Initially, humans scour their surroundings for food, picking up what is convenient. Then our ancestors learned the sophistication of hunting and the usage of tools. They hunt not only on land but in the oceans as well. Previously, we only hunted for what we needed and there was a sense of respect for nature, which provides much needed food. However, as humans evolved and became more complex, our needs have also undergone corresponding changes. We not only hunt food for our own needs but gather as much as we could for profit.
The depletion of our natural resources especially that coming from our coastal ecosystem is now a growing concern worldwide. Aside from pollution and other issues, experts express alarm on the destructive consequence of our fishing activities and the kind of future that awaits us if there are no fish left to catch. Recent technological innovations in electronics, vessel design, vessel constructions, marketing and transport together with the rising human population contributed to the present dwindling fish population (Stergiou, 2002).
In early times since the surface of the world is covered with 71% water, it was a common notion that the ocean had an endless resource of marine life that humans can take advantage of. This belief seems to be supported by the first explorers as well when they described abundant marine life in their explorations. As Roberts (2003, p. 166) explained, early explorers writing about oceans teeming with life encouraged a second wave of global travel, spearheaded by merchants seeking profit.
Thus, it can be said that these voyages of early explorers started the trend of abuse on aquatic resources. It started out with the mega faunas like seals, manatees, turtles and whales and just like their land counterparts, hunters begin with big animals. Once the supply is down, they move on to the next area. If supply has been exhausted, the next target will be smaller scale faunas, until there is nothing left to hunt. A trend that is still happening up to present time, only this time around hunters are aided with more advanced gadgetry.
On the other hand, although the trend continues, we now recognize that marine resources are not endless and that some of these resources are either already depleted or on the verge of extinction. Together with this recognition are calls for change in our attitude and treatment of Earth’s natural resources. Others factors that play a role in the declining condition of our marine resources are our fishing system, coastal constructions, pollution, usage of land and water and shipping system. All of the combined effects resulted to what Andelman, Gaines, Lubchenco & Palumbi (2003, p.
S3) describes: coral bleaching, zones of hypoxic or anoxic water, abrupt changes in species composition, habitat degradation, invasive species, harmful algal blooms, marine epidemics, mass mortalities, and fisheries collapses. Not only these; there are also repercussions on the marine ecosystems and the consequent provision of goods and services. Due to the adverse condition of the marine ecosystem, concerned organizations and individuals are actively seeking solutions that can prevent further damage and restore balance in marine life.
As presented, there are various causes for the current problems in regards with marine life. This paper however will only focus on overfishing, a human activity that directly contributes to the depleting stock of marine life. Current state of fisheries and impact of overfishing will be covered as well as what can be done to intervene. The State of World Fisheries There have been a lot of conflicting reports about the real status of world fisheries. The most common status being quoted is the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report which states that 75% of the world’s fisheries are overexploited.
However, assessment is easier said than done since fish move around. Various measuring scheme have been used, examples are trends in catch, stock-by-stock classification, trends in the tropic level of catches and trends in catches for individual stocks (Branch, Ernst, Hilborn, Magnussson, Minte-Vera, Scheuerell & Valero, 2003). Another projection was made by a research suggesting that by 2048 wild fish stocks will be gone or collapsed. The implication of this is that catches are less than 10% of their historic high. A very grim prediction that has been refuted by some.
According to Branch (2008, p. 39) this prediction is not true. Although the research presented some important insights about diversity and ecosystem functioning, the two main reasons why it is believed to be false are: first, the number of not-collapsed fisheries shows an increasing trend to about 5,600, and second, even if all fisheries collapsed at least once, 50–55% would be recovered in any given year. He argued that while there are fisheries that are collapsing, it is being offset by a growing number of fisheries that are thriving.
Thus by the 2048, those that collapsed today would already have recovered, contradictory to what the research predicted. Conflicting views about fishery status come from two communities, the ecologist and fisheries scientist. Both communities do agree that fisheries are being misused and that the future of marine life is through sustainable development. However, the method of how to achieve this is where opposing views lie. The research of collapsed fisheries by 2048 is one good example of such opposing views.
The research is mostly composed of opinions of ecologists, while a rebuttal like that of Branch (2008) is coming from the community of fisheries scientists. Solutions that are presented by both communities also differ from one another; ecologists push for marine-protected areas while the other community proposes to stop the competition among fishing fleets (Hilborn 2007). Both the efforts of these communities is only towards one common goal, that is, to save marine life from being extinct. Their methods might be different, but all are found to be effective.
