Top 5 questions about oceans, seas & coasts

1. Oceans are so big and vast, can they really be threatened by human action?

True, we once considered our oceans inexhaustible. But there was also a time when people thought you could sail the seas and fall off the edges of the world.

The truth today is that we cannot fall off the edges of our planet, but our oceans are in a state of global crisis.

And the main cause for this is ... guess what? Humans and our destructive fishing techniques, or more simply put, a result of overfishing.

Today's industrialized fishing practices exceed nature's ability to replenish the ocean's fish stocks. As a result, more than 70% of the world’s commercial marine fish stocks are either fully exploited, overfished or recovering from overfishing.

Scientists have recently discovered that 90% of the big predatory fish are already lost – species like bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks all stripped from our oceans by industrialized fishing.

This is the single biggest threat to our marine waters. Unless the current situation improves, scientists predict that stocks of all species currently fished for food will collapse by 2048.

2. But overfishing is just about fish. Isn't it going too far to say that it is "devastating our oceans"?

Well, not really.

The problem is not at all just about the fish that we eat, but how it was caught.

Some of the worst fishing techniques threaten not only the fish we target for food. Other species – such as marine mammals and seabirds – are caught incidentally in fishing gear and then discarded overboard dead or dying.

This ruthless process of "non-target species" is called bycatch and occurs wherever there is fishing.

Here are some facts and figures about it:
  • over 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing nets each year
  • more then 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles drown annually on longlines set for tuna, swordfish and other fish
  • around 40 tonnes of cold-water corals are destroyed by fishing boats every year
  • 100 million sharks are caught in hooks
  • as much as 150,000 tonnes of invertebrates are discarded annually in North Sea fisheries alone

3. How about if we eat only farmed fish? Is that a better option?

Farmed fish, or aquaculture, has the potential to provide food security, revenue and an alternative food source to that derived from wild caught fish. But we have to be extremely cautious with this option.

Why? Well, fish farming can cause other undesirable side effects to the environment and be economically unsustainable.

The main concerns about the impacts of farmed fish are:
  • intrusion of fish farms into vulnerable marine and coastal areas
  • increased pressure on species exploited on wild caught species used as fish feed
  • diseases which can infect wild stocks
  • interbreeding of escaped fish with wild stock
So, before any aquaculture development takes place, we have to be extremely careful!

4. Are you saying that fishing should be stopped? Won't fishermen lose their jobs?

We are not at all saying that we should stop fishing altogether. By no means!

But we must have better practices and management of how we fish. In fact, fishermen and coastal communities are the first to feel the impacts of depleting fish stock.

Newfoundland in Canada provides a sobering example of what happens to communities when fish populations are fished to commercial extinction.

For centuries cod stocks of the Grand Banks seemed inexhaustible. In the early 1990s, 110,000 people were employed in the fishing and fish processing industry. But in 1992, the cod fishery collapsed and some 40,000 people lost their jobs overnight, including 10,000 fishermen.

More than 10 years later, the cod have still not recovered. And the latest science indicates that the ecosystem has now substantially changed, meaning that the cod may never make a comeback.

Similarly, in Senegal fishermen no longer catch prized barracudas and red carp. Instead they must go after smaller and less appetizing kobos (a small coastal pelagic fish) because most of the time there is nothing else.

This means that the jobs and livelihoods of thousands and thousands of people around the world depend on the maintenance of fish stocks worldwide.

5. Is there something we can do to help solve this probem? Or is it too late?

The good news is that, yes, there's still a lot we can do if we start to act now!

WWF's marine conservation work focuses on finding solutions to: Helping marine life is also one of the challenges where our power as a consumer and our every day choices can make the greatest impact!

Here are links to things YOU can do:

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