By Coty Perry, Anglers.com
Florida is one of the only states to have coral reefs around the coast. Besides being beautiful and interesting, these reefs serve an important purpose.
The reefs provide a home for many fish and attract tourists to the communities along the shore.
It’s no secret that our waters have been in danger for a long time now and we hear about these issues all the time. We hear of plastic pollution, illegal dumping, emissions, and more.
One issue that is rarely discussed is overfishing and how it hurts not only the fish population, but the state as a whole.
Various studies, including one about a South Florida reef, show that snapper and grouper species have fallen well below sustainable levels.
This information is similar to larger scale studies abound the country. 20 percent of all known fish stocks are overfished and rebuilding progress has slowed over the past two decades.
It’s difficult for the fish to rebound because they’re unable to keep up with the demand. As a society, we’re eating more fish than ever before.
In fact, according to The World Counts, an organization that provides statistics on various global challenges, the planet will run out of fish by 2048.
Damage to the Reef
In addition to eradicating the fish population, overfishing also harms the environment as a whole.
Trawling is the most popular method abused in commercial fishing. It sometimes involves having two large ships spanning as much as two miles apart with a giant net between them.
The ships drag these nets across the base of the ocean and scoop up everything in sight. This does tremendous damage to the reefs while also stirring up the water. That, in turn, reduces the oxygen in the water and makes it incredibly uncomfortable for the fish that manage to survive the nets.
What’s left is a barren wasteland and the remnants of a once healthy ecosystem. Ghost fishing — when ships throw nets, fishing technology, hooks, and gear overboard – is also terribly damaging.
A story from 2013 is a great example of this. A 200-foot long “ghost net” was found off the Broward County coast on a reef. By the time it was found, it had killed countless fish and a sea turtle.
Organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council help identify these types of hazards, but government officials are usually the ones responsible for overseeing commercial fishing operations. Because the two parties do not typically work together, very little is done to stop these hazardous activities.
The Problem at Hand
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is aware of these issues and releases statements periodically but very little is ever done.
“Size limits, bag limits, area limits just have not been effective,” said Jerry Ault, a scientist at Rosenstiel Fisheries at the University of Miami. “Had we followed the recommendations we made over two decades ago with the system, we might be in good shape these days. But it did not play out that way. The reality is, if we don’t take care of it, we’re on a slippery slope to a place I don’t want to be.”
These are all policies that have been in place for decades and they’ve never been followed or enforced. The problem is that the government funds the commercial fishing industry, but it also regulates it. It’s a clear conflict of interest.
Unfortunately, the commission has disputed many of the reef studies. It has concluded that the research by Ault and his scientists fails to prove that fish stocks in Florida are in danger.
What Can Be Done?
The good news is that Floridians are becoming aware of the problem. Because complaints about overfishing are being brought to the attention of the Wildlife Commission and NOAA, more citizens are growing concerned about the issue.
A healthy reef is essential to the aquatic ecosystem and it’s important to protect it. Slowing overfishing, preventing trawling, and eliminating ghost fishing are three of the most important things we can do to prevent damage to the reefs and the extinction of important fish populations.
Coty Perry is the Editor-in-Chief of Anglers.com.
Links in this piece have been updated since the original post.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.