Some of these methods will be discussed later. To give a perspective of the status of some fish stocks, Dankel, Skagen and Ulltang (2008) reviewed thirteen commercially important fish stocks and their report presented the current status of each. The following are some of the individual statuses of specific fish stocks: Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonicus) – its species can be found in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. It is one of the primary fish species in this area. They are short-lived, oceanic schooling species and stock number is vulnerable to fluctuations.
One reason behind population size discrepancy is overexploitation. Between the periods of 1986-1995 the Chinese marine captures have increased from 8 million tons to 24 million tons. This is attributed to the increasing number of powered vessels. The development resulted to decline in marine catches as well as catch make-up: most of the catches now are smaller lower trophic species and immature juvenile fishes. By 1996 actual catches are go beyond the advisable level. Then in 2003 it reached its all time low of only 110,000 tons of catch.
Therefore, the FAO declare the Japanese anchovy as a “fully exploited” species of the Northeast Pacific Ocean (Dankel et al, 2008). Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) – the other name use for this is the European anchovy which is usually seen in the Bay of Biscay. It grows only up to 15cm, also an oceanic schooling species and resides in the International Council of the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) sub-area VIII which are mostly 0–2-year-old fish. Environmental circumstances greatly affect the fluctuations of recruitment for this species.
Both the French and Spanish fishing fleets target the Bay of Biscay anchovy. The Spanish fish for them during the fist half of the year while the French do their fishing on the second half. Stocks for the Bay of Biscay anchovy was very healthy from 1990 to 2000. But the decline in recruitment during 2001 and 2002 alerted the ICES to put it at a precautionary level of 21,000 tons spawning stock biomass. The number of new recruits continues to fail and by 2005 and 2006 the anchovy fishery was officially closed due to failure of commercial fishery (Dankel et al, 2008).
Lesser Sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) – most are located in ICES area IVb, these are small and shoaling fish. It plays an important role in the ecosystem of the North Sea since Sandeel are food for piscivorous fish, seabirds, seals and some crustacean. They prefer the patchy sand beds of the North Sea making them an easy target for professional fishermen. Adult Sandeel do not move much and usually stay under the sandy bottom of the sea. During the day, the fish will ascend to the pelagic area to eat on plankton.
Since they only live for a short period, the stock mass of this species relies on recruitment; however, fluctuations in the number of recruits have been observed for many years. From 2002 and succeeding years, there has already been a decrease in the sandeel population in the North Sea. By 2005, the fishery was official closed. There is no recent data about the sandeel stock due to absence of catch information (Dankel et al, 2008). North Sea herring (Clupea harangus) – they are schooling and pelagic species that have economic and nutritional value for many European countries.
The stock is located at the ICES area IV. Spawning occurs during autumn at the western coasts of the North Sea. The juveniles will spend their time in Skagerrak then the stock will mature in two to three years. Predation keeps the mortality rate of juveniles higher than adults. Historically, the stock has been exploited for years most probably due to its role in the economy and diet of Europeans. The spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been fluctuating between 1 to 2 million tons. To indicate if there is a failure in recruitment, a limit biomass of 800,000 tons was set.
In mid-1970 SSB only reached 50,000 tons thus the fishery was closed. However it was able to recover in 1980 due to strong year classes. There have been instances of low SSB between 1993 and 1996 due to overfishing despite that the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) awarded the certification for sustainable and well-managed fishery to the North Sea herring in 2006. The fishery continues to experience poor recruitment thus ICES foresees continued decrease in stock. The MSC re-examines the certification but points out that failure of recruitment is not due to over fishing or any other human activities (Dankel et al, 2008).
Icelandic cod (Gadus morhua) – the Icelandic cod is located in the ICES area V that circles Iceland. The population is divided to northern and southern groups, with the northern being a little larger than the latter. It has an economic value to Iceland since 38% of seafood export profit and 40-50% of merchandise exports come from these species. There has been an observable decline in the SSB since 1955. Fluctuations in recruitment also happened, but the ICES North Western Working Group stated that the current stock is in good shape (Dankel et al, 2008).
