NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Sea's Rich Bounty is Shrinking

August 1, 2003

Overfishing is threatening a number of marine species with extinction, and behind this phenomenon are steady advances in technology, national subsidies to fishing fleets and high demand for seafood among consumers, say William J. Broad and Andrew C. Revkin.

Today, more than 23,000 large fishing vessels and millions of small ones are trawling for seafood in new, deeper waters, but stocks of many fishes are decreasing while demand for fish keeps climbing:

  • In 2000, the American Fisheries Society reported that 22 species of fish had almost vanished.
  • Cod have almost completely vanished off eastern Canada.
  • Nearly a billion people now rely primarily on fish for protein.
  • Countries can use fishing subsidies to buy out boats and retrain their crews so that fishing is reduced without cutting too many jobs.
  • Harvest limits can be set, with quotas allotted to individuals in fisheries who can then trade them; allowing people to buy and sell their fishing rights encourages some to leave the fishing industry, say conservative and environmental groups.
  • Creating reserves and nurseries where fisherman can't fish is another option; reserves in New England led to record levels of scallops and other fish species.

Overall, fish can be extremely resilient as long as their natural surroundings are not degraded too badly, but more long-term solutions are needed to ensure that marine life is protected, explain Broad and Revkin.

Source: William J. Broad and Andrew C. Revkin, "Overfishing Imposes a Heavy Toll," New York Times, July 29, 2003.

For NCPA's Debate site on Marine Natural Resources


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