Discover the threats, causes and impacts, and how you can help.
Fishing for Answers
Inspired from the movie Revolution and narrated by Rob Stewart, our Educational Video gives you more content on Overfishing.
Fish are the first vertebrates on Earth and evolved into the diverse array of vertebrates you see today. Look back in your family tree, about 530 billion years ago, and there will be a prehistoric fish.[1. About.com fish Evolution.] Jawless fishes filled oceans, lakes and waterways 490 million years ago kickstarting vertebrate evolution. Prehistoric sharks appeared 400 million years ago – followed shortly thereafter by the ray-finned fishes that evolved into 96 percent of all freshwater and marine fish species[2. New Scientist. “Most fish in the sea evolved on land.” February 8, 2012. Colin Barras.] on the planet.
Just recently census scientists increased the number of known marine species to about 250,000. However it is believed at least 1 million species of marine life likely exist[3. Census of Marine Life www.coml.org] — fish are 12 percent of all marine species.[4. Census of Marine Life www.coml.org]
From larval forms of fish, or zooplankton, right on up to the apex predators like tuna and sharks, it’s eat or be eaten in the world of fish. Humpback whales work in teams to catch hundreds of fish in bubble nets they blow. Fish travel in schools to avoid predation—safety in numbers. Schools as large as Manhattan have been documented, with tens of millions of fish.[5. Census of Marine Life www.coml.org]
Each year, people flock to marine areas to dive, snorkel, canoe, kayak, fish, whale watch, surf and soak up nature. In 2003, it is estimated that 121 million people a year participate in ocean recreation, generating $47 billion (US) in expenditures and supporting one million jobs.[6. J. Bioecon. “A global estimate of bene?ts from ecosystem-based marine recreation: potential impacts and implications for management.” Andrés M. Cisneros-Montemayor et al.]
There is a wide array of extraordinary fish in our waters. The whale shark is the world’s biggest fish, maxing out at 20 metres long and 34,000 kilograms.[7. Encyclopaedia of Life. “Whale Shark.” eol.org]
Many fish have astounding features, for instance a flounder has both eyes on one side of their head, frogfish are often covered in bumpy, branched spines and can walk on their fins, anglerfish have lures and lights to draw in prey and the mandarinfish are a kaleidoscope of stunning colours and patterns.
Fish are found around the globe – in our oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds. Some types of fish are widespread, like the manylight viperfish that has been found in more than one-quarter of the world’s deep marine waters.[8. Census of Marine Life www.coml.org] Other fish have evolved to exist in one place — like the spring pygmy sunfish that lives in only five river miles of the Beaverdam Springs in Alabama.[9. Center for Biological Diversity.” Rare Alabama Fish Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection.”]
Unfortunately, many of these miraculous species are at risk from overfishing. Overfishing occurs when fish and other aquatic species, marine and freshwater, are caught faster than they can reproduce, and endure too many losses to maintain a healthy population. Consumer demand for seafood, poor management of fisheries and destructive fishing techniques that catch more than the target species – all deplete our fish populations. Currently, fishing fleets are four times larger than what our waters can support.[10. Greenpeace UK.]
Almost 90 percent of fish populations have been depleted by humans worldwide. Since 1992, the proportion of fully exploited fish stocks has increased by 13 percent.[11. RIO+20. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Fact Sheet. “The Future. We Want Oceans.” 2012. & coml.org] Overfishing could threaten the food security of more than a billion people for whom fish are a primary source of protein.[12. RIO+20. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Fact Sheet. “The Future. We Want Oceans.” 2012.]
Overfishing is reducing the populations of hundreds of species and aquatic systems are overstressed and in imminent danger of collapse. The collapse of all marine fish stocks is expected by mid-century – 2048.[13. Boris Worm. Revolution.] For many around the world, the loss of fish populations will impact their health and livelihood. Approximately 54.8 million people fished for a living in 2010.[14. FAO. State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. www.fao.org] China alone has 14 million people working as fishers and fish farmers.[15. FAO. State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. www.fao.org]
Humans and marine life both depend on fish as a source of food – overfishing threatens that food source. In 2010, the world used about 148 million tonnes of fish from fisheries and aquaculture, 86 percent of which was used as food for people.[16. FAO. State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. www.fao.org] Approximately 80 percent of the global fish catch is made up of 445 fish stocks.[17. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. “The Future of Fish.” Boris Worm. August 2012.]
Developed regions consume more fish than developing countries, though much of the fish is imported.[18. FAO. State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. www.fao.org] People in North America and other developed countries are eating more seafood out of choice than necessity, as part of a healthy diet. For developing countries, fish is a staple and can provide 20 to 24 percent of their protein source.[19. FAO. State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. www.fao.org]
Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface and are one of the most threatened super-ecosystems, yet only about one percent of the world’s oceans are protected.[20. RIO+20. United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Fact Sheet. “The Future. We Want Oceans.” 2012.] Overfishing is one of the greatest threats to our oceans.
Learn more about the threat of overfishing in our beautiful underwater world by reading on and telling everyone you know. We can make a difference!