Overfishing: An Ocean Crisis


Overfishing, the act of taking too many fish from the oceans, is a huge issue, with research showing that 90% of global fish stocks are fully exploited or overfished.1

A Threat to Our Oceans

Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing practices are largely to blame for overfishing. The industry uses processes which are detrimental to marine life and the ecosystem.

Not only does commercial fishing exist to provide a food source, but an ever increasing demand for fish oil supplements is creating further strains. Used for omega-3 content to support heart and brain health, fish oil supplements have seen a surge in recent years, but the process to create these health products is extremely wasteful. Methods include catching large amounts of fish, followed by separating the oil and shipping worldwide, all of which have negative effects on wildlife and the climate.

The consumerism that fuels commercial fishing is unsustainable at the current rate, and there is a necessity for change.


Midwater trawling, paired with dredging, is the most damaging fishing practice to marine life. Huge nets are dragged by boats to catch vast amounts of fish, but not only does this process catch other marine species in the nets, but it can also cause water pollutants to be mixed with plankton, which can cause harmful algae to grow.


Not to be confused with trawling, dredging is the practice of dragging a huge dredge (or net) across the sea floor, collecting fish and wildlife. The rakes on the bottom of the nets pose an intense threat to marine life who forage on the seafloor – capturing, injuring, or in extreme cases killing, turtles and dolphins. Additionally, these practices damage the seabed, disturbing organisms in their burrows and changing the nutrient levels in the water.

Drift Netting

Drift nets hang vertically in the sea, without being anchored, using floats at the top. These nets work by snagging on fish tails and fins, wrapping them up as they attempt to escape. Not only does this practice increase the chance of bycatch, but these nets are prone to being lost or abandoned due to strong currents, causing ecological damage and leading to pollution.

Illegal Fishing

Over $30 billion a year is gained through illegal and unregulated fishing, a lack of systems in place to prevent this only assists further. Not only does this cause issues in itself, but also poses a threat to vulnerable communities. Many people around the globe rely on fishing as their main protein or income source, and if illegal fishing continues, these communities may experience food shortages or economic disaster.

Ghost Fishing

The threat does not disappear once the fishing has taken place; boats frequently discard their fishing nets after use, leaving them behind in the sea and on ocean beds, trapping, injuring and killing marine.

Marine Life

But it’s not just about the fish. These practices injure and kill other ocean animals and sea birds, also called Bycatch. In fact, 40% of animals caught in commercial fishing activities are unintentional2 – such as turtles and seabirds, with over 38.5 million tons of bycatch taken yearly.3 This, in turn, puts sharks, rays and other species at the risk of extinction.

Additionally, these practices have a knock on effect for the ecosystem. Ripping fish from their homes, as well as leaving them injured or trapped, affects how fish reproduce and creates an imbalance that can negatively impact the food chain. This has a ripple effect on other species, creating a negative cycle.

Are Fish Farms the Answer? 

Fish farms were created to address overfishing in oceans, used to grow captive fish for consumption. However, this process, often referred to as aquafarming, can negatively affect wild ecosystems. As livestock feed, pesticides from their food may infect surrounding fish in natural habitats, spreading disease and causing numbers to decline.


Unless action is taken, these issues will persist. However, there is hope – we could reverse the impacts of overfishing if fishing practices change, such as switching to vegan or plant based alternatives, in addition to ending illegal fishing, and supporting companies like WWF who address the root causes of overfishing.

1 World Bank

2 Fish Forward

3 Fish Forward

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