Overfishing Has Serious Effects on Ecosystems


Ensuring responsible fishing is a duty of every angler, however, there is little you can do when you compare your impact with the fishing industry.

But, every small step matters, and by even learning about overfishing you are making a progress. So, what exactly is overfishing?

Overfishing is basically taking more fish than the nature can replace. It has serious effects on ecosystems, as well as humans. Those who have been recreationally fishing for decades can probably notice how fish numbers reduced over the years.

Globally, commercial fishing is the main culprit, however, sometimes irresponsible recreational fishing can have a negative impact on local fish population in smaller areas.

More and more people around the world are aware of this big problem, and some steps are taken to prevent it, however, there is a long way ahead of us in terms of reducing the negative impacts.

Here I will tell you more about overfishing and what are the main problems of it.



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What is Overfishing? [Simple Definition & Meaning]

Overfishing definition is quite simple, but the effects of it are much more complicated. In simple words, overfishing is taking more fish from the water than natural breeding can replace.

It is not only a global problem. Yes, you can overfish the ocean, but you can also overfish small local lakes. Of course, impact on the environment of the latter is much smaller.

And what does that mean exactly?

When you overfish a certain species that means that number of those specific fish are much lower than they would naturally be in that area. And by that, you are not only affecting that species, but all other fish and underwater organisms that depend on it. If you overfish prey, predator numbers start to drop. It is all connected.

Of course, overfishing is not limited only to purposely catch certain species. There is a lot of bycatches, and sometimes rare and protected species end up in the nets.

If you observe this on a smaller scale, even an angler keeping fish under legal limits that didn’t have a chance to grow up and reproduce also contributes to this negative trend.

When in the Past Did Overfishing Start?

People had been fishing for food and survival for thousands of years. Some small communities in less developed countries still feed their families like that on a daily basis.

But, with technology progress, development of large boats and automated tools, fishermen around the world started catching more and more. Not only to feed themselves but to sell fish to others. After time, large companies developed, and the rest is history.

And when did overfishing start exactly?

Well, it was in the 1800s. Whales were brought to the brink of extinction in areas like Cape Cod because humans needed them for slobber.

The trend unfortunately continued to this day and spread out to many other species. Some will say that technically whales are mammals, however their numbers have a huge impact on fish species.

Cod, herrings, and sardines were overfished and almost all gone by the mid-1900s.

Today, huge and aggressive fleets of commercial boats are harvesting oceans both legally and illegally, and many species are fished to the brink of extinction. Shark numbers in some waters are tragically low, and when you remove the apex predator, all ecosystem suffers. I will tell you more details in the following chapter.

What are the Effects of Overfishing on the Ecosystem and Humans?

When talking about what are the effects of overfishing, it is hard to sum it up in a few short sentences. Scientist have been writing books about it. I will try to give you a brief oversight.

First of all, there are environmental impacts. If you overfish smaller species, predators will start reproducing less due to lack of food. If it is the other way around, prey fish number will rise and that will have impact o smaller organisms, planktons, and plants.

When you remove certain species from their habitat, that habitat becomes available for non-local species which are forced out of their environment.

Coral reefs are one of the victims of this as fish are necessary for their survival. And unfortunately, us humans tend not to really care about things we don’t see. But you have to know that it affects humans too.

Overfishing effects on humans is serious. Firstly, those small communities that rely on fishing for everyday food are now fishing in almost empty oceans. Secondly, those workers working on fishing boats may loose their income if fish is no longer available. But overfishing effects are even larger than that.

Communities that rely on recreational (and responsible) angling tourism, or even on scuba diving in oceans full of life are losing their business and income as those things are no longer possible.

Among overfishing effects there is a direct damage made by boats, especially with trawling nets that destroy the bottom. And of course, there is bycatch.

As you can see, it affects ecosystems and communities around the world, even if those are not directly connected to a certain overfished fish species.

Overfishing - Bycatch

Where in the World is Overfishing Happening the Most?

Answering where is overfishing happening most is hard. First, not all fishing activities are legal so exact numbers may vary when compared to official numbers.

Secondly, huge boats can reach other parts of the world from their country of registry, so the truth is, overfishing is happening everywhere.

However, here are some places that stand out. And it may surprise which ones.

According to official reports, Mediterranean is the area where overfishing is the most prominent. As someone coming from Slovenia that has Adriatic Sea access and loves recreational fishing, I am very concerned about this.

Mediterranean is small when compared to oceans, enclosed, and it makes perfect breeding and living grounds for many fish. Unfortunately, it is also a perfect place for commercial fishing.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has been warning about this for years. Besides overfishing, trawling damage, and unsustainably harvesting various organisms, Mediterranean is also getting destroyed by pollution.

Being such a popular tourist destination worldwide, this is especially worrying trend. According to official data, 90% of fish species that are fished in Mediterranean are overfished. Some of them in quantities 10 times larger than the suggested limit.

Suggested limits are unfortunately not law abiding and actual legal limits may be very high. So basically, overfishing is in accordance with the law.

What are the Most Overfished Fish? [Examples]

Some overfishing examples were already mentioned, but here is a short overview of the most famous, in the negative context.

