An Appetite for Destruction
Humans have always wanted a secure source of food, so along with hunting and gathering they farmed the land. They also have always wanted a secure source of meat, so they domesticated cattle and other livestock, but what about fish? We cant pick fish out of the ground, and they don’t roam free on the land, so what did we do?
For thousands of years humans have hunted waters in search of a tasty meal. The Native Americans caught what they needed during a season and moved on, and around 4,000 years ago the Chinese created fishponds to sustain their hunger for fish (Walsh, Ramzy, Horn, 2011). So what do the oceans look like today?
Unfortunately, the oceans aren’t in good shape. “The U.N. reports that 32% of global fish stocks are overexploited or depleted and as much as 90% of large species like tuna and marlin have been fished out in the past half-century”, with some species being fished to “near oblivion” and even toward extinction. 40,000 jobs are lost with the collapse of only one population of cod (greenpeace.org). So how did these fish stocks drop so dramatically?
One reason is that China’s population of 1.4 billion eats more fish “than those of the next 10 biggest countries combined” (Vance, 2015). How could they possibly do this? Well they have about 700,000 fishing vessels combing the worlds waters to feed their appetite. The worldwide catch “seems to have plateaued at about 90 million tons a year since the mid-1990s” (Walsh et. al, 2011). Even if this amount is sustainable it wont be able to keep up with the global seafood consumption. In the 1960s seafood consumption was about 22 lbs. per person per year, but it has risen to nearly 38 lbs. today.
How can we feed this appetite for destruction? When the issue of overfishing around the globe comes up it’s inevitable to also talk about fishing methods that are also sustainable. One method that has really caught on within the last 50 years is aquaculture, which is the cultivation of marine life, such as fish and plants for food. Global aquaculture has risen from “1 million tons in 1950 to 52.5 million tons in 2008”, and it has become the fastest growing form of food production.
The downside to aquaculture is that popular fish, like Cod, doesn’t take well to aquaculture. On average it takes about 2 lbs. of ground up fish meal to yield about 1 lb. of farmed fish. This is why fish that aren’t as well known, like the Barramundi, may need to supplement the more popular fish, because it takes less feed to produce a larger fish. Another twist to aquaculture is trying to genetically engineer the popular species to make them grow faster and larger (Walsh et. al, 2011).
Aquaculture will help preserve our oceans for future generations. Scientists have observed that “40 percent of the seas are heavily impacted, while only 4 percent remain pristine (Helvarg, 2010). Scientists have also suggested that 20-25 percent of the ocean be set aside as biological reserves, but so far only 1 percent has. Protecting our oceans, coastal wetlands, reefs and mangroves should be a top priority because they not only protect human populations from storm impacts, but they also provide fishing opportunities and they sequester carbon. Overfishing has severely damaged our oceans, and that soon will also damage human populations.
Overfishing, with facts on vessel sizes and catch sizes
Scientific research with the condition of the oceans
Helvarg, D. (2010). Saving the Seas. Progressive, 74/75(12/1), 48-49.
The amount of fish eaten and the amount of vessels in the ocean
Vance, E. (2015). Fishing for Billions. Scientific American, 312(4), 52-59.
Aquaculture and how it may need to take the place of ocean fishing
Walsh, B., Ramzy, A., & Horn, R. (2011). THE END OF THE LINE. Time, 178(3), 28-36.