Fish is delicious, full of health benefits, and, most importantly, makes up a significant portion of global food resources. In fact, its consumption has increased steadily in recent years, as nutrition standards and the world population both rise. To keep up with increased demand, catching practices have reached a state which raises significant environmental concerns, causing problems which require serious innovation to repair.
Over-fishing, also known as over-exploitation, runs the risk of permanently harming the world’s edible marine populations by inadvertently damaging their surrounding environments in the process. An “exploited” fishery is said to be operating near an optimum yield level, with as much product being taken from it as can be without any adverse effects to the biomass of the relevant species. It is when fishing exceeds this level that environmental concerns are raised.
Over-exploited fisheries are being exploited to a degree which is not sustainable in the long term. As a result such ecosystems become depleted; when a fishery is depleted, its catches are significantly below historically recorded levels, indicative of a lowered population caused by organisms being harvested faster than they can replenish themselves. Today, over half of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and a third are over-exploited. These numbers are alarming in a historical context, but are unlikely to change as markets try to keep up with world seafood demand. Exacerbating concerns are pollution and climate change, which are lowering the populations of marine life en masse. For the good of vulnerable ecosystems, initiatives are required to preserve the presence of species at healthy levels.
Conservation policy is necessary to restore depleted sources to healthy conditions. If catches increase after depletion, a fishery is recovering. Populations will recover if fishing pressure is reduced, and with methods that help to pick up the slack so that seafood can continue to supply an invaluable source of nutrition to the world’s population while resources are still being conserved. Hatcheries are one such innovation; they can mitigate the problems caused by over-fishing while still letting harvesters meet global seafood demands and maintaining stability in that global food source’s part of the economy.
A hatchery breeds fin-fish and shellfish artificially through early life stages. In hatcheries, species can be farmed whose populations have been depleted, are under threat, or are being exploited at a sustainable level but would benefit from replenishing. Hatcheries can supplement exploited stocks by releasing farmed juvenile fish into wild environments, replenishing species in depleted ecosystems where the current biomass cannot sustain levels of catching.
Despite the unsustainability of irresponsible practices, fishing continues at a rate greater than populations can be replenished due to the high global demand for fish, continuing to throw whole marine ecosystems out of whack. Unsustainable harvesting has increased dramatically in recent years and continues to increase in the present. The use of the word sustainability itself rose in an abrupt and extreme fashion starting in the 1970’s, not because the concept hadn’t always been worthy of concern, but because dramatic consequences finally alerted people to the importance of conservation. Sea life has been one of the most glaring examples.
Innovations of science and technology can allow us to restore our aquatic environments, but fisheries will not recover unless people who catch fish implement responsible harvesting policy, with an eye for conservation and the protection the source of their catch.