HBO's Vice takes a hard-hitting look at overfishing

Amanda Leland

Tonight, on March 20, the award-winning HBO series Vice will air Countdown to Extinction, a hard-hitting look at how overfishing is plundering the oceans and hurting communities that can no longer find enough fish to eat.

Led by correspondent Isobel Yeung, the Vice crew offers a rare look at the illegal shark fin trade and the practice of dynamite fishing, activities rarely captured on camera.

But the show doesn’t just stop at the problem. It highlights fishing rights, also known as catch shares, as the solution that is healing fisheries and fishing communities.

Fishermen who participate in a catch share program get an allowance spelling out how much fish they can catch, based on what the fishery can sustain. Fishing captains make their own choices about when to fish, which means they can take advantage of high fish prices or good weather.

Today, such programs are transforming how commercial fisheries are managed in the United States and beyond.

World takes note of Gulf success

Countdown to Extinction features Environmental Defense Fund and one of our fishermen partners in the Gulf of Mexico, Buddy Guindon, where the population of red snapper is now three times the size it was in 2007 when we helped initiate catch shares. A preview of the show is available here: 

Fishermen in the Gulf are thriving today, and these kinds of results are not limited to the Gulf of Mexico. More than two-thirds of the fish caught in U.S. federal waters are now managed sustainably.

From Alaska to Chile and Namibia, fishing rights are reversing overfishing, reviving coastal communities and bringing the oceans back to life. Canada, Norway and New Zealand have also made the shift to sustainable fishing, and the European Union adopted similar policies in 2013.

It’s a good start, but not nearly enough.

Millions of livelihoods at stake

Globally, 3 billion people rely on seafood for an important source of protein, more than the annual consumption of poultry. These people live in regions of the world – including Asia, Africa, and South America – where fish populations are collapsing, where the human population is growing, and where a new middle class hungry for more animal protein is emerging rapidly.

At the same time, the livelihoods of some 38 million fishermen around the world are in jeopardy.  Many live in small coastal communities with few other options for employment. Some Somali pirates, for instance, were once fishermen who now have no fish.

50% more fish by 2025

Today, more than two-thirds of the fish caught in U.S. federal waters are managed sustainably, and our goal at EDF is to have 50 percent more fish in the sea globally by 2025. That will take significant change around the world.

We hope to add 12 more governments to the list of 7 leaders that have transformed their policies and practices to sustainable fishing.

Together, these countries account for 70 percent of global catch. Reforms at this scale could tip the global system, allowing sustainable fishing to take hold worldwide.

That’s why we’re working with partners in countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and Mexico to put in place solutions that will lead to more fish in the water, more food on people’s plates, and more prosperous communities.