Plenty More Fish in the Sea

Increasing fishing efforts without effective management systems will have devastating economic, social and environmental consequences globally. 

Image Credit: Mother Nature Network


Why is it happening ?

Sardines are under threat of extinction. Portuguese culture goes hand in hand with grilled sardines. In fact, sardine festivals are nation-wide celebrations throughout the summer.


The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) recommended a fifteen year ban on sardine fishing in Portugal. According to ICES, the threat to sardine depletion is a matter of overfishing. The Council ascertains that current fishing limits are set beyond sustainable rates which drives sardine stocks to a dangerously low level. The Portuguese government responded to this recommendation negatively. It discards overfishing as the primary cause for depletion and takes a conflicting approach; it attributes the near extinction of sardines to climate change.


The current threat to sardines, and fish populations in general, is an accumulation of the effects of overfishing and climate change. Overfishing means capturing fish at a rate faster than they can reproduce. The absence of effective management systems and unregulated captures has led to severely depleted zones around the world. Pressure to meet the increasing demand for consumption reached a point where the global fishing fleet is three times larger than what the ocean can sustain.


The effects of climate change on the ocean exacerbate the realities of overfishing. Rising sea surface temperatures and levels pose a threat to fish survival. These changes alter the structure and distribution of marine ecosystems. Some fish populations, including sardines, respond to increasing temperatures by migrating to different areas because they cannot adapt to warmer waters. This migration leaves empty fishing nests behind.


Why does it matter?

The consequences extend beyond Portuguese waters. A multitude of fish populations currently face the same threat, striking at a major source of livelihood for billions of people. Increasing fishing efforts without effective management systems that drive stocks to the point of extinction have devastating global consequences.


First, it is a threat to the economic well-being of coastal countries like Portugal, because fishing is a profitable practice on a domestic, regional, and international level. Domestically, the need for fishermen would gradually decrease and lead to less jobs. The rise in unemployment would be paralleled with a loss of revenue for the country. Portugal exports canned sardines globally, and the breakdown of the industry would drastically hinder this source of economic benefit.


Second, the social welfare of coastal communities is also under threat. About 1.5 billion people rely on fish as a primary source of cheap and accessible protein. Traditional diets integral to countries like Portugal would cease to exist. Overfishing would force a cultural change for billions around the world. If continued, it could greatly contribute to food scarcity in regions that depend on fish as a source of survival.


Third, from an environmental perspective, the collapse of one fish species means the collapse of entire ecosystems. Small fish like sardines at the bottom of the food chain play a fundamental role in sustaining the lives of larger fish like tuna, turtles, and sharks. Overfishing already disrupts marine life balance, and if continued, it would contribute to the loss of various fish populations. Depleting commercially-viable fish poses a threat to future generations.


What can you do about it?

Cooperation is needed to employ and support sustainable fisheries. On a personal level, consumers can purchase from responsibly-managed sources that have undergone certification procedures. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification means compliance with good management practices to guarantee healthy fish stocks, protected habitats, and livelihood support. Millennials are encouraged to enjoy certified sustainable seafood products.


This WWF guide makes becoming better informed of sustainable practices easier. It is tailored to individual countries to aid purchasers revive the oceans by conscious consumption. And yes, there is also an app for that.


Ana Beatriz Brito briefs from Lisbon, Portugal. She holds an LLM in Public International Law and is currently a legal intern at the United Nations. Connect with her via LinkedIn


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