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Tyranny of the Fishermen - Cem Kabaş '23

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Oceans are like the secondary lungs of the Earth as 70% of the oxygen is generated in the oceans, and the ocean's fauna feeds 3 billion people (David Attenborough, A Perfect Planet). Much like forests, the oceans are also full of carbon-storing life and through life and death, this balance is kept. However, in the high tides and oceans, a significant threat to the marine ecosystem is present due to the increasing number of human fishing operations. Fishers partake in significant illegal actions such as out-of-season fishing or misuse of gear, both of which pose a serious threat to the number of aquatic life in the waters.

The foremost problem caused by fishers is overfishing and by-catching which usually occurs when they fish during off-seasons. The off-seasons are when fish reproduce to balance the number of their kind consumed by larger fish, therefore fishers are only allowed to catch with fishing rods and not by nets or traps. Furthermore, if they ever catch an endangered species or a breed that they are not allowed to catch, they’re supposed to release them with minimal damage. Nevertheless, some fishers continue even though it's illegal. Overfishing causes fish to fail in reproduction which means their numbers are less than what needs to be present for the balance of the ecosystem. Consequently, the food-chain shatters as the ratios of prey-predator-scavenger fish depend upon the continuous reproduction of smaller fish and the continuous hunting of smaller fish by larger fish to keep their numbers in check. “Overfishing has removed about 90% of all large predatory fish, which means there are less lifeforms to store carbon in the marine world”(David Attenborough, A Perfect Planet). Thousands of sharks, rays, seabirds, and sea turtles are now at risk of extinction because of overfishing (WWF Seafood Sustainability), and that is without taking into account the unintentionally caught marine life which were caught and never released for a chance of profit from selling endangered species. The reason for so many cases of illegal fishing is due to “Inadequate government capacity and cooperation to manage, regulate, and control fisheries and fisheries trade, especially in developing nations and on the high seas, are key factors contributing to the current problems in oceanic fisheries” (WWF Seafood Sustainability). Thus many fish are stolen from under the nose of countries and their governments and only a very small percentage of these cases are known about.

Another problem caused by fishers is ghost gears which also happen to arise as a consequence of overfishing. Ghost gears are lost and abandoned fishing gear such as nets, lines, pots, and traps that are deadly to marine life. Ghost gear can continue to catch target and non-target species unselectively for years, potentially decimating important food resources as well as endangered species, such as marine mammals, seabirds, sharks, and turtles which end up suffocating in the process or after washing up onshore. “Each year millions of sharks and over 300 thousand whales and dolphins are accidentally killed by fishing nets”(David Attenborough, A Perfect Planet). There are many reasons why fishing gear can be lost or abandoned, including severe weather, obstructions beneath the surface, conflict with other gear, interaction with other vessels, and, rarely, intentional discard when no other options are available due to many ports lacking the facilities to collect, recycle or trade nets. Ghost gear is thought to make up 10% of all marine litter (The Guardian) and is found in large quantities in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

One viable solution to combat overfishing and by-catching is through GDST and marine protected areas. The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability or GDST is an international, business platform assembled by the World Wildlife Fund Inc.(WWF) and Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) to produce the first-ever industry-wide voluntary standards for seafood. The GDST currently brings together dozens of major seafood companies from around the globe, representing over $35 billion in annual seafood sales. This work would help the seafood industry establish common goals and technical design standards for traceability to facilitate the flow of information through supply chains (GGGI). Moreover, through the establishment of more marine protected areas, it can be guaranteed that there will be zones where marine life can flourish without issue. One example is on the coast of Gabon, where there is currently a network of marine protected areas that has become a major hot spot for breeding whales, dolphins, and sharks. Marine life in Gabon now has a chance to thrive once again. (David Attenborough, A Perfect Planet). Community-managed areas, often based on traditional knowledge and customary practices, benefit people in places where fishing is such an important part of the livelihoods of coastal communities(WWF), therefore, precautions and actions taken from both a legal standpoint and a cultural standpoint would have major impacts for the betterhood of the aquatic life.

A secondary approach to dealing with the ghost gear side of the problem would be for each aspect of the community to take action in their respective way. Governments can adopt appropriate fishing gear or join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative(GGGI) or help in the establishment of a new treaty to prevent marine plastic pollution. Fishing gear designers and producers can, design and manufacture fishing gear that is traceable and could be recyclable or re-useable, with proper end-of-life disposal in mind. Fishers can, avoid fishing gear loss by implementing gear control practices or reporting the fishing gear they lose and if it is possible, retrieving it. The general public can report ghost gear sightings which would allow professionals to remove the gear and help develop improved waste management and fisheries management programs. (GGGI) One such example of this system being plausible is Ben Lecomte, a Frenchman who is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. As someone from the general public, he is raising awareness of the problem and through media outlets, more and more people are becoming aware of it and requisition new regulations and treaties(The Guardian).

In conclusion, one of the biggest obstacles in the way of marine eco-life is fishers whose reckless fishing practices are causing a rapid decline in the stability of the food chain. Overfishing and by-catching result in fewer fish reproducing and larger fish to deal with food shortages. Meanwhile, ghost gear causes mass deaths as it travels with water currents. To deal with these harmful fishing practices, both law and culture-based methods can be employed on top of gaining the aid of the general public to sway governments and fishing gear producers to pursue more environmentally friendly methods of fishing. By tackling the issue from multiple sides, the impact can be quite large and there could be a moderate chance for a change for the better-hood of everybody.


Janovsky, J. (2017, November 13). Up to 1 in 5 fish sold is caught illegally-and other surprising illegal fishing facts. The Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

Cruc, M. (2021, September 7). What is overfishing? facts, effects and overfishing solutions. WWF. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

Laville, S. (2019, November 6). Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report. The Guardian. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

Gould, H. (2015, September 10). Hidden problem of 'ghost gear': The abandoned fishing nets clogging up oceans. The Guardian. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

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