Photo: Dos Winkel

Overfishing - for decades

Unless drastic measures are taken, the waters around Europe, and elsewhere, will start to look like a desert, and an empty fishpond. Fishermen often forget that they only harvest and never sow. For decades more fish has been eaten than the seas can replenish.
Each year 100 billion kilos of fish is consumed. That is an average of 13.5 kilos per person. Japanese eat the most with 72 kilos per person. In the Netherlands the figure is 7 to 8 kilos per person. It is estimated that in order to put these 100 billion kilos of fish on our plates, a total of 200 billion kilos of fish and other living creatures are killed.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that at least 70% of fish stocks in the world are now overfished. This overfishing is a problem in most of the world’s seas. Overfishing is when such a lot of fish are caught in a certain region that the population is endangered. We know two types of overfishing, growth and recruitment overfishing. Growth overfishing is catching fish that are too young, that have not yet reached sexual maturity. Recruitment overfishing is when too many sexually mature fish are caught so that the population is reduced.

One famous example is the fishing area off Newfoundland, the Great Banks where cod could once be plucked straight from the water. After years of overfishing, the cod has as good as disappeared. Commercial fishing of cod is no longer viable. The costs outweigh the returns. The ecosystem for cod has been damaged to such a degree that cod are unable to recover on their own.
Cod, sole, plaice and shellfish are also overfished in the North Sea. Fish quotas seem to be too high for the stocks of these species to be replenished in the North Sea. It was fished completely empty of tuna in the sixties. In the Mediterranean the population of bluefin tuna has dropped by 80% since 1999. The same fate probably awaits tuna populations elsewhere.

Fish consumption around the world is on the rise. During the last thirty years consumption has doubled and it is estimated that it will continue rising by 1.5% per year until 2020. In 1998, human fish consumption was estimated at 93.6 billion kilos and this increased in 2002 to 100.7 billion kilos. With the growing world population, the world’s seas look unlikely to be able to protect their fish, unless we decide to eat less fish.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation all but 3% of fish species are endangered.