|Empty Oceans, Empty Nets: Issues Addressed in the Program|
A complex set of factors have converged to contribute the decline of ocean fish documented in Empty Oceans, Empty Nets. The following briefly describes some of the issues addressed in the program:
Diminishing Fish Stocks
According to the most comprehensive and recent data published by United Nations, two-thirds of the major marine fisheries of the world are currently fully exploited, over exploited, or depleted, compared to five percent reported only 40 years ago. In recent years, fishers, seafood merchants, and fisheries scientists have reported an alarming decrease in the volume and size of fish being captured. The total world catch peaked in 1989 at about 100 million metric tons per year. Despite a continuing increase in the number and capacity of fishing efforts, the total catch has continued to decline ever since.
Overfishing happens when fish are removed from a fish population in numbers that exceed the stock's ability to replenish itself. Diminishing numbers of fish without a corresponding decrease in the fishing effort eventually leads to a population collapse, rendering the fish stock commercially extinct.
Over 27 million metric tons of "untargeted" fish and other marine creatures—almost one-third of the total world catchare caught and discarded each year by the world's fishing fleets. This figure is four times the entire annual catch of the U.S. fishing fleet. The vast majority of this bycatch (sometimes called "wasted catch") does not survive. Some fisheries generate much more of this waste than others, but nearly all fisheries produce some amount of bycatch.
Destructive Fishing Practices
Certain fishing practices also damage marine habitats that are vital to fisheries, marine life and coastal communities.
Trawling: Powerful bottom trawlers entrap cod and other groundfish by dragging heavy nets with rollers over the ocean floor, often removing all vegetation as well as animal life, destroying not only the habitat but removing cover in which young fish hide from predators.
Dynamite and Cyanide: In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Micronesia, dynamite and cyanide fishing is destroying one of the most diverse and productive coral reef ecosystems on Earth. Blast-fishers dynamite reef areas teaming with life and then retrieve the dead fish, mostly for local consumption. Cyanide fishers pour cyanide solutions into reefs to stun and capture live reef fish for the lucrative export trade in aquarium fish and food-fish.
Globalized World Fish Market
With the advent of jet cargo and modern refrigeration, fish (fresh and frozen) have become a globally traded commodity. Most metropolitan airports have special on-site refrigeration facilities designed for seafood. In the large wholesale fish markets, it is common to see fresh seafood products flown in from half way around the world that were caught or harvested within the previous 48 hours. In Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market alone, over six million pounds of fish and shellfish are sold every day, and most of this seafood is imported. The U.S. and Europe are also net importers, often from areas where effective fishery management plans do not exist.
Exponential growth of the world's human population helps drive the rapidly-growing fishing effort. Two-thirds of the world's six billion human inhabitants live within 40 miles of an ocean, and these coastal areas include many of the largest cities. Today, over one billion people in Asia depend on ocean fish for their entire supply of protein, as do one of every five Africans.
Technical advances made during and following World War II leave the ocean's fish with few places to hide. Sonar gives fishers the ability to literally see the fish beneath their boats. Satellite technology and onboard computers allow them to map the ocean floor, pinpointing their own position and that of their quarry. Immense factory trawlers fish around the clock for months at a time with advanced refrigeration technology, allowing them to process, flash- freeze, and store thousands of tons of fish in warehouse-sized holds.
Fishing Farther Down the Food Web
Fisheries data indicates a gradual shift in the global catch toward smaller, plankton-eating fish and invertebrates that are the prey species of larger, predatory fish like tuna and swordfish. By removing increasingly large volumes of lower-food-chain level fish, the fish at higher levels are deprived of the prey they need to rebuild their populations. Also, because the inter-relationships between fish species are not yet fully understood, there is a risk the fishing effort is disturbing an ecological balance millions of years in the making that is vital to many fish stocks.
Most seafood consumers remain largely unaware that marine fisheries are in real trouble, although they realize that the price per pound is steadily rising for most kinds of seafood. To shoppers, there appears to be no shortage of seafood in supermarkets. Little do they know to what lengths the industry must go to maintain this inventory and what effect it is having on our oceans. Few retail seafood vendors know where the fish they sell are from, how they're being caught, or whether the stocks are imperiled.
Moreover, consumers are mostly unaware of their own powerful influence each and every time they make a decision on which seafood products to buy or which not to buy. As long as there is strong demand for a seafood product, even if it means pushing a fish population to the brink of commercial extinction, the market will respond until the last fish is caught. No one is overseeing this world market, a market that has been largely unconcerned whether all is well in the ocean, or whether marine resources will be around to benefit future generations.