According to a new report by the WWF, we’re very close to losing fish species that are not only important for their ecosystems, but that are vital to our food security. The main culprit, as it usually happens, is humans: we’ve almost wiped out tuna and mackerel through overfishing.

Mackerel may soon be overfished to extinction. Image via Wikipedia.

WWF and the Zoological Society of London found that fish species in the scombridae family of fish fell by 74% between 1970 and 2012, compared to an average of 1,234 other species of 49%. So we are overfishing to the point where we are wiping out vital species in the oceans, and unless drastic measures are soon taken, fish will be disappearing both from our planets and from our oceans.

Louise Heaps, chief advisor on marine policy at WWF UK, said:

“This is catastrophic. We are destroying vital food sources, and the ecology of our oceans.”

Other species suffering from massive loss in numbers are  sea cucumbers, a luxury food in Asia, which have fallen 98% in number in the Galapagos and 94% in in the Egyptian Red Sea and leatherback turtles, where populations have also plummeted.

However, while overfishing is the main threat, it’s not the only threat. Pollution and plastic detritus also take their toll, and the effects of climate change, while often hard to grasp, are also disastrous; one of the consequences of global warming is ocean acidification: as we are spewing more and more carbon dioxide, some of it gets trapped in the oceans, where it increases the acidity of the water.

“I am terrified about acidification,” Heaps told the Guardian. “That situation is looking very bleak. We were taught in the 1980s that the solution to pollution is dilution, but that suggests the oceans have an infinite capacity to absorb our pollution. That is not true, and we have reached the capacity now.”

A specific mention they made was to Chinese fishing companies, which are greatly expanding their reach and massively contributing to overfishing. Shark-finning, the practice of removing only the fins from sharks and throwing the bodies back, has done extremely much damage, and many species will become extinct within the decade if current trends continue.

RELATED  Mongolian herders were the first horse dentists, 3,000 years ago

However, Heaps said there were solutions.

“It’s not all doom-and-gloom. There are choices we can make. But it is urgent.”

It’s not just fishermen and conservationists that have to work for it – we all have to play our part. The first thing we have to do is consume only species that are certified as sustainable, and significantly reduce our fish meat intake. She also urged governments to adopt the sustainable development goals, proposed by the United Nations. But of course, the fisherman also have to play their part.

“We need to keep [fishermen] on board, because they must see that good governance is in their interests,” she said.

 

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Like us on Facebook