Overfishing in developing countries all over the world exacerbates poverty, causes food insecurity and impacts marine life. Overfishing occurs when specific regions are fished continually using special technology. The practice is tied to bycatch, which occurs when unwanted marine life is caught and killed in the nets used to mass fish. Bycatch has depleted marine life, leading to disastrous consequences for the oceans and the people whose livelihoods depend on the oceans.
Overfishing and Poverty
In developing countries, fisheries are essential in providing food and financial security. For example, in Cambodia, the Tonle Sap Lake is essential in providing income and food for the local communities. However, overfishing has hampered the development of that area, driving these communities into poverty.
In addition, overfishing in developing countries is more likely to occur because developed countries take advantage of developing areas by deploying fisheries under subsidies. For example, the West African waters attract European fishers who have the capacity to catch between “two and three times more than the sustainable level,” hence destroying the fish stocks as well as the livelihoods of fishers in Western Africa. In Senegal, in particular, “90% of fisheries are fully fished or facing collapse.”
In interviews collected by Jessica H. Jonsson, a researcher, locals in Senegal have expressed concerns over getting food and fish. In some instances, the huge European ships destroy local fishermen’s fishing nets, creating anger and frustration among the locals.
The lack of income and employment leads to poverty and forced migration. In many circumstances, West Africans end up as “illegal migrants” in European countries due to the lack of employment opportunities in their own countries.
“Poor, desperate migrant workers from these countries take significant risk in hopes of earning good pay to support their families back home, but often are not paid what they are promised, or paid at all,” Andy Shen, Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Advisor told The Borgen Project. Shen states further that “this contributes to continued poverty at the local and national levels in their countries.”
Overfishing and the Environment
Overfishing has socio-economic ramifications, leading to increased poverty in communities, however, overfishing affects more than just communities. The marine ecosystem depends on a particular balance. For example, as more and more fish stock depletes, dolphins and other large marine animals have a harder time finding the food they need to survive, leading to an ecosystem collapse. Addressing overfishing will not only lead to an increase in the livelihoods of fishing communities but will also save marine life such as dolphins.
The Good News
Although the situation looks bleak, many nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are working to reduce overfishing in developing countries and address poverty. One of these organizations is Greenpeace. Greenpeace is an environmental organization fighting to address climate change injustice and other environmental issues. The organization’s Ocean Sector advocates to reduce illegal fishing and overfishing in West Africa and Taiwan.
Through press exposures and campaigning, the organization is able to put international pressure on governments to reduce overfishing. For example, in Taiwan, Greenpeace successfully advocated for putting Taiwan on the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Forced Labor for seafood harvested by Taiwan’s distant water fishing fleet, which has spurred reforms in overfishing.
In the case of West Africa, press releases have been gaining international attention and solidarity. In 2017, Greenpeace exposed about 10 ships for illegal fishing and fishing infractions, helping to stop overfishing in those regions. Overfishing requires the cooperation of local governments as well as NGOs like Greenpeace. Shen says that governments need to focus on “prioritizing the fishing rights of coastal, small-scale fisheries over foreign industrial fleets” to help revitalize impoverished communities.
Overfishing in developing countries will continue to damage the livelihoods of fishing communities, driving people into poverty and depleting marine life. However, with small steps and community support, ending overfishing can reduce poverty and safeguard marine life as well.
“At the micro-community level, using more selective fishing gear, such as pole and line, and respecting marine protected areas, will ensure fish populations are not overfished and the marine ecosystem remains healthy,” Shen added.
– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram