentiful and harder to catch. The cause: Overfishing.

Let’s take a look at the three main factors of overfishing. First: poor fishery management. Companies and stakeholders are in charge of providing and enforcing rules for fishermen to follow, but there is little to no management of these rules, a primary cause of overfishing. Second, many countries practice unsustainable fishing methods, like bottom trawling, that waste thousands of fish. In fact, for every 1 kilo of shrimp, 5–20 kilos of fish is wasted. Third, with 3 billion people depending on fish, illegal fishing is a detrimental practice that causes overfishing. These factors damage the environment and cause fish stocks to collapse globally.

The damage is apparent in the environment and economics. For example, we all know about the plastic waste in our oceans, but did you know that fishing gear is a secret contributor to this waste. George Leonard, the chief scientist at the Ocean Conservancy says, “At least half of […ocean plastic waste] is not consumer plastics, which are central to much of the current debate, but fishing gear.” Studies show that around 46% of the 79 thousand tons of ocean plastic is made up of fishing nets, some of these being even bigger than the size of football fields. Additionally, the declined fish population raises prices for countries that depend on seafood, and countries that rely on seafood will find it harder to provide for their people.

What We Can Do

Every initiative starts with educating yourself on the topic. If you don’t feel like reading, YouTube has several documentaries you can listen to. Check out Overfishing by the UNDP or How More Efficient Fishing Can Protect the Ocean by National Geographic. Then, start to raise awareness about the issue. This step is critical because, despite it being an ecological and commercial issue, overfishing is overlooked. Lastly, support businesses and organizations that advocate for better fishing practices. When you go to the store, look for a blue MSC fish label. These seafood products are from fisheries that follow specific codes and standards. Think of sustainable seafood purchases as a way to keep your stomach and the ocean happy.

And, as we change our individual mindsets, thinking about what the government can do is important as well, since they are responsible for making permanent changes. Officials must create more TURF Reserves and enforce fishing laws. TURF Reserves are a fishing management approach that motivates people to protect fish while catching them. They consist of two areas: the TURF (Territorial Use Rights for Fishing) and the reserve. The reserve, a place where you can’t fish, is next to or inside of the TURF, the place you can fish. Since no one fishes in the reserve, the habitat is protected while fish reproduce and overflow into the TURFs. Government officials and politicians must also create and enforce sustainable fishing policies like these. In addition, putting a tax penalty and regularly checking fisheries, will greatly reduce overfishing and it’s disastrous effects.

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