Fishing, when done at levels that allow the fish populations to sustain and the ecosystems where they live to remain balanced, isn’t necessarily problematic for the environment. Overfishing, on the other hand, is a serious issue. The depletion of fish throws ecosystems off kilter, reducing food availability and therefore population size for other species. If fish aren’t in place to regulate the population of organisms that they eat, like plankton or algae, this might cause problems like Harmful Algal Blooms, which can poison other aquatic creatures.
In addition to overfishing, certain types of fishing can be detrimental to the environment. Bottom trawling, for instance, involves the process of dragging a large net with chains and rollers across the bottom of the seabed. Not only does this affect the fish population, but it destroys marine organisms along the seafloor, such as coral and sponges. Bottom trawling also contributes to another problem associated with fishing known as bycatch – when unwanted fish are discarded because they are not the desired size, sex, or species. Other forms of fishing, like dynamite fishing – which involves the use of explosives to kill or stun fish – can severely destroy an ecosystem.
One of the biggest advances in checking overfishing in recent years has been the implementation of transferable fishing quotas. The laws governing fishing in past years only regulated the length of the fishing season, creating a “race for fish” as commercial fishermen invested in more advanced technology (overcapitalization) to find fish in increasingly competitive waters. This creates a system economists term “The Tragedy of Commons,” where no one owns the resource in question, thus no one has an economic incentive to protect it. Command and control approaches with regard to fisheries have only led to a fishing free-for-all which has seriously damaged one of our most valuable renewable resources.
Individual transferable fishing quotas allow commercial fishermen to purchase the right to fish within a certain plot of ocean. Under this system, it is in the fishermen’s economic interest to maintain the health of this fishery. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act, several west coast states have already implemented fishing quotas. Many states are hesitant to jump “on board,” but states like Alaska which have been implementing quotas for years have seen higher prices for their catches with healthier fisheries.
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