“Our survival is only a question of 25, 50 or perhaps 100 years,” the oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau warned in ‘The Man, the Octopus and the Orchid’ “It is absurd and dangerous for those who live in prosperity to think that the world economy is a cycle and that its riches will circulate for ever. Unrenewable resources are being squandered. Waste is building up. Valuable goods are vanishing while rubbish thrives.” He continues “They pocket the cash without looking ahead, writing cheques our descendants will pay for in the centuries to come. With their pesticides and pollution, their toxic discharges and the certainty of mutual destruction . . . the scientific experts have hidden the harsh reality: They will decide whether we live or die.”
The oceans are a mystery. They surround us, and yet they are largely unknown. Since the end of the Second World War, the world’s fisheries have been managed as an inexhaustible economic resource, which drove a massive expansion of industrial fishing. That narrow thinking has brought them to the dire straights they are in today: if fishing continues at the same rate, many stocks around the world will collapse entirely. Humanity is driving an unprecedented extinction of sea-life unlike any in the fossil record, hunting and killing larger species in a way that will disrupt ocean ecosystems for millions of years, scientists have said. Today’s “sixth extinction” is unique in the way that the largest species, such as great white sharks, blue whales and southern bluefin tuna, are being pushed to the brink, due to humans’ tendency to fish for larger species more often than smaller ones. The loss of larger species in the oceans could have knock-on effects on ecosystems.
“If this pattern goes unchecked, the future oceans would lack many of the largest species in today’s oceans,” said Jonathan Payne, associate professor and chair of geological sciences at Stanford University. “Many large species play critical roles in ecosystems and so their extinctions could lead to ecological cascades that would influence the structure and function of future ecosystems beyond the simple fact of losing those species.”
Douglas McCauley said, “Historically marine protected areas have been small boutique affairs - more like the size of golf courses. In the past five years, however, the world has begun aggressively setting up very large marine protected areas.”
Fish stocks all over the world are on the verge of collapse due to the twin effects of climate change and overfishing, and scientists warn this could lead to widespread malnutrition throughout poorer countries in tropical climates. Thirty-one percent of the world's fisheries are currently being harvested at biologically unsustainable levels and another 58 percent are fished at maximum levels which prevent growth, according to Food and Agriculture Organization figures. Although people from poorer communities will suffer disproportionately as fish stocks collapse, they are not the ones responsible.
“At this point, it is a consequence of overfishing, and mainly overcapacity by the industrial fleets. And most of the industrial fleets are from developed countries,” said Zeller, adding that overcapacity is driven by government subsidies. According to Greenpeace, China has nearly 2,500 fishing vessels at sea. Fuel subsidies accounted for 94 percent of the $6.4 billion that China provided to its fleet in 2013, according to a study published in June in the journal Marine Policy. China is now the world’s largest seafood producer and about 95 percent of its subsidies are “harmful to sustainability”, a study said. EU fisheries subsidies have encouraged overfishing over the years. "EU fisheries subsidies and the overfishing of valuable fish stocks are clearly connected," said Tim Huntingdon, consultant at British-based Poseidon Aquatic Resource, which carried out the study along with fellow NGO the Pew Environment Group.
An article in Nature warned that about 11 percent of the Earth’s population could lose out on essential micronutrients as the fish they depend upon disappear.
“Fisheries management has always been about maximising economic return, or sustainable yields to maximise the amount of fish we can take out that can enter the marketplace,“ warned Dirk Zeller, executive director of the Sea Around Us research institute at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. “We argue that we need to see a shift – we need to view marine resources as a health issue.”
The UK is to ban commercial fishing from a million square kilometres of ocean around British overseas territories. Recently, Obama created the world’s largest protected area in Papahānaumokuākea, a protected area just over a million square kilometres in size.