Photography: How Overfishing Takes Place

Posted: March 13, 2009 in creativity, environment
Tags: ,


Photograph by Bill Curtsinger: catching cod

Cod and other commercial ground fish are caught in a net in the Gulf of Maine – just one example for how our appetite for fish is wreaking havoc on aquatic populations worldwide. The conservation group World Wildlife Fund predicts that if cod fisheries continue to be fished at current rates, there will be no cod left by 2022. “Seventy-five percent of fisheries are overfished,” says marine biologist Enric Sala. “If nothing changes, all fisheries will have collapsed by 2050.” The solution, says Sala—a National Geographic Society fellow—is involving all levels of society, from consumers to policy makers. “The solutions exist, we just need the political will to implement them at [a] large scale,” he adds.

The following selected images and information were taken from one of the many well-done National Geographics’ photo galleries; the title of this one aptly is ‘Overfishing‘.


Photograph by Randy Olson – Cod caught of the coast in Iceland

Once the base for the classic British meal of fish and chips, the Atlantic cod is found in the colder, northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Commercial fisheries there operate year round, primarily harvesting with trawlers and gill nets. Cod can live up to 20 years and weigh more than 70 pounds (32 kilograms).


Photograph by Paul Sutherland – Tuna net in the Southern Ocean

A purse seiner net is used to haul tuna to coastal feeding pens in what is sometimes called the Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean. Giant bluefin tuna, treasured for sushi, can grow to 12 feet (3.7 meters) in length, weigh 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms), and live for 30 years. They once migrated by the millions throughout the Atlantic Basin and the Mediterranean Sea, but are now experiencing significant declines. By the mid-1990s, stocks of southern bluefin tuna had been fished to between 6 and 12 percent of their original numbers in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.


Photograph by Brian Skerry – Fishermen catch blue fin tuna

Fishermen haul in a bluefin tuna caught in the old Mattanza method. The giant bluefin used to surge through the Straits of Gibraltar each spring, fanning out across the Mediterranean to spawn. Over millennia, fishermen devised a method of extending nets from shore to intercept the fish and funnel them into chambers, where they were slaughtered. Today, all but a dozen or so of the trap fisheries have closed, primarily due to lack of fish, but also because of coastal development and pollution.


Photograph by Justin Guariglia – Tuna sushi

Atlantic bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean and then fattened in offshore cages can often fetch up to $50,000 each in Japanese markets. The fish are prized for their buttery belly meat, considered some of the best sushi in the world.

Photograph by Brian Skerry – A bottom trawler scrapes the ocean floor in Mexico

Bottom trawling—a form of net fishing that scrapes the ocean floor—often damages habitats by ripping up coral reefs. Now banned in many countries, bottom trawlers also collect large amounts of bycatch that is simply thrown back to sea or left to die. By some estimates, for every pound (0.5 kilograms) of seafood scooped up by a bottom-trawling net, there are 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of “bykill.”


Photograph by Brian Skerry – A hammerhead shark is fatally caught in a gill net in Mexico‘s Gulf of California

Nearly 40 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in Asia and prepared primarily in soups.


Photograph by Brian Skerry – Fins of thresher sharks are cut off and collected on the shores of San Marcos Island, Mexico

Shark fin is used, primarily in Asia, to make shark fin soup—a delicacy widely consumed in China since at least the start of the Sung dynasty in 960 A.D. As incomes increase in Asia, the demand for shark fin grows.

Photograph by Brian Skerry – Dead guitarfish, rays, and other species are tossed from a shrimp boat in the Gulf of California, Mexico
Tons of fish are thrown back to sea every year. International attention to wasteful fishing methods have resulted in relatively new net and hook designs, which prevent some bycatch. Overfishing has been historically [the] oldest and [most] major threat to ocean life today,” says National Geographic fellow Enric Sala. “And because of the mismanagement [and inefficiencies] of fisheries, the fishing industry loses $50 billion a year,” according to a 2008 World Bank report, adds Sala.
Photograph by Andy Eames/AP – Fishermen pose with a giant carp caught in the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia
The fish was reeled in, then released, as part of the National Geographic Society’s Megafishes Project—a three-year effort by National Geographic grantee Zeb Hogan to document the largest species of freshwater fish. All of Hogan’s megafishes are at least 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length or 220 pounds (100 kilograms). Many of the species he studies are threatened or endangered due to overfishing, development, and pollution.
Photograph by Katarzyna Mala/AP – Fisherman catch tons of live carp at a fish farm near Warsaw, Poland

