Overfishing: why coastal fishing towns must act now

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When it comes to sustainable practices and environmental policy, there are a lot of burning questions. Plastic waste, landfills, pollution and much more. You can listen to the news almost any day of the week and hear about these issues in various cities around the world.

A fishing farm in northern Norway in a fjord in Hilleshamn, in the province of Tromsø. (Photo by Leo Patrizi/iStock)

One area that is very little discussed is the issue of overfishing and its impact on coastal economies, communities and ports – from towns like Chimbote in Peru to Tromsø in Norway. Our resources are heavily exploited every day with up to 5% of the ocean’s known fish species on the IUCN Red List. This means they are at risk of extinction, and while the risk is clear and apparent to megaship operations, they continue to fish our waters at unsustainable levels.

With the dramatic increase in fish farms, those feeling the impact the most are the communities that rely heavily on fishing for their primary commerce. Fish provides a healthy source of dietary protein for over three billion people, and this is especially true in developing countries. The loss of quality fish stocks not only increases the price of fish, but also decreases the quality of what is available to people in these communities.

Ten years ago, developing countries accounted for more than 50% of the fish trade, but this is no longer the case today.

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Government subsidies have completely destroyed these seaside communities by funding megaship operations that can fish faster and more recklessly than small family businesses.

These ships sweep through the water, destroying everything in their path and drying up the waters.

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What is the impact of overfishing?

Those most affected are those who live in communities close to water and who depend on the ocean for food. Overfishing has led to record unemployment, with many local fisheries having to close because they cannot compete with the prices the big ships charge for their fish.

If all that wasn’t enough, the worst thing overfishing has caused is the complete eradication of many species of fish. About 90% of all predatory fish have disappeared, we have fished many fish stocks to extinction, and various fisheries in Europe and Asia have been completely destroyed due to lack of resources.

The reality is that much of this could be avoided with stricter regulation and more oversight. Many of the powers that be to ensure that there is no overfishing are actually those that pump money into the operations of the megaships that deplete our waters. The only way to stop the bleeding is to cut off funding for these ships, but that would leave a major hole in the food supply chain and could cause many people to go hungry.

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There is no specific area where the problem is worse than another as it occurs all over the world. Southeast Asia is well known for its overfishing problems, but Africa is now also on the map. The continent loses billions of dollars every year to illegal fishing.

‘Pirate fishing’ forces many of these communities to lower the prices of their fish to keep up with the market, which means they earn less money and ultimately consume less of their catch. This problem leads to malnutrition and a continuous struggle to develop growing nations.

What to do to stop overfishing?

Fortunately, efforts are in place to combat overfishing and revitalize these coastal towns. Greenpeace is a popular and pioneering organization in these efforts. He suggests that countries start developing regional fishing organizations to reduce the number of illegal trawlers allowed within miles of the country’s coastline.

In Africa, he developed the World Bank’s West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP). This organization uses training and surveillance through the use of fishing technology to track trawlers and photograph them. The result has been millions of dollars collected in fines for megaship operations.

Many countries also develop dedicated fishing areas and consider them “conservation” areas that only allow residents of the country who share that coast to fish there.

These efforts are essential to protect coastal urban areas around the world. Whether it’s a small town in Africa or a beach in California, overfishing happens all over the world and very few countries are innocent. The only hope is that with strict regulation and better monitoring, we can reduce the number of illegal fisheries and help revitalize communities that depend on fish for food and trade.

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