Population Punch: How Humans Are Changing Oceanic Diversity

by rwolach on September 25, 2015 - 11:43pm

      The continued decline of fish stocks through the overfishing of the world’s oceans is well known within biological circles, and is bluntly described through the article “Tuna and Mackerel Populations Suffer Catastrophic 74% Decline, Research Shows”, written by Fiona Harvey.  This short yet informative article engages the public on a subject that many believe to be unrelated to their daily lives, yet in reality, is an extremely important social and environmental issue for all.

      As outlined by Harvey, severe overfishing has depleted global fish stocks almost to extinction, and without a drastic change in our consumer habits, we will be facing an enormous food scarcity issue.  The piece highlights the immense decline in marine populations, such as a 98% decline in sea cucumber populations in the Galapagos, and aims to garner public interest in protecting endangered marine species through awareness and contributing to sustainable fishing industry.  Louise Heaps, the chief advisor on marine policy at the World Wildlife Fund UK, describes the scientific implications of declining fish populations, as well as how wildlife management plans, sustainable industry, protection of marine ecosystems, better relations between government and fishermen, and consumer awareness can help minimize the effects of overfishing.  Vast amounts of research has been conducted on this issue, further supporting the statistics presented throughout the article.

      From personal experience, I find that many people believe that the issues surrounding marine species decline aren’t as crucial as they are portrayed in the media.  For example, I recently visited a restaurant in British Columbia, Canada, and was very surprised to see Bluefin tuna on the menu.  Bluefin tuna would be considered a flow, or renewable, resource that is currently in the critical zone, if not already a classified stock resource, because of its estimated 96% population decline (McCurry, 2015).  I never expected to see an endangered species on a menu in Canada, and following our discussions in class, I have started thinking about what kinds of conflict may be involved in the thought processes surrounding the decision to continue serving endangered species.  I believe an interest conflict is prevalent in this scenario because there seems to be disconnect between who benefits from the harvesting of fish and who ends up paying for the depletion of resources.  Consumers demand a continual supply of fish, but don’t think that their evening meal will contribute to the overall decline of a species.  The ones ‘paying’ for this continual harvesting is society as a whole.  As we continue to harvest fish further down the food chain, a whole myriad of biological issues will occur, and those changes in the ecosystem will eventually affect us all, regardless of how little fish we eat personally.  If we do not mitigate for these effects through sustainable harvesting and consuming alternative protein sources, the resulting crash of ocean ecosystems could be irreversible.

      I would also like to touch on what I find to be an interesting point in the way media brings attention to the overfishing situation.  Many articles discussing the effects of overfishing on the human population use food security as a driving point in why society should think about their fish intake in a more sustainable way.  The loss of biodiversity around the globe should also be of great concern.

      All in all, the article presents a clear argument that numerous aquatic species are at risk of extinction if no action is taken to minimize our impacts on the ocean ecosystems we depend on.  Management plans and sustainable harvesting and purchasing are portrayed as crucial elements to slow these extinctions, and I could not agree more.



Harvey, F.  (2015, Sept. 16). Tuna and mackerel populations suffer catastrophic 74% decline, research shows. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/15/tuna-and-mackerel-pop...


McCurry, J. (2015, Sept. 3). Warning over Pacific Bluefin tuna stocks as Japan meeting ends in stalemate. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/04/warning-over-pacific-...


As you have so eloquently described, the media’s portrayal of this environmental concern is highly focused on an anthropocentric value system, whereby natural resources are valued solely for their usefulness to humans rather than their intrinsic value, or role within ecological systems. In my mind, both ignorance and our current value system are a few of the main drivers of our continued exploitation of natural resources. Obviously we are reliant on resources cannot avoid their use altogether, but it is becoming clear that environmental issues are generally not on the forefront of people’s daily worries.

An article by Alastair Bland of NPR further depicts the negative aspects of our anthropocentric views by exploring the issue of fish and seafood waste [1]. The article states that approximately 2.3 billion pounds of seafood was wasted each year from 2009-2013 in the United States. This waste includes that of bycatch, spoiled fish during transportation, waste during processing, as well as household waste. The article goes on to explain how this waste is not only a direct representative of {little} how we value our fisheries, but also how we value energy, as many forms are necessary throughout the entire process of purchasing and consuming fish.

While there are many green initiatives to promote smart consumer purchasing and curb such waste (especially concerning bycatch), such as that of the Earth Island Institute which promotes sustainable purchasing [2], there is still much to be done in the way of changing human value systems.

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/25/443466718/we-leave-half-o...
[2] http://www.earthisland.org/dolphinSafeTuna/index.php

Your summary and dissection of this news item was very well done. You expertly condensed the focus and surrounding issues so that they were easily understandable. I found your hypothesis that society is paying the price from depleting fish stocks a very interesting holistic view of the issue.
From a examination perspective, I wonder if the uncertainty of this case has lead to the dire situation were are in now. It is relatively easy to count animals on land compared to oceanic species. The lack of hard fast data regarding the health of fish species historically has lead to reflexive regulatory instruments being applied when the full scale of the damage starts to emerge. Policies are being made for damage control instead of preemptive management.
In addition, I think that this issue is in stage 4 of the issue-awareness cycle: the gradual decline of public interest. Sad to say, this is not a new story. Canada especially has intimate knowledge of what occurs when a fish stock crashes. In a way, this story has become old news, or just history repeating itself. As a result, the change needed to protect biodiversity is not an international priority.

This post caught my eye because the damage to delicate oceanic ecosystems has been a hot topic of discussion for a while. The problem of overfishing and its subsequent effects on other oceanic species is of great concern to me. When one species is driven to extinction or extirpation it has significant effects on other species in its food web, which could cause the whole ecosystem to collapse. I agree that this effect does not seem to be considered as much as the anthropocentric effects, when looking at the problem of overfishing. I think it is the inherent nature of people to think of how a problem affects them before thinking of the environment. However I believe the government is aware of this bias. Also, in response to the comment before mine, I have to agree that this issue of overfishing has been an issue for so long, that it doesn’t seem as startling as it once did. Sadly I feel in a way sometimes people tend to ignore what is happening to ecosystems off the coast because it’s “out of sight, out of mind”. When a problem is not right in front of us or does not affect us directly, the public does not keep an interest for long. Regardless, I believe that, as said in this post, the costs and benefits to society, the economy, and the environment (ie. the oceanic ecosystem) all need to be considered when working with, and improving the fisheries industry. Oceans and Fisheries Canada acknowledges this here: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/international/isu-global-eng.htm. This can hopefully realize and reduce the conflict of interest in this system.

You did an excellent job summarizing the article and explained some very good points regarding the different views that the media takes with respect to fisheries. The media tends to view issues from an anthropocentric standpoint. Unfortunately, this leaves the environmental concerns unanswered. This is a problem because then people do not understand what large environmental issues can arise from human actions. Increasing population drives fisheries to be put under a large amount of stress to meet demands. In the final paragraph of your post, you mention that management plans are crucial to helping with the sustainable harvesting of fish. What would some examples of those management plans be? Are they effective?

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