Draining our Seas

Commercial fishing supports a large part of the world’s economy. In the U.S. over a million people rely on the revenue of fishing (NOAA, web). Small islands like the Maldives and even Florida make millions in fishing and eco-tourism, and accounts for nearly 50% of their revenue.

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            Overfishing has been an ongoing problem since the 11th century, depleting a specific habitat, and then moving on to the next (Greenpeace, web). This is an issue worldwide with Asia being the highest rated region in fish consumption (FAO, web). Overfishing causes a cascade effect, when populations are severely depleted, biodiversity goes down which can lead to species being more susceptible to diseases, inbreeding, a higher loss to natural predation, and eventually extinction. One of the first documented cases of overfishing in the ocean is the overharvest of whales in the 1800’s for their blubber for lamp oil. Another case of overfishing is the case of the Atlantic Cod. At one point, around the 1400’s, the population numbers of Cod were so high people could dip baskets into the ocean and pull it full of Cod. As time went on, Cod became the major source of protein in the United States and by the 1900’s the fishery collapsed (ActiveOceans, Web).

            The work to slow this process and find a more sustainable way has led to fisheries, which at the time of conception, was believed to be the obvious solution to the problem of our depleting fish supply. Fisheries are an area where wild fish are caught and reared for commercial use; they would restock lakes and rivers, and grocery stores, without putting pressure on the natural fresh and salt water systems. There has also been stronger fishing laws put in place, but these laws are hard to enforce due to the enormity of the problem.

            One of the biggest leaders in the fight to combat overfishing are organizations like Greenpeace and world wildlife fund. Greenpeace is working on a campaign call “Defend our Oceans”, they are trying to bring an awareness to the public about the declining fish populations in oceans and change laws to further protect the oceans habitats.  While, World Wildlife Fund is working on public awareness.   

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            Oceana is another organization that fights to end over fishing through policy changes. One of Oceana’s victories was making a law in the Philippines that would crack down on illegal fishing and help rebuild fisheries (Oceana, Web).

Illegal fishing and unsustainable practices gets rewarded by consumers, whose constant, rising demand has led to this massive growing industry and the economy’s subsequent reliance on commercial fishing. One way combat this growing problem is through a consumerism route by educating the public to make more educated decisions when purchasing fish and fish products.    

MSC labels are a way for the public to purchase fish in a sustainable way. The MSC ecolabel assesses wild fisheries only and open to any fisheries company. This label is designed to track exactly where the fish are coming from. This non-profit organization came up with their standards with a collaboration of scientists, conservationists and industry partners. In 1999, Whole foods market was the first U.S. retailer to use the MSC ‘blue’ label, and this has increased across the U.S. since (Scott, 2014).

            The MSC label is met with opposition from many scientist due to bycatch, which is the accidental catching of a non-target fish, these scientist believe that MSC is compromising their integrity to meet the demand for seafood. In an article by NPR, it was stated that in a swordfish fishery that routinely caught about five blue sharks on accident for every one swordfish was still labeled sustainable despite the population decline in blue sharks in the area.            

The case of the compromised MSC label further shows that the fight to end overfishing is met head-on with our economy. One of the biggest proponents against change in overfishing are the fishermen and our own government, because without a suitable option both sides refuse to make drastic changes due to economic loss.

            The general public, fishing companies, and the government want to have more sustainable fishing practices, but the demand for seafood far outweighs the demand for drastic change. MSC’s blue label is a step in the right direction, but needs to be stricter when putting that label on wild caught fish in our grocery stores despite the demand for seafood. As it is a non-profit organization it should not be concerned with how many fisheries they can have their label on, but that the fisheries that do have the label are sustainable.

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