What Effect Does Fishing Have on the Environment?

Around the world, millions of people depend on the fishing industry for survival. In many coastal areas, fish is considered a food staple, readily accessible and healthier than other sources of meat that are often the product of animal agriculture. However, although fishing is often seen as a good alternative to meat, the fishing industry has a very real and measurable impact on the health of our oceans, their ecosystems, and the wildlife that lives among them.

Commercial Fishing Impact

The fishing industry is related to several marine conservation issues such as declining fish populations, habitat degradation, and water pollution. Researchers, particularly those in the United Nations Environment Programme who work to protect marine environments and biodiversity, have claimed that the size of the fishing industry needs to be significantly decreased in order to maintain healthy marine environments around the world. When done in mass scales, fishing disrupts aquatic life and damages the sensitive ecosystems in our oceans.

There are a few controversial fishing practices conducted by members of the fishing industry, including bottom trawling, blast fishing, and cyanide fishing:

  • Bottom trawling is considered one of the most damaging to ocean environments; it involves dragging a large net along the bottom of the ocean floor, which stirs up sediment that damages coral — a sensitive and crucial ecosystem for bottom dwelling sea creatures — and creates murky ocean waters that block the sunlight from reaching underwater plants.
  • Blast fishing involves using explosives to kill fish, which can be shocking and disorienting to other ocean wildlife.
  • Cyanide fishing uses poison to kill fish in large quantities — an illegal practice that can also harm coral ecosystems.

Although catching wild fish has its share of consequences, the commercial fishing industry is only responsible for catching about 65 percent of the fish used for food, while the other portion comes from fish that are farmed. Some experts suggest that increasing fish farming could help reduce the environmental consequences of catching live fish; however, others suggest that increased fish farming poses concerns on both the quality of fish and their quality of life, and it could also require feed consisting of ingredients from live caught fish.

Consequences Over the Years

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for managing the development and implementation of conservation plans for species designated as depleted, as well as  efforts dedicated to reducing the impact of commercial fishing on ocean life. Protecting the world’s oceans and oceanic wildlife is especially crucial now, when climate change is already having a huge impact on ocean health and, subsequently, public health. With more than 500 million people around the world depending on the fishing industry to stay fed, it’s more necessary than ever to dedicate resources to preserving oceanic ecosystems that create the habitats for these creatures.

A major World Wildlife Federation report involving scientists from around the globe confirmed that humanity has eliminated 60 percent of fish, mammals, birds and reptile populations since 1970. This is not all due to commercial fishing — rather, it’s a product of the overall impact humans are having on the planet due to our use of unsustainable resources and lack of efforts toward creating environmentally friendly solutions. Pollution from human activity has caused ocean temperatures to rise and our ozone layer to be depleted — two crucial components of our environment that make Earth habitable for humans.

Reducing Environmental Footprint

By working towards sustainable consumption and production of materials, sustainable engineering helps decrease the amount of waste in our oceans, which is drastically harming oceanic life and fish populations around the world. Globally, sustainable engineering is engaging 94 percent of architects, engineers and contractors due to increasing social pressure to reduce the environmental impact of construction and commercial production.

Although major fishing companies are usually strict in complying with ocean safety and pollution prevention, small commercial fishing operations are sometimes guilty of taking shortcuts that can contribute to ocean pollution. One reason for this is that the Law of the Sea can be difficult to enforce in the span of the ocean with limited international law enforcement. Fortunately, drones are helping save the environment by monitoring wildlife conservation and sustainable agriculture.

This is one of many ways that scientists are using technology to help in the fight against climate change. By outlawing controversial fishing practices that have a negative impact on our oceans and ocean wildlife and making a greater effort to enforce compliance, fishing can become a more environmentally friendly practice. It’s also important to ensure that commercial fishing is done as efficiently as possible to reduce waste and to not overfish in areas where large sea mammals need high fish populations to survive themselves.

Although it can be difficult to measure the indirect impact of our actions, an eco-conscious mindset is vital to helping our oceans survive, thrive, and maintain healthy ecosystems that contribute to a healthy planet.

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