Marine Capture Fisheries-A Call to Action in Response to Limits, Unintended Consequences, and Ethics

By Sluka, Robert D.; Simonin, Paul | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Marine Capture Fisheries-A Call to Action in Response to Limits, Unintended Consequences, and Ethics


Sluka, Robert D., Simonin, Paul, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


Humans and Fishing

The world's oceans cover about 71% of the planet's surface, contain over 97% of the planet's water, and are home to millions of species, many yet undescribed. Humanity has been intrinsically connected with the sea for centuries, (1) with upwards of 16% of the world's animal protein currently coming from fish. (2) When referring to "fisheries," we are specifically referring to the human-ecological system, involving both people and aquatic animals or ecosystems, in which people capture marine organisms primarily for food. Recent research suggests that only by recognizing and working within a framework which incorporates humans into ecosystems (often called socioecological systems) can we sustainably harvest the abundance of the ocean. (3)

Currently, human reliance on fish varies regionally, with some nations relying primarily on terrestrial animal protein for food, while others rely more on marine life, such as Indonesia, where upwards of 70% of the nation's animal protein comes from fish. Overall, the world's capture fisheries harvest plateaued in the early 1990s at about 85 million metric tons, and increases in fish availability since then have been due to increasing aquaculture production. Aquaculture supplied about 64 million metric tons of fish in 2011, (4) and is estimated to now supply roughly half of the world's fish. Currently, with our human population at seven billion people, these overall levels of fish consumption is about 18.8 kg of fish per capita per year on average.

We have tried to examine marine capture fisheries by engaging with Boorse's article regarding recent topics in environmental science. (5) Specifically, we address the issues of limits, unintended consequences, and ethics in regard to fisheries. This is not a review article on marine capture fisheries--there are a number of textbooks that would be useful for that purpose. (6) However, the issue of marine capture fisheries has received relatively little attention by Christian writers. (7) Additionally, we have not examined in detail the ways other environmental issues, such as climate change and terrestrial pollution, interrelate with capture fisheries. Our foci here are to examine whether capture fisheries' catches have reached limits, to highlight some of the unintended consequences of fishing, and to describe some of the ethical issues in this area. Using current research, we show that there is hope for the ocean and that now is the time for the Christian community globally to actively engage with this important issue.

Are There Limits to Fishing?

Limits

In the realm of fisheries, the question of limits can be addressed on a number of scales. On a global level, most evidence supports the conclusion that current fish catch amounts are at or above the level that is sustainable in the long term. (8) In other words, globally, we are harvesting at a rate at or above the limit of what the ocean can produce. Despite this, fishing effort has continued to increase in recent years, similar to the steady increase in effort since 1950. Over the past twenty-five years, though, global fish catch has not increased despite these fishing pressure increases, again signalling that we have reached a limit. (9)

Clearly, human population globally, and especially near coasts, will have a major impact on fisheries. This effect occurs through both the interrelated factors of climate change and pollution, as well as through direct consumption of marine products. For example, several successful fisheries and livelihood development projects have, due to overpopulation, incorporated reproductive health programs into their projects. (10) Many changes are already needed to restore fisheries to their previous abundance, and even more dramatic management and societal changes will have to take place as human population increases further.

However, the story is more nuanced when we zoom in to a regional scale. …

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