Thursday, April 28, 2011


The following essay takes a deep look into the major environmental crisis of overfishing that we as a society are facing today. It provides a multifaceted approach to the issue, looking at the history, the effects, both environmental and social, the organisations involved in rectifying the problem, a media campaign, a local Cape Town incident, as well how the issue can be linked to environmental theories. Finally, I provide my personally opinion to the issue of overfishing to round up the entire essay.

A brief description of the problem, the history and the consequences of overfishing

Overfishing, a global problem we as a society are facing today, can simply be defined as the following: “Catching too many fish; fishing so much that the fish cannot sustain their population. The fish get fewer and fewer, until finally there are none to catch.” (reefED, n.d.) The issue of overfishing, although a major concern of many environmentalists today, has; however, been an issue for many years.

The exploitation of fisheries can be dated all the way back to the 11th Century where fishermen would, after depleting one ecosystem, move on to other, more prosperous areas, leaving lasting damage behind. (Greenpeace, 2011)

A significant increase in the overfishing dilemma; however, came in the mid-20th century, when increasing the availability and affordability of protein rich foods was of international concern. This led to certain governments increasing their fishing capacity and creating favourable policies for fishermen, as well as providing loans and subsidies where needed. Through this, came the rapid rise of large-scale industrial fishing operations. These profit-driven, commercial fishing fleets were highly aggressive in their approach and were constantly developing new methods and technologies to find and extract their target species. This increase in supply meant that consumers were now accustomed to having access to a large variety of fish at affordable prices. (National Geographic, 2011)

By 1989; however, the consequences of this increase in the global fishing capacity were brutal. With 90 million metric tons of catch being removed from the ocean, the industry had reached its pinnacle, and ever since, the yields have declined or stagnated. This affected, not only the commercial fishing industry, but also the ecosystems within our oceans, as well as society as whole. (National Geographic, 2011)

At present, the rapid growth in population and; therefore, increased demand in fish, has further perpetuated the problem of overfishing and the depletion of oceanic ecosystems. Furthermore, technological advances, subsidies, unfair fisheries partnership agreements, pirate fishers and a lack of fisheries conservation and management, have also worsened the problem of overfishing. (WWF, n.d.) The consequences or repercussions of overfishing have had negative effects on the environments as well as society as a whole.

Environmental Repercussions

With regards to the environment, the consequences overfishing include: depletion of certain species as well as “excessive unintentional harvest of non-targeted, undersized or protected species, and ecosystems changes.” (Somma, 2003) Certain species such as Haddock, Atlantic Cod and Bluefin Tuna in particular, have been severely affected by overfishing and have been classified, as per the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (2004), as depleted or overfished.

The harvest of non-target species, which constitutes about a quarter of global fish catch, consists of the unwanted or unused animals that are caught during the fishing process. These animals consist of protected or endangered species or species that have no commercial or recreational value. They often found dead but otherwise are discarded by management officials. (Somma, 2003)

Finally, the changes to ecosystems that overfishing is causing is also detrimental to the environment. Natural resource specialist, Angela Somma (2003) explains: “Top predatory species tend to be fished for first. Once depleted, fishing moves down the food chain and can simplify the marine ecosystem.” She further states, “This, along with environmental changes to important habitat areas, can affect future fish production levels.”

The image below (image one) is a good representation of the consequences that over fishing has on the environment.

Societal Repercussions

Despite the fact that overfishing and the depletion of fisheries means that humans will have a decreased supply of an important protein source, there are other implications that overfishing has on society as a whole.

In the early 1990’s, in Newfoundland, Canada, the cod stocks of the Grand Banks seemed infinite for centuries. This led to thousands of people being employed in the fishing and fish processing industry. However, in 1992, the cod fishery had finally collapsed, leaving over 40 000 people jobless. Using this example to explain the effects of overfishing on society, we can see that, unless something is done, the effects of overfishing on society will continue to get worse. (WWF, n.d.) Furthermore, for those coastal communities, where fishing is their main source of income and food supply, the implications of overfishing will have a much greater impact. The lack of income, employment and food that is caused by overfishing will hinder these communities’ possibilities of growth as well as worsen their standards of living.

Looking at these effects, it can be said that overfishing is definitely a global issue that is effecting the environment extensively as well as communities, large and small. If something is not done, and if sustainable fishing practices are not implemented on a global scale, the negative effects of overfishing will worsen and we will see the depletion of many more species of fish.


1. Greenpeace. (2011). A brief history of overfishing. Available: Last accessed 12 April 2011.

2. National Geographic. (2011). Overfishing. Available: Last accessed 12 April 2011.

3. reefED. (n.d.). Glossary. Available: Last accessed 12 April 2011.