Barents Sea cod (Gadus morhua) – it is also known as Northeast Arctic cod which is usually located in ICES northernmost areas, II and I. Their feeding area is at Barents Sea, then they travel to the Lofoten area of northern Norway for spawning. There was an abundance in stock post-WWII because there were no fishing activities; however, by 1960 fishing activities started and with continuous utilization of the stock, it reached a grave and alarming condition in 1980. This prompted Norway and the former USSR to take action by regulating fishing activities.
The stock was rebuilt but fishing mortality rose up again in 1994-2000. After which, the fishery has again undergone rebuilding with decline in fishing mortality and rising SSB (Dankel et al, 2008). South African cape hakes (Merluccius paradoxus, M. capensis) – the hake has two species that are both economically important to South Africa. The deepwater hake (Merluccius paradoxus) which is caught using demersal trawlers and the shallow water hake (Merluccius capensis) caught using demersal long lines and handlines.
Originally, the two species are not differentiated from one another but with improved management processes, they have now distinct statistics and are set apart using the gear type. Cape hakes do not have a definite spawning season; therefore they are considered serial spawners. For this type of fish, the females are larger and can grow up to 53 cm. Exploitation of the fishery started in the 1900s and continued even after WWII. The fishery is dominated by foreign fleets and in 1972 they are catching almost over 300,000 tons of hake.
By 1975, the population dropped and thus larger mesh size was used which is 110 mm. In 1977, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles was implemented with foreign fleets banned in the fishery by 1983. The measures taken helped the recovery of the fishery from under 30,000 tons in 1975 to approximately 50,000 tons in 2004 (Dankel et al, 2008). Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) – they can be found up north in Siberia or down south in California. It is one of the five species of anadromous Pacific salmon. But the species are found to be abundant in Alaska and Japan.
To be able to spawn, the sexually mature male return every summer to the freshwater river where the hatch. This is a thousand miles travel from the pelagic sea. The males are usually called jacks and are about 4 years old when they spawn. From June to first week of August is the fishing season for sockeye salmon in Alaska where they are in abundance. They can be found in five commercial regions but the center is in Bristol Bay. Currently, one particular stock, the Kvichak jacks, is struggling and is considered to be a “stock of management concern”.
This means that there is no excess in population number for commercial fishing and the stock is experiencing spawning problems. The reasons behind the issue are still unknown (Dankel et al, 2008). Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) – also known as king, spring, or tyee salmon, it is considered to be the largest specimen of the anadromous Pacific salmon. The Chinook found in Puget Sound, Washington USA have various distinct populations that are organized based on migration seasons. They also differ in time of freshwater entry, spawning period and specific natal stream return timing.
Currently, there are hatchery projects being implemented to help restore the population of chinook and products from these projects are what comprise a large portion of the spawns. Although the stock productivity is secure, it has still decreased for the past years (Dankel et al, 2008). Southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) – due to migratory nature of the bluefin, research about its reproductive cycles are scarce but many think that it reproduces once it reaches 8-12 years of age when they are about 1. 5 in length and 90 kilograms in weight.
Countries that fish for bluefins are Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia. The bluefin is highly demanded for in Japan because of the sashimi market. The highest yield for the bluefin was 81,605 tons which was recorded in 1961. The trend continues until 1980 and today SSB is below what it was before 1980 (Dankel et al, 2008). Pacific Island tuna fisheries – the Pacific Island is where states like the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu can be found.
These states are collectively known as the independent Island States in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The collective land mass of the states if 552,789 km2 while the collective EEZ is 30,569,000 km2. The WCPO is the primary source for food for most of the states but the true value comes from the tuna fisheries located in the area that have an estimated value of US $3. 1 billion. Majority of the Island States rely on these fisheries for revenue and economic exercise. Their four species of significance are albacore, skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye.
In contrast to tuna fisheries in the Atlantic, Indian and Eastern Pacific Oceans, most of the fishing activities in the WCPO region happen within the EEZs of the Pacific Island States, Indonesia and the Philippines. The importance of fisheries can be seen as the Island States rely on it for food and source of employment. It provides 21,000-31,000 jobs, source of income coming from access fees that amount to AUD$80-90 million and income coming from payments by vessels that are locally based which is about AUD$190 million.
There is mounting alarm that overfishing of yellowfin and bigeye in particular is endangering the sustainability of the species. Although currently the species are not officially over-fished, the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission already raised these concerns; thus precautionary measures were implemented. It is important that these fisheries are maintained because of its economic value to half of the Pacific Island States especially Kiribati and Tuvalu. Since the fish are migratory, regulation agreements between nations in the region are vital to the long-term sustainability of the tuna fisheries.