SHARKS – their meat, especially fins, are consumed in some parts of Asia, and both legal and illegal fishing reduced their numbers for more than 90% in some areas.

BLUEFIN TUNA – tuna is extremely popular among consumers around the world and demand is constantly growing. Natural breeding and life cycle of bluefin tuna can’t keep up with this rate of fishing.

ATLANTIC HALIBUT – In the past, it had been overfished in incredible numbers, however, in some fisheries around the world their number increased due to strict laws and the will of local people and governments that recognized the problem.

There are many more species that are directly overfished or at least affected by overfishing. Depending on where you are from, you can check data for your local waters, and I guarantee that you will be very surprised by the magnitude of this problem in some places.

Overfishing - Tuna

Why is Overfishing Important and Why We Have to Care?

Why is overfishing important had partially been explained in impacts of overfishing. It may not seem important to you now, but if overfishing keeps up at this rate, there will be a point in which you, or your children as the next generation, won’t have access to fish anymore.

As an angler, you are affected by this negative trend and your favourite recreational activity may become thing of the past in some waters.

The worst thing that could happen is food crisis in less developed areas in the world. Millions of people rely on fish as their main food source. Hunger is the most serious problem and that affects local and global politics too.

We all depend on nature, no matter how technologically advanced we are and how our civilisation is growing. Without healthy oceans, there is no healthy society.

Do you know that algae produce more oxygen than tropical rainforests? Well, those algae are a part of ecosystems that are getting destroyed by overfishing daily.

To ensure healthy living environment for our kids and grandkids, we have to care about overfishing and do what we can to stop it.

Overfishing Solutions - What We Can Do to STOP it?

Overfishing solutions are various and complex. There is little that one angler can do, however, you may have a larger impact than you think.

First of all, governments have to care. Government is a reflection of local people weather we like it or not, so start with actually going to local elections and choose representatives that care about overfishing.

Buy fish locally and skip those imported and cheap ones. Transporting tuna cans by boats and trucks around the world is equally bad for the environment as overfishing.

When you are angling, practice catch and release. Release fish under legal limits.

When you are buying seafood products check their origin. Learn and inform yourself about it. Us regular people have impact on product demand, and if the demand reduces, so will the supply. That means that overfishing will reduce as a result.

You can support organisations that monitor fishing around the world and support their solutions.

You can teach young anglers about this. You can also reduce pollution to oceans. And dont think “well, I’m irrelevant compared to large companies”. Every major change in the world was started by a group of individuals. Start being an example!

Overfishing - Fishing Net

How many Fisheries are Overfished? [Statistics]

Overfishing is a major problem, and I already mentioned some numbers for the Mediterranean.

On a global scale, results are equally devastating. Almost 35% of fisheries around the world are overfished. That is more than one third!

Those fisheries comprise of almost 23% of seafood around the world.

By definition, if certain species numbers drop to 80% or less than naturally occurring, that means that this species is overfished.

Problem with these definitions and overfishing statistics is that you can take any number into consideration and exclude any other number you don’t see fit to prove a point.

For example, if the fish population is present above 80% but the number are rapidly declining due to fishing, it will not be described as overfished. Similarly, population that is rising due to responsible fishing, and goes from let’s say 40% to 78% will still be described as overfished although this second population is facing much better future than the first example.

Are there any Overfishing Organizations? [What do they Do?]

Firstly, you should ask what is the government doing to stop overfishing. No matter where you come from, the answer is most probably “not enough”.

Fishing companies are strong, they make large profit, and laws are frequently changed to their advantage.

Luckily, environmental concerns are becoming a question that is hard to ignore, and politicians have to consider them.

To make them take thing seriously, various overfishing organizations exist that monitor fishing and offer possible solutions. The solution is not to stop fishing, it is to fish responsibly.

Some of the most famous organisations are:

1. Aquaculture Stewardship Council

This international organization focuses on responsible fish farming worldwide.

2. International Collective in Support of Fishworkers

As an international organization, they focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable fishing practices.

3. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

This international organization works with scientist around the world and focuses mostly on tuna overfishing problems.

4. Oceana

This is the biggest organisation that focuses on marine protection only on a global scale.

5. Environmental defence fund

Their main goal is preserving marine environments in order to ensure healthy future for all organisms, including humans, that depend on oceans.

6. Greenpeace

Although frequently known as people that protest on boats, members of this organization work with scientists that offer solutions for responsible fishing, and they often point out those who are breaking the law.

7. Sea Shepard Conservation Society

This non-profit organization focuses on marine conservation, especially on species that are most affected by overfishing and habitat loss, including sharks, turtles, and whales. They document illegal fishing activities and take legal steps to stop it

8. World Wildlife Fund

This organization works both on local and global level to protect marine ecosystems and provide sustainable solutions.

There are many more organizations around the world that have the same goals. Some or local, some are global, but they are all working towards ensuring responsible and sustainable fishing.

Overfishing - Greenpeace


Overfishing is a major problem that must be addressed properly to find solutions and ensure healthy fish population for the future.

As an individual, you can start from yourself and make some small changes that can have a positive impact. From catch and release, to responsible fish shopping, there are options available to everyone.

Being aware of this problem is the first step towards improvement.

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