4. Somma, A. (2003). The Environmental Consequences and Economic Costs of Depleting the World’s Oceans. Available: Last accessed 13 April 2011.

5. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. (2004). General situation of world fish stocks. Available: Last accessed 12 April 2011.

6. WWF. (n.d.). Poorly managed fishing. Available: accessed 13 April 2011

7. WWF. (n.d.). Our oceans are being plundered. Available: accessed 13 April 2011

Image: (n.d.). Ecosystem Overfishing [Online Image]. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

The global efforts to fight the overfishing crisis

Being a global issue, overfishing has caught the attention of many global organisatioins, activists, conservationists and of course the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. All these parties have devised strategies and solutions to better the overfishing crisis; however, highlighting the approaches of two major organisations, WWF and Greenpeace, will sum up the overall global effort with regards to overfishing.

The World Wide Fund (WWF)

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), as expected, is highly involved in the issue of overfishing. Within the WWF’s Global Marine Programme, that aims to correct the damage that overfishing has caused and create sustainable, healthy marine ecosystems are; Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) (WWF, n.d)

The WWF defines their Marine Protected Area as: “An area designated to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats, and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment.” (WWF, n.d) For the success of these protected areas in terms of conservation, the WWF aims to establish and implement well-managed MPAs, improve the management of existing MPA’s and reduce external threats, such as human involvement and climate change. The benefits, they propose, offered by MPA’s include, the maintenance of biodiversity, the protection of important marine habitats and the provision of areas where fish can grow to their adult size, to name a few.

Ecosystem-Based Management is an attempt to find “new, innovative forms of management that conserve fish populations, don’t harm other marine species, protect the structure and function of marine ecosystems, and support sustainable fisheries and the fishers that depend on them.” (WWF, n.d) This method of conservation provides a holistic framework to rectify the overfishing crisis and it involves all stakeholders concerned. Through incorporating all stakeholders of the fishing industry, the WWF, believe that they will obtain better success in creating sustainable fisheries and restoring marine ecosystems (WWF, n.d)


Greenpeace is and organisation, also very well known for their efforts in nature conservation. With regards to the problem of overfishing, Greenpeace, similarly to WWF, is working to protect marine reserves; however, they provide two other solutions that will assist the overfishing problem: sustainable fishing and sustainable seafood.

Sustainable fishing, a similar solution to the EBM, promotes the efficient management of fisheries as well as the protection of other marine life and marine ecosystems. However, Greenpeace has proposed sustainable fishing techniques as the method to promote sustainable fishing practices. They believe that fishing methods play a huge role in determining fisheries’ sustainability as well as the sustainability of marine life. (Greenpeace, n.d.) The Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, is at present in the Pacific, defending the ocean from unsustainable and pirate fishing. (Greenpeace, n.d.)

The video below explains what the Esperanza is doing and serves as a visual example of Greenpeace’s involvement in protecting the ocean.


Sustainable seafood, the other solution Greenpeace proposes for overfishing, involves retailers and consumers. They believe that “if retailers and consumers shift towards purchasing sustainable seafood, then the demand for fish caught using destructive and unsustainable practices will decline” (Greenpeace, n.d)

To assist this, Greenpeace has created the Seafood Redlist, a guide that informs people which fish are being overfished and therefore be avoided. With the use of this guide, retailers can stop buying fish from unsustainable sources, increase the range of seafood that is deemed sustainable and work with suppliers to promote sustainable fishing practices. For consumers, the Seafood Redlist, can assist their fish purchasing decisions and show them what fish not to buy. In conjunction with the Seafood Redlist, consumers can and should interrogate retailers as to where and how the fish was caught and from there, support retailers that support sustainable seafood. (Greenpeace, n.d)


1. Greenpeace. (n.d.). Defending our oceans. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011.

2. Greenpeace. (n.d.). Sustainable Fishing. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011.

3. Greenpeace. (n.d.). Sustainable Seafood. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

4. WWF. (n.d.). Saving a precious resource. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

5. WWF. (n.d.). Our Solutions: Marine Protected Areas. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011.


Greenpeace. (2009). Greenpeace heads out to defend Pacific tuna stocks [Online Video]. Available: Last accessed 15 April 2011.

The WWF Bluefin Tuna Campaign

Unlike other environmental issues that concern the endangerment of a particular species, overfishing has not received as much media attention. Many advertising campaigns are created to attracted awareness to Rhino poaching per say; however, for overfishing, only one campaign has resonated in the media.

