The Watery Grave
2017, Middle School, Prose
Pablo Recabal looks out onto the ocean water. The blue depths hold many memories for Pablo, a fisherman whose livelihood and childhood are rooted in the calm water near Pelluhue, Chile. But today, the thoughts he has looking at the water are not happy ones. Unless something changes, he knows that the current state of the ocean is an impending disaster. His future is directly tied to the quiet water beneath his small fishing boat, and it seems like that fact is an anchor leading to a watery grave.
The ocean is something humans depend upon. It is something we cannot live without. It is something that takes up the largest portion of our planet, yet most have little room in their hearts to take care of it. We abuse it and we treat it like no matter what we do to it, it will always be there. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Oceans have delicate ecosystems that are being hurt by humans every day. One of the most harmful actions humans are doing to the seven seas is overfishing. You might be thinking, how does this relate to pollution? The term overfishing means that we catch more fish than we need, and faster than they can reproduce. Because fishermen are spending more time out in the sea, they are more likely to either have faulty or worn-out equipment that is intentionally or accidentally left in the ocean, or it is just more convenient to throw their accumulated trash overboard instead of in a trash can. Additionally, the more boats in the ocean, and the longer they spend there, the more pollution, gas leaks, and exhaust fumes; which have a significant effect on hydrocarbon pollution and even global warming (Hilchey). The pollution from more and more boats was first measured around 1993, and yet, little to nothing has been done. Stopping pollution can start with reducing overfishing and creating awareness of its detrimental effects.
The beginning of this predicament starts at an unexpectedly harmless place – the dinner table. Humans eat four times as much fish as people did in 1950, so fisheries have been keeping up with that increased demand by not only catching more fish but innovating “better” ways to do so (Vince). All the new fishing equipment has been built to catch more fish faster, easier, and cheaper. Although it may be faster, easier, and cheaper, this is only making the problems worse. The first “improved method” fisheries use nowadays is enormous nets that increase the risk of catching fish they aren’t going to use or sell. This effect is known as by-catching, and leads to two strikes against the ocean. First, we overfish the species we are trying to catch, but secondly, we unintentionally overfish another species that is caught in the process. For example, it is estimated that for every ton of prawn, 3 tons of other fish are killed (“The Threats of Overfishing”). To make matters worse, the fish collected from by-catching is not even used for a productive purpose; instead, studies report that 25% of fish caught is thrown away because they are not the target species, age, or size that is wanted by companies (Wolford). Bycatching has caused many animals to be near the brink of extinction, including whales and dolphins who depend on a flourishing population of other fish for their own survival. When animals in the food chain become extinct or even just begin to decline in population, it hurts everything in the ocean.
Overfishing has caused 5 out of the 8 species of tuna to almost go extinct and drastically decreases fish populations in general (Richard). Besides the negative effects such as extinction throughout the food chain as mentioned earlier, the effects of overfishing also hurt the ocean landscape. Fish eat away at algae that allows space for coral reefs to grow, so when the fish population declines, it also hurts coral reefs. Because there aren’t enough fish to maintain the ecological balance, large areas in the Mediterranean and North Sea almost look like a desert and shows how bad the ocean has become (Biello).
While almost every ocean citizen has been affected in some way by humans’ interference in nature’s order of things, sharks have extremely been hurt by overfishing in particular. These majestic creatures have longer lifespans than other aquatic life, and it takes them longer to reproduce than other animals, so an early death is especially impacted by overfishing. Bycatching from tuna fishing indirectly leads to the death of over one million sharks and has led to an 80% decrease in shark population (“The Threats of Overfishing”).
Sharks are at the top of the food chain so their death leads to a domino effect, adding to the problems of organisms lower down the food chain such as fish and even coral reefs (“Marine Food Chain”). However, unlike most fish species, sharks, especially the Great White sharks, are not only hunted for commercial purposes such as meat, but many are killed for sport hunting. Studies estimate 100 to 236 million are killed every year (Stone). To protect the Great White sharks and the stability they provide to the food chain, we need to provide them with protected waters, which means no one can hunt or harm the animals in that area. However, this is challenging because Great White sharks, along with most aquatic life, migrate, so their protection would only last as long as their stay in the protected area. Fortunately, if governments join together and create more protected waters along migration paths, we will be on the road to restoring our ocean. This will not solve all the problems but is a step in the right direction. People can also help by donating money to organizations that protect sharks and raise awareness and demand change to prevent a major catastrophe from happening.
