Last week, a CBS news story highlighting a 2006 study on the decline of oceans' health, was rediscovered and began trending on Facebook. With the study back in the spotlight, I was delighted to join lead author Dr. Boris Worm on HuffPo Live to discuss the study’s findings and solutions for improving the state of our oceans.
While great strides have been made in the eight years since the study was written, overall oceans' health continues to decline. Globally, nearly two-thirds of fisheries are in trouble with pollution, overfishing, and habitat loss all continuing to pose a very real threat to oceans and their resilience in the face of new threats, including climate change and ocean acidification.
Overfishing: The root cause of oceans decline
During our talk, Dr. Worm and I discussed these issues and took a deeper dive into the root cause of oceans decline—overfishing. The world’s population is rising steadily and is estimated to reach about 8 billion people by 2024 and 9 billion by 2040. As the population increases, so too does the world’s appetite for seafood. As a result, fish are taken out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce. This can cause obvious problems up to and including extinction of especially vulnerable species (thus the catchy but grim headline on the HuffPo story, “Scientists Predict Salt-Water Fish Extinction”).
Frankly, extinction is not the biggest problem. Overfishing reduces the abundance of vulnerable species, but it also alters ecosystem structure and function, as other species react to the reduced abundance through what ecologists call “ecological cascades.” Valuable large fish that help maintain stable ocean ecosystems can be replaced by more opportunistic, “weedy” species. Under severe fishing pressure, the ability of marine food webs to sustain themselves can be compromised – a real problem with the challenges that lie ahead from climate change.
When our oceans suffer, we do too. Overfishing affects the three billion people around the world who rely on seafood as a source of protein and millions more that depend on healthy fisheries for their livelihoods. Furthermore, poor management costs the world’s fisheries $50 billion annually.
Programs and resources to help
But this isn’t a post of doom and gloom. There are sustainable fishery management systems that are helping to keep marine ecosystems balanced, fish on our plates and wages in the pockets of the fishermen and industry workers that rely on healthy oceans. These management programs are called catch shares. To date there are about 200 programs managing more than 500 different species in 40 countries. Many studies tout the benefits of catch shares including one worldwide review which found that catch shares significantly lower the incidence of overfishing compared to conventional management practices.
At EDF, we work to share lessons from these successful programs and develop sustainable fishery management resources that help fishermen design these programs. Along the way, we’ve partnered – and become fast friends – with fishermen, as well as NGOs, academics and others who wish to secure a healthy ocean for future generations to come. We want the passion and ideas around sustainable fisheries to go viral.
Perhaps, one day, the trending topics on Twitter and Facebook will be: