Why Should I Care About Overfishing?

As I watched my father pierce a fresh, squirming worm with a newly sharpened hook fifteen years ago, I eagerly anticipated catching my first fish. Over the years, I spent countless hours with my father pulling bream and shell cracker from under my grandparents’ dock. I quickly progressed to competitive bass fishing and even joined the fishing team in high school. Now, I have done almost every style of fishing, from fly fishing in a cold stream in the Appalachian Mountains to deep sea fishing over the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. To me, angling represents a life style rather than simply a sport; it provides a means of escape from the daily stress of life, and I am skilled at it.

All anglers have a story to tell, whether it is describing their child’s first catch to losing their favorite lure to a hidden stump. Even though most fishermen will not reveal their favorite spot, we talk excessively. The most common subject to discuss is how one came to enjoy the sport. Some started out like myself and learned from their fathers. Others learned from a friend, or someone else who they value.

Yet, the life style I fell in love with may drastically change soon.

Overfishing poses a colossal threat to the marine ecosystem that anglers learn to cherish. Overfishing is when more fish are caught than the breeding population can restore naturally. It diminishes populations quickly, which forces governments to issue strict regulations on a particular body of water. Fish populations worldwide have decreased by fifty percent over the last couple of decades and continue to fall rapidly. Overfishing also promotes the growth of algae by removing natural predators. Algae compete with other marine organisms for oxygen, thus depleting an area of it. If algae take over a body of water, then that area becomes uninhabitable forever.

Why should the average angler even bat an eye towards these facts?

If the population of a particular species falls, the species becomes increasingly difficult to find. For example, bass fishing dominates the sport. Overtime, as the bass population decreases, anglers catch less fish. The professionals, who compete in bass tournaments for a living, may find themselves forced out of their job. However, the majority of anglers fish leisurely. Fathers and sons often partake in the sport for bonding purposes, especially during the child’s youth. Yet, what is the point of the sport if fish remain elusive and arduous to catch? Even though the bonding aspect remains, such as talking on a dock while watching the sun rise, the typical father-son duo may become tired of not catching anything and search for another hobby.

Governments attempt to preserve the natural populations by instilling size regulations on each species. Red fish, for instance, have a legal limit between 16 and 27 inches with a three fish limit per person. Largemouth bass have a legal limit of 14 inches with a five fish limit. The legal limit for striped bass varies from 18 to 21 inches, depending on the location, or even no limit at all. Each of these species is a popular game fish, and the legal limits are subject to change. As more fish are pulled out of a lake or stream, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) places more regulations on a species. In some cases, they might declare that keeping a certain species of any size illegal. Many anglers take pride in their catch and mount larger ones above their fire place or in their living room for visitors to admire. Sure, a picture can be snapped to capture the moment. But, a picture fails to capture the actual size and weight of the animal, unlike viewing it in person. A picture may say a thousand words, but mounted animal tells a story. It is rare to haul in a goliath largemouth bass that weighs ten or more pounds. Who would not want to show that off even slightly?

Anglers also learn to appreciate the beauty of nature through living the sport, not simply playing it. Do not jump to the conclusion that I am a nature freak who loves hugging trees. But, I enjoy watching the sunrise over a distant island while fishing on my favorite lake. Over the years, I came to admire the serene environment around me, such as seeing the water’s surface as smooth as glass or feeling the cool morning breeze. Now, imagine an environment coated with green algae that turned the water a repulsive dark green/black color that reeked of sulfur. On top of that, imagine that the algae consumed all the oxygen and killed off most of the fish population. This would cause fish carcasses to float to the surface and begin decaying. Not an appealing environment for an angler, or anyone, right?

In order to preserve the life style, overfishing must come to a screeching halt. All of its side effects fall over like a set of dominos until the ecosystem deteriorates entirely. However, the sport and the fisherman disappear long before the actual environment. Once the fish population vanishes, the angler follows. Losing the environment seals this by writing it in stone. Honestly, I see no point in going fishing if I know that I will return empty-handed. I want to keep this kind of life style thriving for my enjoyment and for that of others, especially my future family.