Scientist say that with all the overfishing, by the year 2050 all the fish in the ocean will be completely gone (Breslin). However, overfishing instigates problems not only within the ocean – the broad-reaching negative effects will impact those on land as well. Currently, developing countries rely on fish, and the decrease in fish has hurt their economies and hurt the one billion people who survive with fish as their main protein. 4.3 billion people eat fish as 15% of their protein, but if overfishing was properly dealt with, more than 20 million people could avoid undernourishment (“Fish as Food”). The world is losing around $50 billion in revenue because of overfishing (Melvin). If there were to be no more fish in the ocean by 2050, all of the ocean fisheries would go out of business and 200 million people would lose their jobs (Oliver). People in developing countries, who are already struggling to just survive, would die because they rely so heavily on fish and the fishing industry. Like the domino effect in the ocean, the linking impacts of the decimation of fish could lead to an increase in violence and crime because there would be more poverty and unemployment, especially in developing countries.
Possessing no more fish in the ocean by 2050 sounds bad, and it would be bad. Thankfully that does not have to happen. That tragic disaster can be avoided but it will take some hard work and a complete shift in our mindset and the way things are done now; nevertheless, there is hope. Some of the changes that would happen is that all the fisheries, every single one, would have to decrease the amount of fish they catch. Catching less fish will hurt at first, but in the end, it would work out for the better. There also would need to be more regulations for the fisheries. To save the ocean, governments would need to create more protected water. Currently only about 2.8% of the massive ocean is protected (Moffitt). This is detrimental because protected waters allow ecosystems to rebuild and thrive without outside interference.
Another thing that will need to be done is governments reducing their subsidies on ocean fisheries. Subsidies is the term for money the governments give to companies to keep the fisheries open. Perhaps if fisheries couldn’t survive without government subsidies, those funds could be given on the condition that they are used to improve sustainable fishing practices.
But governmental action can only do so much, and it will only work if everyone does their part. Consumers should start thinking about how much fish they are eating. The next time you go to the store to buy fish, think about how overfishing and by-catching is happening because people want too much fish, and how if everyone just ate less fish it could help the wonderful ocean. People can also spread the word and become more aware of what is happening to the ocean. Join an organization to stop overfishing, or donate money to an organization that wants to prevent overfishing. If everyone does just a little bit, it can make a big difference.
Just like Pablo Recabal is distressed about the current state of the ocean, so should everyone else. Because if something does not change fast, fish, sea plants, humans, businesses, and livelihoods will die. The ocean might be delicate but it allows humans to tap into its resources and enjoy it. However, it does not allow humans to take from it how ever they want, whenever they want, and how much they want. It has a limit. Just like everything in this world. Finding the limit and respecting it is very important for the ocean. Pablo Recabal’s livelihood is in fishing, his memories are in fishing, his community is dependent on fishing. The ocean is like part of his family, and he hopes something will be done to save it. He does not want it to become a watery grave for marine life, and the industry and people who depend on it.
Hilchey, Tim. “E.P.A. Studies How to Clean Up the Wakes of Motorboats.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 May 1994. Web. 19 June 2017.
Vince, Gaia. “How the World’s Oceans Could Be Running out of Fish.” BBC. BBC, 21 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 June 2017.
“The Threats of Overfishing: Consequences at the Commercial Level.” DUJS Online. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, 29 May 2012. Web. 19 June 2017.
Wolford, Ben. “Seafood Waste: Fisheries Throw Away 20% Of Animals Caught In Nets.” International Science Times. N.p., 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 June 2017.
Richard, Michael Graham. “More Than Half of Tuna Species Facing Extinction, But Over-Fishing Them Is “Too Profitable” to Stop.” TreeHugger. Treehugger, 01 May 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
Biello, David. “Oceanic Dead Zones Continue to Spread.” Scientific American. N.p., 15 Aug. 2008. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Marine Food Chain.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
Stone, Dan. “100 Million Sharks Killed Every Year, Study Shows On Eve of International Conference on Shark Protection.” National Geographic Society. National Geographic, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Fish as Food.” Small Planet Institute. Marine Stewardship Council, 27 May 2015. Web. 19 June 2017.
Breslin, Sean. “Fish Consumption Could Leave Our Oceans Empty By 2050, Estimate Shows.” The Weather Channel. N.p., 04 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 June 2017.
Melvin, Jasmin. “Fisheries Losing $50 Billion a Year.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 08 Oct. 2008. Web. 19 June 2017.
Oliver, Rachel. “All About: Global Fishing.” CNN. Cable News Network, 29 Mar. 2008. Web.19 June 2017.
Moffitt, Russell. “On the Tide.” Marine Conservation Institute. N.p., 22 May 2014. Web. 19 June 2017.
Shwartz, Mark. “Half of the Fish Consumed Globally Is Now Raised on Farms.” Stanford University. Stanford Study, 08 Sept. 2009. Web. 19 June 2017.
After doing some research for the paper, I felt sick to my stomach and blame for contributing to the huge problem of overfishing. My apathetic attitude was now shifting into worrying mode and genuine concern. I learned that most people, even some fishermen, are just like me, unaware of the impending doom. I learned that human activity in oceans is inexcusable. I learned that even someone like me can help and make a difference.