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Overfishing

In GCSE Geography students will look at overfishing . This is caused by exploiting a resource too far and is responsible for endangering many species of fish whose stocks are now perilously low.

Overfishing occurs when more fish of a particular species are caught than can be replaced through natural reproduction. More than 85% of the world’s species of fish have been pushed beyond their biological limits. Many have been pushed to the point of extinction, or near extinction, by fishing. 70% of the world's fish species are no longer any use to fisheries as their stocks are so low that there are too few of them to be a viable catch.

Catching as many fish as possible may seem like a good way to maximise profits, but the results affect not only species in the oceans, but also have an economic and cultural impact on the communities that depend on fish for their survival.

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The first example of overfishing came from the harvesting of a whales (not a fish species it’s important to note!) in the 1800s, endangering their numbers. Another example occurred in the mid-1900s, when sardines on the west coast of America were harvested almost to extinction. It is estimated that industrial fishing has removed 90% of the fish from the seas and rivers. Some species have been driven to extinction and many are hanging on - but only just. It is likely that by 2048 fish stocks will be so low that there will be no commercially viable species left to fish in the world. The oceans and rivers will be close to dead.

1 in 5 people rely on fish as their main protein source, whilst 200 million people earn their living by fishing. Stopping fishing is an impractical solution at this time, but there are few viable alternatives. Fish farming can assist, as can systems such as aquaponics in which the fish are grown in ponds and their waste products are used to grow plants. But all this is just a small step in saving fish. As well as commercial fishing on an industrial scale, there is also a large amount of illegal and unregulated fishing.

Have a go at this quiz and see how much you know about how overfishing is endangering life in the oceans.

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  1. What does the term 'bycatch' refer to?
    Technologies designed for nets and lines can massively reduce the problem of bycatch, but many commercial fisheries refuse to implement these tools and methods
  2. Why are some species being raised in hatcheries and released into the wild when they are one or two years old?
    Animals such as turtles, lobsters and some fish are raised in tanks and released. This allows them to escape predators that may attack them whilst they are younger and will boost the wild population numbers
  3. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative seeks to remove what type of litter from the ocean?
    Long drift nets, purse seine nets, long lines and other types of fishing gear will often drift if abandoned - and continue to catch animals as it goes. Since the 1950s there has been a move towards non-biodegradable fishing gear, meaning it will be centuries before it stops catching sea creatures
  4. Long drift nets hang vertically in the water column and entangle anything that comes into contact with them. The UN has banned nets longer than 2.5 km. Which of the following is not a reason for banning long drift nets?
    Long drift nets continue to be used illegally around the world. Often they are set and left for days. Before the UN regulations were brought in, commercial drift nets were up to 50 km long!
  5. Which of the following is a reason against the use of fish farming to replace fishing?
    Food colouring is added to the fish food to make the meat a more appealing colour. This is in part excreted and pollutes other organisms, including those in mussel farms in some parts of Scotland
  6. What has caused the growth in demand for fish?
    Since governments have been recommending fish as a regular part of European diets, there has been an increase in fish consumption
  7. Two species of fish which are commonly sold in UK supermarkets are cod and pangasius, often labelled as basa. Basa is a fresh water farmed fish, whilst cod is caught in the wild in the North Atlantic. Why is basa a more sustainable alternative to cod?
    If cod is not rested from being fished it could still be wiped out, even though cod populations are starting to recover after management technques were put in a number of years ago
  8. Lundy, in Devon, is a no take zone. Why does this sustainable management technique have the support of local fishermen?
    Fishermen have seen their own profits fall as fish have become more difficult to catch. Many support sustainable management practices and often donate to projects that are supporting the recovery of various fish stocks
  9. How do fishing quotas increase the sustainability of the fishing and decrease the risk of overfishing?
    Quotas are given out on a national level, with the exact methods of dealing with that quota being handled by the local fisheries. In the UK the fisheries' patrol vessels operate within the structure of the Royal Navy, allowing a larger response to foreign vessels if required
  10. What are marine protected areas (MPAs)?
    1.6% of the world's oceans are MPAs, and 90% of those are open to some forms of fishing. The UN has called for an extension to these protected areas and countries like the UK are responding by defining these areas

Author: Ruth M

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