Effects of Overfishing

Hunting the hunter

Sharks and rays take a long time to reach sexual maturity, and when they finally can reproduce, they have very few offspring every 1-3 years. They do not produce millions of eggs as other fish species do, therefore they simply cannot replenish their numbers, once they are hunted commercially. Generally speaking, all Apex predators suffer from this biological limitation. They have evolved to hunt, not to be hunted.

Commercial fishing is devastating shark and ray populations all over the world, and still, some people doubt that the vast oceans can be depleted and that our practices are changing the natural systems. It is often argued that shark fisheries can be sustainable, but there are few to none that have proven to be that over time. 

Add to the magnitude of the problem is rampant illegal, unreported and underreported fishing and the high death toll of accidental by catch.

It is predictable that our actions will be destroying the remaining populations of sharks and rays in a matter of years, not decades. 

The result is not only a loss of Apex predators, but dire consequences for fish populations and coral reef health. It’s a domino effect that is far-reaching and complex. Overfishing goes far beyond sharks and rays. Commercial fisheries are collapsing all around the globe. To do this topic justice, we defer to the Organizations that have produced great publications and articles on the subject.

Despite some progress in US and EU regulations and recommendations by international conventions and scientist, the global devastation of our marine life and resources through large-scale commercial fishing continues.

There is no escaping for marine life as millions of tons of fish and seafood is being taken by thousands of longline and purse seine vessels, bottom trawlers and factory ships.

Longline fishing vessels deploy 1.4 Billion hooks a year.
Mega sized trawling nets can catch more than 500 tons of fish in one pass.

Weak regulations, rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and lack of enforcement have resulted in massive over-fishing of sharks, tuna and many other endangered marine species. 

Fisheries management councils, in many cases, work to keep commercial fishing alive and booming – they rarely make conservation, or subsistence level fishing a priority. Often these management councils are given the exclusive authority to make decisions on fishing policies and regulations, without there being any balancing mechanisms within the government. 

The state of our oceans and the collapse of global fisheries is clear proof that this system is not working.


Watch this excellent Ted Ed video animation for a graphic explanation of Overfishing:

Understanding Overfishing



Bycatch is a fish or other marine species that is caught unintentionally while catching certain target species. It can either be a different species, the wrong sex, or an undersized or juvenile individuals of the target species.

 Why is it such an issue?

Current commercial fishing methods such as longline, purse seine and bottom trawling are indiscriminate in what they catch and therefore produce a massive amount of unintended catch such as sharks, turtles, marine mammals and unwanted fish. In longline fisheries as much as 40 % is wasted; on shrimp trawlers as much as 80-90 % of the catch gets thrown back overboard!!! Millions of tons of marine life wasted.

As many as 50 million sharks are caught on Longlines set for other fish - a number that could be drastically lower if it wasn’t for the incentive to get the extra cash for fins. Sharks used to be cut loose, and every released shark had a high chance of survival.

Bycatch mitigation methods exist. For example, changing the fishing gear, such as switching back to nylon instead of steel leaders and the use of weak or soft hooks would ensure that sharks could get away. But as long as it is legal and as long as there is so much money to be made from fins, these methods are not easily implemented.

Commercial fishing is protected and championed by Governments and Fisheries Councils because it is seen as an industry that provides food and jobs. What isn’t always mentioned is the fact that in most countries it has to be subsidized to continue. 

The problem is that this abuse is not readily seen by most of us. What happens out at sea goes on SIGHT UNSEEN.

We also cannot see the devastation below the surface. If we did, we would all be outraged and demand a change IMMEDIATELY. We have technology, data and ingenuity to create better methods. What is needed is global awareness and involvement, and the political will to work in the interest of a sustainable future. 

When we talk about reducing the overfishing of sharks we must consider overfishing in general. It is impossible to save one species by itself.

As an immediate step, we must support the establishment of marine sanctuaries and protected areas around the world, which are not only a haven for marine life but also our best chance to replenish fish populations. 

ALL OF US NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MARINE RESOURCES. It is time to ask our government agencies to acknowledge their failure and to hold them to the task of developing regulations and enforcement that works in the interest of sustainability instead of only looking out for short term commercial profitability.

Many organizations around the world are working to address these problems. 

We will try to do our part by raise the awareness and by engaging the public through our awareness campaigns, and we will collaborate in every way possible with conservation groups, leaders and policy makers to find solutions and support for these issues.

Last but not least, think about what you eat.

Generally speaking that means – eat less or smaller portions of fish, eat low on the food chain (sardines, not tuna) and eat locally, sustainably harvested (i.e. pole caught) seafood. And best of all – find a good replacement (veggies, nuts, seeds) that give you the protein and Omega 3 you need.


If you are wondering how to enjoy seafood in a responsible manner, watch this video

TED Barton Seaver: Sustainable Seafood – lets get smart