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.