The WWF Bluefin Tuna overfishing campaign was created by Ogilvy Paris, with the creative team consisting of Chris Garbutt (creative director), Arnaud Vanhelle (copywriter), Benot Raynert (art director) and Thomas Mangold (photographer). The print advertisement displayed the face of a panda on the body of a Bluefin Tuna and made use of the copy “Would you care more if I was a panda?” Two adaptations were created using the faces of a rhino and a gorilla which including the same copy, adapted appropriately. Below are the three different print ads. (Design Scene, 2011)

The inspiration behind the campaign stems from the fact that we, as a society, have not given the critical issue of overfishing the attention and concern it deserves. The question “Would you care more if I was a rhino, panda or gorilla?” is used not to detract attention from other environmental issues that the WWF supports, but to emphasise societies preferred interest of more publicised conservation issues as apposed to that of overfishing.

The “sarcastic and bitter” (Russo, 2011) tone of the campaign and the question “Would you care more if I was a panda, rhino or gorilla?” are strategically used an emotional method to raise awareness to the issue at hand. The campaign leaves viewers feeling guilty or ashamed that they have not paid a sufficient amount of attention to the problem of overfishing, and in this case, the overfishing of Bluefin Tuna. With this in mind, it can be said that the campaign has succeed in its objective of raising public awareness to the plight of Bluefin Tuna. The campaign has also featured on many advertising websites and blogs, such as ads of the world, which further demonstrates the success of the campaign.


1. Design Scene. (2011). WWF Bluefin Tuna Overfishing. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011.

2. Russo, M. (2011). WWF Bluefin Tuna overfishing. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011.


Design Scene. (2011). WWF Bluefin Tuna Overfishing:Rhino [Online Image]. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

Design Scene. (2011). WWF Bluefin Tuna Overfishing:Panda [Online Image]. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

Design Scene. (2011). WWF Bluefin Tuna Overfishing:Gorilla [Online Image]. Available: Last accessed 14 April 2011

A local incident of overfishing

Overfishing is being practiced in many places all over the world and the consequences cannot be blamed on any particular fishery. In South Africa, overfishing can be seen mainly through the illegal fishing practices, with regards to the poaching of abalone or perlemoen, as it is commonly know as. Abalone poaching is rife is South Africa due to it’s economic value for gourmets, particularly in Asia. Known for its aphrodisiac qualities, it is a delicacy that has spawned illegal poaching and trade. This has led to the abalone population to diminish severely. (Marshall, 2002)

In Cape Town especially, the issue of abalone poaching is fierce. Leon Marshall, from National Geographic News (2002), states, “Poaching is most intense along a rugged coastline straddling the confluence of the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans at the southern tip of Africa and along a 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of South Africa's Western Cape coast.”

The various news articles and reports about abalone poaching busts also show how the issue is very intense in the Western Cape. The most recent case related to abalone poaching happened in 2010 when three Chinese men were arrested for the possession of over $1,5 million dollars worth of abalone. The three men have recently been sentenced and will serve severe jail time in South African prisons. (SADOCC, 2011) This is; however, only one case that has been heavily publicized in the media. Many other poachers are in still in practice in the Western Cape.

The environmental consequences of abalone poaching are similar to any other case of over exploitation with regards to marine life. The depletion of a particular marine species will negatively affect the ecosystem in which it lives. The depletion of the abalone species in this case will adversely affect other species that may have a symbiotic relationship with the abalone.

The major effect that abalone poaching has on the society of Cape Town; however, is that it promotes gangsterism. The high asking price of abalone by foreign Asian countries promotes locals to become involved in illegal fishing practices. Furthermore, these illegal fishing gangs compete against one another for resources and contracts and this leads to an increase in violent crimes amongst them.


1. Marshall, L. (2002). Poaching, Smuggling Threaten Abalone Colonies in South Africa. Available: Last accessed 17 April 2011.

2. SADOCC. (2011). Chinese nationals sentenced for involvement in abalone poaching. Available: Last accessed 17 April 2011.

Linking overfishing to environmental theories

The Age of Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason, which started to develop in the 18th century, is a philosophical and social movement that “include[s] a commitment to reason and science and the freedom of the individual. Mysticism and appeals to ancient forms of philosophy were to be dismissed.” (Dickens, 2004: 1) A key aspect in the creation of the Age of Reason was nature. Both internally and externally, the understanding and exploitation of nature was vital to the Age of Reason. In this respect, nature was seen as primarily resource for human purposes and consumption. (Dickens, 2004: 2)

With regards to fish and the exploitation of fisheries, it can be said overfishing stems from this concept of the Age of Enlightenment. Fish has been an intrinsic source of

protein for man throughout history, and in certain cultures the use of the fish in narratives was prominent. From the Christian use of the symbol of a fish, to the Egyptians worshiping the goddess Hatmehit, “Chief of Fish”, many cultures have embraced the species as sanctified.

