According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, overfishing is leading to a humanitarian and ecological crisis.
The report finds that over 70 percent of fish species are being caught at a rate faster than they reproduce, leading to the near-depletion of many commercial fish stocks.
In the U.S., the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that 92 percent of domestic fish stocks are overexploited, but can recover if well managed.
With more than 200 million people worldwide depending on fishing for a living, and 2.5 billion relying on fish for food, the U.N. said that declining fish stocks will affect “food security and economic development” as well as social welfare and underwater ecosystems.
The FAO also predicts that within ten years fish stocks will be further depleted by growing human populations.
The New Zealand fisheries minister expressed fears that post-tsunami relief efforts could “create the conditions for overfishing and resource depletion, particularly where these problems were already occurring.”
In an opinion piece, Scott Burns of the World Wildlife Fund wrote that coastal nations such as the Philippines will be destabilized if fishing is not regulated more strictly.
The Fish List, a Web site sponsored by a group of nonprofit conservation organizations, lists the Chilean sea bass, Atlantic cod, shark, snapper, wild sturgeon and bluefin as just some of the fish species facing “commercial extinction” and severe depletion.
Pollution is another culprit in fish declines. For example, American anglers are concerned about offshore liquid natural gas terminals in the Gulf of Mexico.
Commercial trawling, longline fishing and other methods also take their toll on dolphin, seals, sea turtles, seabirds and unwanted “bycatch” of non-profitable fish that are discarded and often dead.
The European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign reports the annual bycatch comes in at over 44 billion pounds.
Not always without controversy, bans and increased regulations on fishing are in place or under discussion around the world — from the Maine, Oregon and Florida coasts to the Galapagos Islands, the Yangtzee River and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Greenpeace identifies 20 countries that are harming marine environments due to unregulated fishing laws.
Some fear that illegal and “unreported” fishing is actually increasing.
Despite the fact that 157 nations have signed the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea — which obligates coastal and port nations to protect marine environments, and recommends all countries strictly regulate ocean resources — over 30 percent of fishing around the world goes unreported.
Canada has begun a survey of illegal fishing by Europeans off its eastern coastline, which in 2003 alone captured 15,000 tons of off-limits fish.
Some commercial fishing companies generously reward foreign fishing boats for illegal fishing. The penalties for being caught are minimal.
A lack of funding for coastal patrols can limit law enforcement. The Australian Associated Press reported a “growing number of incursions” into territorial waters. In the U.K., patrol boats find illegal fishing nets, but seldom perpetrators.
The conflict is playing out at the federal level as lawmakers debate upcoming changes to U.S. fishing regulations.
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“International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing”
Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001
“UN report warns of dangers of over-fishing world’s top marine species”
U.N. News Service, March 7, 2005
“Depleted fish stocks require recovery efforts”
Food and Agriculture Organization Newsroom, March 7, 2005
“Indiscriminate slaughter at Sea”
European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign, May 18, 2003
“The Global Fisheries Crisis”
“Environmentalist urges global actions on overfishing”
World Wildlife Fund, January 2003
“Overfishing: A threat to marine biology”
UN Chronicle Online, 2004
“United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982”
United Nations, updated January 5, 2005
“Foreign fleet owners reward illegal fishing”
Canadian Press, March 21, 2005
“More aid needed to fight illegal fishing”
Australian Associated Press, April 1, 2005
“Illegal nets threaten fish stocks”
BBC, May 4, 2001
“DFO to poll Europeans on overfishing”
Canadian Press, March 31, 2005
“Warning over too many fishing boats and overfishing”
NZPA (New Zealand), March 15, 2005
“State of world fisheries and aquaculture”
Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004
“Efforts to update rules for fisheries yet to yield accord”
Asbury Park Press, March 28, 2005
“U.S. group decries overfishing in gulf”
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 8, 2005
“Council votes for plan to help prevent overfishing of bigeye tuna”
Associated Press, March 19, 2005
“Former judge slams Fisheries funding”
Canadian Press, April 8, 2005
“Smart seafood selections”
Tribune Media Services, April 6, 2005
“DPNR to gather public input on fisheries plan this week”
Virgin Island Daily News, April 6, 2005
“Fishing ban to begin in Yangtze River”
Xinhuanet, March 28, 2005
“Oregon must act now to protect ocean life”
Statesman Journal (Oregon), April 7, 2005
“Fishermen resist moves to protect Galapagos”
Sydney Morning Herald, April 2, 2005
“Offshore LNG terminals worry U.S. gulf anglers”
Reuters, April 2, 2005
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