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Overfishing: the implications of mass consumerism overlooked

By Rider University Eco-Rep, Kayelena Brimage


Originally Published: February 2, 2022

More students are laying off red meat and, if not going vegetarian, becoming pescatarians. A pescatarian is someone who follows a mostly vegetarian diet but also eats fish and seafood. When choosing to become a pescatarian, one should consider the factors of overfishing and the effects it has on the environment.

Have you ever wondered how much of an impact humans have on oceans? What if I told you that the ocean serves as the lungs of our planet and not the Amazon rainforest? Although many believe that the Amazon produces the majority of our air, according to Surge Activism, “50 to 85% of all the oxygen we breathe comes from marine phytoplankton, tiny ocean plants that through the process of photosynthesis,” produce oxygen.

The oceans play an incredible role in regulating temperature and overall climate in the world and when they are disturbed by overfishing, things change like the size of fish remaining, as well as how they reproduce and the speed at which they mature. When too many fish are taken out of the ocean, it creates an imbalance that can erode the food web and lead to a loss of other important marine life, including vulnerable species like sea turtles and corals.

According to Coty Perry, chief marketing officer of YourBassGuy.com, overfishing is a rational reaction to increasing market needs for fish. Most people consume approximately twice as much fish as they did 50 years ago, and there are four times as many people on Earth as there were at the close of the 1960s. We have a huge impact on what is happening in the ocean because of our demand for fish and the stock of available fishing waters that are being depleted faster than they can be replenished.

The biggest misconception is that if you can’t find the fish in a certain area then you can go somewhere else, but many species are being pushed close to extinction by overfishing such as cod, halibut and even lobster. There is even a significant amount of fish at your local fish market and on the shelves of your local grocery store that aren’t what they are labeled as. It may say cod, but it isn’t cod; for example, according to Perry only 13% of the red snapper on the market is actual red snapper, and the others are commonly silk and blackfin.

Government agencies around the world are giving away over $35 billion every year to fishermen. That’s about 20% of the value of all the commercially caught fish in the world every year. Subsidies are often directed at reducing the costs for mega fishing companies — things like paying for their massive fuel budgets, the gear they need to catch fish, or even the vessels themselves. This effectively allows for large commercial fishing operations to take over the market or recapitalize at rates significantly below that of the market, disproportionately favoring them over their smaller competitors.

It is this advantage that drives large mega fishing companies into unsustainable fishing practices. The result of this is not just depleted stocks, but also lower yields due to long-term overfishing, as well as lowered costs of fish at the market, which has some advantages for the consumer, but also makes it significantly harder for smaller operations to turn a profit, as stated by Perry.

There is a federal law to prevent overfishing called Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act even though this law is in place, fisheries understand that the more fish they bring in, the more money they will receive. If they were only to bring in the bare minimum they would need a new job, but by fishing with giant nets scraping the ocean floor they are creating harmful algae blooms and oxygen-deficient dead zones, as well as taking too much bycatch, the extra and unwanted fish from this type of commercial fishing.

If this hasn’t already tugged at your heartstrings, just imagine food security. When bluefin tuna goes extinct, it’s not coming back. That would mean no more cans of tuna on the shelves of your local supermarket. Now that may sound extreme, but it is something we need to be cautious about, and it’s a much bigger issue in developing countries.

That’s a major protein depleted forever, there will be competition for the resource that remains. Even if you’re not concerned about overfishing and the problems it creates, the issue may still be at your doorstep if you don’t take corrective measures. An easy step any fish-eater can take is to choose plant-based meal replacements to slow the demand for fishing and avoid the dangers of overfishing. You can also start looking up where your seafood is coming from and if the business tries to replenish the ecosystem. For example, Lusamerica, founded in the San Francisco Bay area, is a family-owned, woman-owned and minority-owned company that specializes in the quality of seafood and an array of sustainable options.

Companies like these are who we want to support by being eco-certified; they are not only helping the planet but helping our health as well. Sophomore psychology major Olivia Pascal said, “We are the change we want to see in the world. If you stop eating certain foods every other day or weekly you can have an impact on what happens to our ocean life. Even if you are struggling to convert, look up where your seafood is coming from and how it is being processed. Change happens with us, let’s educate one another and lead into a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.”

Let’s leave this world better than we found it.

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