However, as previously mentioned, a rise of overfishing practices came in the 20th century, when governments wanted to increase the availability of the protein rich food. This rise in the exploitation of fisheries proves that overfishing stems from the Age of Reason concept that nature should be used as an economic resource.ource for human purposes and consumption. (Dickens, 2004: 2)

The exploitation of nature and animals, and in this case fish, comes with what John Berger (1980: 23) describes as the “reduction of the animal”. Humans have raised themselves above nature. Anthropomorphism was disregarded and modern educated readers believed that animals could not be ascribed human qualities such as gentleness or wisdom. (Berger, 1980: 20)

Descartes model proposed that humans are the only dualistic creatures that posses both body (mechanical) and mind (spiritual). He believed that animals were soulless and therefore could be reduced to the model of a machine. (, 2011) This, in conjunction with the technological advances that came with the industrial revolution, allowed for the exploitation of animals that is still seen today. This theory proves true to the fishing industry, as it is an industry facing high levels of exploitation due to the combination of the belief that animals are to be used as machines, and the technological advances that allow for overfishing to occur.

Finally, another discourse that can be applied to overfishing or the exploitation of fisheries is that of Robert Brulle. Brulle came up with nine environmental discourses or discursive frames, which were adopted by the US environmental movement. (Hannigan, 2006: 17) The first one, manifest destiny, is an appropriate discourse that can be applied to overfishing. Manifest destiny provides economic and moral justification for the exploitation of natural resources. The key components of this discourse, as described by Brulle (2000: 115) are:

  • Nature has no intrinsic value.
  • Human welfare is based on development of the natural environment.
  • The natural environment is unproductive and valueless without development.
  • Human labor transforms the natural environment into useful commodities.

With these components that make up manifest destiny, one can see how the exploitation of fisheries has been justified and rationalised.

On the other side of the scale, the conservation, protection and management of marine areas can be related to the theory of ecological modernisation. As explained by Arthur P. J. Mol (2002: 93): “The basic premise of ecological modernization theory is the centripetal movement of ecological interests, ideas and considerations in social and institutional developments.” Arising in the mid 1980’s, this perspective believed that modern institutions and practices could not carry on deteriorated and exploiting natural resources; that some sort of environmental reform needed to be established in order achieve sustainability. The process of environmental reform came alive through the actions of governmental organisations and departments, constructed to deal with environmental issues, as well as green parties and NGO’s.

From an economic perspective, ecological modernisation frowns upon the capitalist ideas of mass production and consumption and puts forward that ecological concerns should be equally important as economic ones. With this in mind, some profound institutional changes came about in the 1980’s onward. These changes included “widespread emergence of environmental management systems, the introduction of an economic valuation of environmental goods via the introduction of eco-taxes…[and] the increasing importance attached to environmental goals such as natural resource saving and recycling among public and private utility enterprises.” (Mol, 2002: 94)

With the over exploitation of fisheries being curbed by the efforts of various environmental organisations, such as the WWF’s MPAs and Greenpeace’s sustainable fishing, one can see the ecological modernisation theory in practice.

Another aspect of ecological modernisation is that of a global civil society. (Mol, 2002: 108) As a society we now, through the public information and communications, have the power to make our own decisions as to what we consume. In conjunction to this, we have the power to “challenge environmental destructiveness of global capitalism.” (Mol, 2002: 108) The new concerned consumer has implications on multinational corporations as in order to succeed; these multinationals now need to adhere to not only political actors but representatives of civil society as well. This global civil society, although not resulting in instant major environmental improvements, can however provide a glance of the future of global environmental governance. (Mol, 2002: 109)

The Seafood Redlist, provided by Greenpeace in the hopes to achieve sustainable seafood, is a good example of how organisations have assisted in creating a global civil society. The Redlist, which provides consumers with a list of fish that are being overfished and should be avoided, allows consumers to make informed decisions with regards to the seafood purchases. As ecological modernisation states, concerned, informed consumers who favour sustainable fishing practices, will affect fishing corporations and will hopefully decrease the over exploitation of certain fisheries.

The ecological modernisation theory can furthermore be related to many of Brulle’s environmental discourses. Conservation, preservation and deep ecology, to name a few, are discourses, which directly link to the theory of ecological modernisation and environmental reform.

Conservation can be defined as the technical management of natural resources from a utilitarian perspective (Hannigan, 1995:17) The actions taken by global environmental organisations to maintain fisheries, such as the EBM as proposed by the WWF and sustainable fishing as proposed by Greenpeace, are good examples of conservation methods that have been implemented to assist the sustainability of fisheries. Preservation, on the other hand, can be described as the protection of wilderness and wildlife from human incursion. (Hannigan, 1995:17) The WWF Marine Protected Areas form a good example of preservation in the overfishing crisis.


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