Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Overfishing: The Plight of Marine Sustenance

By Jeffrey KimPublished October 2, 2016

null
While hunting as many fish as possible continues to be a lucrative practice, overfishing contributes to the ongoing loss of marine life, endangers the sustainability of our marine food supply, and damages our economy. Therefore, we must limit fishing subsidies in order to inhibit such practices. Although the oceans may seem vast and invulnerable to human activity, both marine and human life suffer due to the negative externalities of overfishing. Accordingly, the US government must deter fishing corporations from engaging in adverse practices for short term economic gain.
By Jeffrey Kim, 10/2/16

While hunting as many fish as possible continues to be a lucrative practice, overfishing contributes to the ongoing loss of marine life, endangers the sustainability of our marine food supply, and damages our economy. Therefore, we must limit fishing subsidies in order to inhibit such practices. Although the oceans may seem vast and invulnerable to human activity, both marine and human life suffer due to the negative externalities of overfishing. Accordingly, the US government must deter fishing corporations from engaging in adverse practices for short term economic gain.  

Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction. This process not only endangers the balance of marine life but also threatens the social and economic well-being of coastal communities. Although the seas and oceans may seem to represent a limitless bounty of food, unsustainable fishing practices are pushing many marine communities to the point of collapse. Around 70 percent of global fish stocks are overfished and 30% have collapsed. While climate change and pollution have a huge impact on marine life, global overfishing direct threatens the immediate vitality of the marine population. The exploitation of fish has led to a decrease in populations of big fish and as the practice increases, the recovery of fish populations, and water quality will decrease significantly.

Despite the disproportionate share of fish that industrial nations capture, developing countries disproportionately bear the burden. Large amounts of potential catch and revenue have been lost in recent decades and the burden of these losses fell heaviest on the world's poorest people. Other countries have made significant strides towards greater conservation efforts that the US should emulate as the European Parliament voted to reject new subsidies for the saltwater fishing industry and provide financial support for new ecologically friendly measures meant to prevent overfishing.

The US response to this dilemma has been insufficient and inadequate as communities both above and below water continue to suffer. Although the Western Pacific Islands have responded to calls for regulations in the fishing industry to protect the last great Tuna shocks, the US has failed to replicate their examples. Even though the fishing industry is a major avenue for revenue in these islands, they chose to embrace the advice of fishery experts and their warning that their fishing rates were unsustainable. The US chose not to heed their warnings and instead exacerbated the situation by expanding its fleet in the area from 11 to 40 ships. This circumstance is emblematic of the American government's tepid response as the health of marine life continues to deteriorate.

In 2000, 7-36% of actual tonnage was lost globally, figures that mirror the landed value loss between $6.4 and $36 billion. These statistics have further relevance when we consider that the three continental regions to incur the greatest losses were Europe, North America, and Asia. If we were to regulate fishing to a sustainable level, we would be able to fish even greater amounts in the future and potentially accrue even greater revenue. The additional catch from sustainable fishing in 2000 could have helped 20 million people avert undernourishment. Furthermore, the total catch in the waters in these poor nations may have been 17 % greater had it not been for overfishing induced by wealthier nations (Srinivasan, 2010). Therefore, there is a large prospect of economic and moral progress.

One way to redress the situation and to stump the progress of overfishing would be to limit fishing subsidies. From 1996 to 2004, the US spent an average of $713 million per year in fishing subsidies. 56% of the government funds went to subsidies classified as harmful due to their likeliness to increase overcapacity and the rest went to subsidies that were ambiguous. Since fisheries depend on government assistance to operates, the government could decrease the amount of commercial fishing by decreasing subsidies. These fisheries would be persuaded to decrease their activity by the implicit threat of running out of business.
Despite the threat to life both above and under water, the US government has failed to adequately respond to the threat induced by overfishing. Although the seas and oceans may seem to represent a limitless bounty of food, unsustainable fishing practices are pushing many fish stocks to the point of collapse. In addition, overfishing generates economic loss from unrecoverable casualties incurred by fish populations and impairs both the economy and food supply of fishing communities. Therefore, it is imperative that the US government limits fishing subsidies in order to advance the recovery of life in our waters.