Over exploitation

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Overexploitation or overfishing is the removal of marine living resources to levels that can not sustain viable populations. Ultimately, overexploitation can lead to resouce depleation and put a number of threatened and endangered species at risk for extinction.

Fig. 1. Overexploitation of fish stocks is a major threat to marine biodiversity in Europe. Photo © OAR NURP,NOAA

The problem

The exponential growth in human population experienced in last decades has lead to an overexploitation of marine living resources, as a consequence of an increasing demand for food. Worldwide, fishing fleets are two to three times as large as needed to take present day catches of fish and other marine species and as what our oceans can sustainably support. The use of modern techniques to facilitate harvesting, transport and storage has accelerated this trend. According to the Unated nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) over 25% of all the world's fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted and 52% are fully exploited [1]. Thus a total of almost 80% of the world's fisheries are fully to overexploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Although, these estimates are considered rather conservative. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone.


There is a wide range of fishing techniques and they can be broadly classified into recreational, artisanal and industrial fishing. All fishing activities, if not conducted in a sustainable non-destructive manner, can lead to overexploitation of marine living resources Overexploitation of marine resources has major impacts on marine systems as a whole, but target species are generally the most impacted.

When recruitment of target species is relatively high, the average size of individuals is affected because larger individuals tend to be harvested and populations display signs of growth overfishing. When adult populations are heavily exploited the number and size of the adult population (spawning biomass) is reduced to a point that it has not the reproductive capacity to replenish itself, leading to recruitment overfishing.
  1. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) www.fao.org/sof/sofia/index_en.htm