Overfishing is simply taking adult marine life from seas and oceans at rates higher than the species can replace itself. It started as early as the 1800s when fisherman reduced the whale population to use the blubber for lamp oil. Over fishing is highly disruptive to the food chain and these depletions are one of the biggest catastrophes of the 21st century.
Industrial fishing has reduced the number of large ocean fish by 10%. As of right now, we have the fishing capacity to cover four Earth-like planets, and the oceans are losing entire ecosystems and species as a result of over fishing. This puts the ocean environment under stress, which will lead to the eventual collapse of perhaps an entire region.
On top of overfishing, many of the fishing methods used are unsustainable and have a detrimental effect on marine ecosystems. These methods cause tremendous destruction on non-target species (leaving fishing nets and other gear in the ocean). As an example, sharks, squid, and whales often get entangled in abandoned nets.
It’s important to remember that the oceans we’d assumed were vast and rich are in fact highly vulnerable. Add overfishing to pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and acidification, and you’re left with a picture of a system in crisis.
Many scientists say most fish populations could be restored with aggressive fisheries management, better enforcement of laws governing catches, and increased use of aquaculture. And in many regions, there is reason for hope. But illegal fishing and unsustainable harvesting still plagues the industry, and a public grown accustomed to abundant seafood and largely apathetic about the plight of the oceans complicates efforts to repair the damage we’ve done.