Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction. Gathering as many fish as possible may seem like a profitable practice, but overfishing has serious consequences. The results not only affect the balance of life in the oceans, but also the social and economic well-being of the coastal communities who depend on fish for their way of life.
Billions of people rely on fish for protein, and fishing is the principal livelihood for millions of people around the world. For centuries, our seas and oceans have been considered a limitless bounty of food. However, increasing fishing efforts over the last 50 years as well as unsustainable fishing practices are pushing many fish stocks to the point of collapse.
More than 30 percent of the world's fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. Several important commercial fish populations (such as Atlantic bluefin tuna) have declined to the point where their survival as a species is threatened. Target fishing of top predators, such as tuna and groupers, is changing marine communities, which lead to an abundance of smaller marine species, such as sardines and anchovies.
Many fishers are aware of the need to safeguard fish populations and the marine environment, however illegal fishing and other regulatory problems still exist. WWF works with stakeholders to reform fisheries management globally, focusing on sustainable practices that conserve ecosystems, but also sustain livelihoods and ensure food security.
It is now generally understood when and why fish stocks become depleted. Global demand for fish and the intensity of fishing activity are known to be key factors in this context, but ecological aspects also play an important role. The influencing variables need to be studied in more detail, however, in order to provide a conclusive explanation of the causes of overfishing.