Farming fish remains a controversial practice, as diseases and parasites that plague fish raised in confined pens can often infect nearby wild stocks. However, in a world with limited fish supplies, farms also help to reduce pressures on natural populations.

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  1. Overfishing is a major issue that needs to be stopped – people need to start making better choices when selecting seafood for purchase – or better not take it at all. Every species has a right to survival and every time a consumer purchases fish and chips/ canned fish/ sushi/ prawns… whatever it is they are supporting the inhumane act of killing innocent species. Its up to the public to stop eating the seafood that is caught by these unsustainable fishing boats. Think twice before you purchase seafood – to feed you how many other species may have died to feed you?

    I am finishing my Coastal Environmental Science and Management degree in July and am starting an Environmental group and this is one of the main issues that I want to tackle – would love to share info with you!

    • ak_guy says:

      Sure, there are a lot of unsustainable fisheries worldwide, but keep in mind that there are plenty of safe, sustainable one’s also – Alaskan fisheries as an example. As for the “inhumane” act of killing fish spp, I think that is quite the exaggeration in most cases. People should eat fish. Support sustainable fisheries and all the people involved in keeping them that way.

  2. Jessica says:

    I totally agree , this makes me sick.
    We need the population of fish to be sustainable, to reduce future problems.

  3. Fred says:

    Wow, that is really sad. I wish they would just stop trawling; it kills many unintended animals like turtles, not just fish

  4. Mikey says:

    Holy crap!! That is really fucking sad and it needs to be stopped. So many fish die, and so do turtles and sharks. Soon, the whole ocean will resemble a desert

  5. Googi says:

    WOW! They really need to stop bottom trawling because so many creatures die, and the seamounts are being destroyed.

  6. JustAnotherGuy says:

    Not very sportsman-like. I’m all for fishing, but not using and killing what you catch is not good.

    You should take what you need. And if you are too stupid to do that, then you shouldn’t be a fisherman. You are no different than some jagoff tossing grenades in the water.

    Let me be clear here. I’m not a hippie like some of the people above me.

    Fish aren’t human. I don’t believe any life form has the “Right” to survive.

    99.9% of life is extinct.

    I don’t believe it’s “inhumane” to kill fish or that fish are “innocent”. They are in fact not human and in fact are cannibals.

    I’m not a 3 year old child/socialist with a penchant for amoral relativism.

    I am though, a hunter. And killing for no purpose is evil. It’s wasteful. These fisherman may have good intentions, but so did many that destroyed civilizations. They need to respect the ecology or they will follow their prey.

  7. Ol' Joe says:

    Easily influenced people abound in this great land of freedom.
    Fact is, more damage to fisheries has been caused by Pollution than any amount of *over* fishing, as you say.
    All bays an waterways are sewage dumps for all cities, Chemical plants and even yourselves. Anytime you use water there is runoff and where do you think that runoff goes? Out into the river, then the bay and finally into the ocean. So next time you flush that terlet you sit on everyday, consider it another fish killed for your life of luxury.

    When you start pointing the finger of blame, do not forget that there are three more pointing back at you.

    As for eating animals and fish, Their purpose on this planet is to establish a food chain. Humans are the overseers, good or bad.

  8. fernando says:

    i totally agree i mean what the french toast!

  9. carl smith says:

    that is a huge fishi hope one doesnt eat me because when i am wakeboarding i am gonna bring my knife!

  10. tre' says:

    wow thats big in my school were doing a project on invasive speicies

  11. […] and consuming this food.Related articles Shark fin soup alters an ecosystem ( Photography: How Overfishing Takes Place ( EU launches plan to protect sharks ( Die, Shark. […]

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