Fisheries - Photo by Richard Cawood

The oceans are teeming with unique and awe-inspiring creatures. However, harmful and unsustainable fishing operations pose a serious threat to the ocean’s biodiversity. Modern fishing techniques (both in capture fisheries and aquaculture) are disturbing many parts of an interlocking biological system that connects estuaries, coastal zones, continental shelves and banks, and the deep ocean. Too many fish are being caught, or grown, in ways that are destroying natural habitats, wiping out key parts of the marine food chain, changing species balance, and degrading water quality. The consequent disruption of biological balance in aquatic ecosystems is critically impairing the natural ability of fish to survive and reproduce.

Modern technologies in fishing practices—including bigger nets, longer lines, and larger fleets, coupled with inadequate oversight of fishing operations by many nations—have contributed to the depletion of the world’s oceans and changed the landscape and balance of the marine environment so drastically that many species now face extinction. Slow-growing species such as the Patagonian toothfish (Chilean seabass) and many shark species are routinely caught before they even reach breeding age, hastening the demise of these species.

Unsustainable fishing not only threatens the future survival of targeted marine species, but reverberates throughout the marine ecosystem. In 2006, the journal Science reported that the world's fisheries could collapse by as early as 2048 if current fishing and lax oversight practices continue. This could spell disaster for marine life and the many coastal communities that depend on the marine environment for survival.

To meet increased demand, humankind has turned to farming fish within artificial enclosures. Far from being a solution to overfishing, however, the methods used in industrial aquaculture are environmentally destructive—adding to rather than easing the burden on ecosystems. Also, as with industrial agriculture on land, the rearing of fish in close quarters can have severe animal welfare implications.