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Reducing Overfishing
Off the Atlantic Coast




What can be done to stop overfishing in the North Atlantic Ocean off of the coast of North America? What are the issues at stake, and what can be done to help guarantee the existence of the fishing industry into the future?

One of the main reasons for overfishing in the last several decades is the use of newer technologies which make fishing much more efficient than it was in the past. The traps used for catching lobster, as well as the nets used for deep-sea trawling, make the amount of catch made by fishermen much higher than it had been previously. This could dramatically decrease the fish populations just because of our sheer efficiency in catching them.

Another problem is that as these new and more efficient means of catching fish are used, the environment on the seafloor is disturbed, being damaged to the point where the natural ecosystem that fish use for their breeding grounds is destroyed. By regular usage of these means of catching fish, deep-sea trawling in particular, over time large swaths of seafloor are damaged, and the amount of habitat for reproduction is decreased, thereby decreasing the amount of fish in the next generation of fish population.

A by-product of using these deep-sea trawling methods of fish catching is that there are large amounts of fish and other sea creatures caught that are not wanted, and by the time they sort through all their catch for the fish they do want, the other fish and sea creatures end up dead, their corpses just thrown overboard. This tends to ruin some of the food supply, breaking down the food chain, and decreasing the amount of available food for sea life that is still present. This all tends to lower the fish populations even more, as populations tend to be determined by food supply, all as a result of overly-efficient fishing methods.

What can we do to ensure the fishing industry in the future? Our first step is to determine what it is that we want from this in the future. With that being said, here is a list of the things we want in a future fishing industry:

  • We want to be able to have adequate fish populations to provide for all of our human needs.
  • We want to be able to control fishing so that we don’t deplete the fish population more than we need to – we want to be able to take what we need and no more.
  • We want to be able to acquire the fish and other sea life we use for our own food sources without causing any damage to the ecosystems that provide those fish and other sea life.
  • We want to be able to acquire the fish and other sea life we use for our own food sources with a minimum amount of non-use catch, that is, catch that is not wanted, and is thrown back, and is usually dead by the time we get to it.

The second step, after determining what it is that we want from the fishing industry is to determine what kind of steps, laws, and policies we need to take to get what we want. Here is a list of possible policy and law solutions to give us what we want in the fishing industry:

  • We would have experts go out into the ocean and run a series of tests to determine, to the best of their abilities, what the population of different species of sea wildlife is, on an annual basis, and use that to determine a couple of things:
    a)The length of the fishing season would be changed each year based on the fish populations. This would be similar to hunting seasons within the deer populations of different areas of the North American continent, and other animal hunting seasons.
    b)The amount of fish that are caught and harvested each year would be determined based on these numbers.
  • After the length of the fishing season is determined, and the amount of fish that can be harvested each year is determined, the next step would be to limit the amount of fishing vessels that can be used to catch fish, requiring that each fishing vessel that goes to sea for the purposes of catching fish for commercial reasons be registered. After that limit of fishing vessels is reached, no more would be allowed. We may need the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce these rules in the north Atlantic fishing grounds off the Grand Banks.
  • Another step would be to require that all fishing boats get a permit for catching a certain amount of fish, meaning that each fishing boat crew can catch no more than that amount. This would be similar to the permits given to hunters who hunt deer in different areas of the country, or crocodile hunters in the Louisiana bayou, who need a permit for each creature they hunt and kill. The only difference is that this permit is for sea life, and usually per hundred, or thousand, fish caught, instead of just one.
  • Another thing would be to require that all fishing crews use technologies for catching fish that don’t kill unneeded fish, and don’t harm the ecosystem or environment in which fish live, even if it means that the fishing crews are more inefficient than they were before these new technologies became contraband. In other words, perhaps deep-sea trawling would be banned, and the use of some types of traps and nets would be banned. This would make sure that we maximize the potential of possible populations of present and future generations of fish.

A similar solution is used very well in Iceland, and could also work very well in waters off of the North American coast, but only if Candada and the United States would get together and make some kind of agreement to let the policy about to be discussed be effective properly. What is this Icelandic solution? They have a system of individual transferable share quotas (ITQ's) where each boat, or fishing trawler, is given the right to catch only a specific portion of the total allowable catch (TAC) of certain species of fish. All or part of this ITQ is transferable to someone else if one boat owner does not want to use his whole quota. This has allowed the fish catches to fall to sustainable levels, while allowing the value of the catch to rise in terms of its comparison to the capital invested in catching the fish, which has dropped. This allows fishing enterprises to make a higher level of return-on-investment (ROI) all while lowering their capital investment. This is a great plan, and would work great in the fisheries off of the North American coast as well. There are solutions out there to our overfishing problems; we just have to put them into action.

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