5+ Reasons Overfishing Leads to Ecosystem Collapse & How to Prevent It

Overfishing leads to ecosystem collapse by depleting fish populations, damaging marine life as bycatch, and disrupting the food chain. Prevent it by advocating for responsible fishing practices, educating retailers, reducing subsidies, increasing marine protection, using consumer labels, and promoting responsible fish farming.

Why Overfishing Can Lead To Ecosystem Collapse(1)

We order a fried fish basket; we enjoy it. But how often do we think about where it comes from and the methods they use to catch it?

Let’s look at the reasons why overfishing can lead to ecosystem system collapse and why that’s bad for all of us.

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What is overfishing?

Overfishing happens when too many fish are caught at once and become too depleted to recover from that loss.

The casual fisher isn’t going to overfish the ocean. But we humans can overfish a pond or lake.

Commercial and company fishing is where the damage happens. Not only are they hauling in large amounts of fish, but they also catch other water dwellers, known as bycatch.

When overfishing happens, it screws up the surrounding ecosystem and throws everything off balance.

Reasons Why Overfishing Can Lead to Ecosystem Collapse

No one is saying you should stop eating fish and other water yummies. It’s just about doing it more responsibly and understanding the repercussions.

Modern Shipping Vessels

fishing ship

Advanced fish-finding sonar has made it insanely easy to pinpoint schools of fish to scoop up with gigantic nets.

A lot of modern fishing ships act as floating factories where they can process, pack, and preserve the product. 

Without Apex Predators, It All Goes to Hell

Slowly but surely, we’ve managed to overfish the ocean’s top predators, including sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish.

Because of that, the entire ecosystem must shift until only smaller, plankton-feeding fish remain. 

For example, the jellyfish population will continue to grow because predators aren’t around to control the population. As a result, the food chain goes haywire.

How does overfishing destroy ecosystems?

The ecosystem is a delicate balance that humans can’t seem to find.

Overfishing depletes entire populations of fish, which then can cause an entire water ecosystem to collapse.

Bycatch Has Consquences

We mentioned that bycatch happens and does damage to the ecosystem. Let’s look a little closer at what that means.

Modern fishing vessels drag huge nets and scoop up non-targeted ocean life – dolphins, turtles, sharks, and even sea birds.

Even if they toss a 50-year-old turtle back into the sea, it doesn’t mean it will survive. Many victims of bycatch die or are dying by the time they’re returned to the water.

And don’t fall for ‘tuna safe‘ labels. Commercial fishers have no way of avoiding bycatch. All it means is that they try to release the dolphin before it dies.

Overfishing Goes Deep 


You’re talking about disrupting the ecosystem at its deepest. 

Bottom trawling is the process of dragging an enormous and heavy fishing net over the ocean floor. The net is tapered with a wide mouth and a small enclosed end that works as doors.

The net can weigh up to several tons. The weight allows it to go so deep that it sweeps up coral, sponges, and seafloor life, which is essential for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Aquaculture Sometimes Does Damage

Some believe aquaculture, or fish farming, is an answer to decreasing overfishing.

In reality, aquaculture introduces pesticides, antibiotics, and foreign nutrients into coastal waters. It negatively affects prey fish.

Why does overfishing happen and why is it a problem?

Most overfishing happens because fishing companies and corporations have no rules or regulations and often are subsidized with tax dollars.

The problem comes from the fact that depleting or eradicating any animal species can completely collapse an ecosystem.

What are 3 reasons why overfishing happens?

You’d think that with overfishing as a real threat, we’d find ways to stop it. But, no, humans will always find a way.

Subsidies Make Overfishing Possible

Governments around the world give fisheries subsidies to offset the cost of doing business. Those tax dollars keep large fishers afloat and perpetuate the overfishing problem.

It’s estimated that we have two and a half times more fishing vessels than we need.

Oceans Remain Unprotected

It’s estimated that 5% of the ocean is currently declared a protected area. That means that most of the ocean is just free for fisheries to deplete populations and destroy entire ecosystems.

Another mind-numbing fact is that of those protected oceans, people can still fish in 80% of them.

Fisheries don’t even have to report the number of fish they catch. 

Fisheries and Poor Management

The lack of rules and regulations leads to fisheries having no checks and balances, and they can pretty well do what they want.

Because these companies and corporations go unchecked, they can overfish to their heart’s desire.

Can overfishing cause extinction?

It’s already happening. Sharks and sting rays are just two examples of ocean life that are on the verge of extinction because of overfishing.

While complete extinction is rare, we still need to find a way to make it impossible.

Overfishing Affects Everything

It’s not just an ecosystem that can collapse because of overfishing. 

The increase in demand for fish means that more jobs are reliant on businesses that are then reliant on the fish industry.

As fish are depleted, those jobs become fewer and regular people will lose their livelihood. Coastal communities will be hit especially hard, where the economy relies heavily on fish.

Some Solutions to Overfishing

  • Work with the government. Regardless of where you live, you can advocate for responsible fishing practices, including effective management rules and regulations.
  • Work with retailers. Some restaurants and retailers have no idea what happens to a fish before it arrives. Conservationists work with retailers every day and educate them on responsible purchasing.
  • Reduce subsidies. Lobbyists don’t always have to win. We have a say as to where our tax dollars go.
  • More protection for marine areas. Many don’t even realize how much the ocean isn’t under any protection. It’s a good time to let them know.
  • Consumer labels. Yes, we have tons of labels on our food already. But, we should always know what we are eating and how it was harvested.
  • Promote responsible fish farming. We aren’t going just to stop eating fish, nor do we want to. But, fisheries can fish responsibly.

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