There is a need for firm governance and implementation of regulation to protect the interest of these Island States (Hanich & Tsamenyi, 2008). Mitigation Measures being Implemented There are various techniques and methods being used by governments and organizations to mitigate the effects of overfishing to various fisheries in the world. Some of these methods are explained below. Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ) – According to Grafton (1996, p. S135), individual transferable quotas allocate the total allowable catch among fishers in the form of individual harvesting rights.
This means that the right to fish is regulated by the government. The idea is that instead of using control, incentives will be given to fishers. On the other hand, Hartig & Waitt (200, p. 87) describe it as an example of a non-regulatory, low-cost, and administratively flexible environmental management approach based on the rights to buy and sell access to an environmental resource. This means that public property like air and water is brought to the marketplace as a commodity. The practice is being implemented to various countries like Canada, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand.
The rationale for implementing this management scheme is that since operators now have a fixed allocated share of the catch, there is no need to compete with other operators for fish. They can now instead focus on more economical equipment and manpower to use. Operators will not need to invest a lot of capital on advanced equipments just to get ahead of others. Moreover, they will not be forced to fish on bad weather, since they can plan their fishing expeditions ahead of time because they have an assured share of catch (Copes, 1986). One of the expected benefits from introducing ITQ is the reduction in fishing efforts.
This means there is a decrease in investments in excess employment. In most countries where it is being implemented, there was a reduction in the number of fishing vessels. Another benefit is the increase in profit. Since competition is lessened, the remaining operators with allocated quota, they may reap the benefit of better quality fish and other factors. Just like in the Icelandic demersal fisheries, where after the implementation of ITQ profit from reduced fishing effort and better products amounted to US$15 million within a year (Grafton, 1996). One example of successful implementation was in Australia.
It was the Australian Commonwealth government that implemented the identified individual transferable catch quotas (ITCQs) in 1989. As of the research, only two fisheries are under this management scheme – the southern bluefin tuna (SBT) fishery and the southeast fishery. The scheme was implemented in the southeast fishery only in 1992 while in SBT it was deployed in 1984 (Battaglene, Brown & Campbell, 2000). Initially, quotas are computed based on the value of the boat, which may be assessed by a registered marine insurance assessor, and history of the boat catch.
Battaglene et al (2000, p. 111) explain it as individual quota allocation per boat was set as a proportion of the total allowable catch according to the proportion of quota units held. During the first year of implementation, the total allowable catch was 14,500 tonnes. Although out the states there are differences in the quota set. Western Australian average allocation was 39. 3 tonnes per boat; the New South Wales average was 77. 7 tonnes per boat; and the South Australian average was 231. 8 tonnes per boat.
After the implementation of ITCQ in the bluefin fishery, numerous changes occurred in terms of fishing vessel operators. Within two years’ time after its implementation, smaller and less efficient vessels left the fishery which is favourable to the remaining vessels since the scale and scope of their operations could be adjusted to higher levels. Another benefit of this management scheme is that operators have the choice to either sell or lease their allocated quota. In addition, the ITCQ facilitates the transfer of technology from Japan through a series of joint venture agreements.
Through this venture, the trading price for the commodity was set for years benefiting most operators. In addition, Australia was able to acquire the long-lining and farming technology from Japan. The implementation of ITCQ in Australia was successful but it is still facing problems in terms of global allowable catch and multijurisdiction boundaries. One suggested solution is to let non-member states be part of the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna so that their activities might be regulated as well (Battaglene et al, 2000). Marine Reserves – according to Andelman et al (2003, p.
S3), marine reserves can be defined as areas of the ocean completely protected from all extractive and destructive activities. In marine reserves, fishing and removal or interruption of living and non-living marine resource is strictly forbidden. It can only be done if it is for research purposes. Protection varies depending on the governing body; some allow fishing to be done but do not allow drilling for oil or gas. Through marine reserves’ geographical area is the one being protected, both the species and their biophysical environments are protected.
Marine reserves then are considered as an ecosystem-based approach in fisheries management. Benefits from using this approach are conservation of biodiversity; protection or enhancement of ecosystem services; recovery of depleted stocks of exploited species; export of individuals to fished areas; insurance against environmental or management uncertainty; and sites for scientific investigation, baseline information, education, recreation, and inspiration (Andelman et al, 2003).