Overfishing – the plundering of our oceans

Industrial fisheries of orange roughy. Emptying a mesh full of orange roughy into a trawler. / ©: AFMA
Industrial fisheries of orange roughy. Emptying a mesh full of orange roughy into a trawler.
© AFMA
The extent of overfishing

The global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support – meaning that humans take far more fish from the ocean than can be replaced naturally. As a result:
  • 24% of fish species are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion
  • 52% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited and have no ability to produce greater harvests
  • several important commercial fish populations have declined to the point that their survival is threatened.

Factors contributing to overfishing

It is through poor or no management, not a lack of awareness, that overfishing continues. Contributing factors to the current level of overfishing include:
  • technological advances that have made large-scale fishing easier
  • subsidies that keep too many boats on the water
  • poorly arranged Fisheries Partnership Agreements that allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries
  • pirate fishers that don’t respect fishing laws or agreements
  • the massive bycatch of juvenile fish and other marine species
  • destructive fishing practices
  • a lack of sound fisheries conservation and management in many parts of the world.

Fishing shifting from the coast to the deep sea

As coastal and pelagic (open ocean) fisheries around the world have declined, fishing effort has shifted to the deep sea and previously unexploited fish species. Here, overfishing can quickly deplete local fish populations, even during a single season. 
Some newly fished populations, such as monkfish, Patagonian toothfish, blue ling, and orange roughy, have already collapsed in some areas. There is insufficient data on other populations to determine what level of fishing is sustainable.

As much as 40% of the world’s fishing grounds are now in waters deeper than 200 metres and many deep-water species are likely to be overexploited.

Did you know?

Fishing for orange roughy (also known as deep-sea perch) is a relatively new phenomenon - but one that has already led to severe decline of this long-lived deep-sea species.

Some populations have been fished to commercial extinction in as little as four years.

Orange roughy congregate around seamounts - underwater mountains often found on the High Seas.