Commercial Fishing 1

Commercial Fishing has Negatively Affected the Marine Ecosystem




            As the global demand for fish increases, there has been a resultant increase in concerns regarding the condition of fisheries. A growing number of recreational and commercial fishermen, and fisheries experts, now acknowledge that fishing could lead to significant impact on the marine ecosystem and fish stocks (Barange et al. 2010).  Fishing could lead to unintended consequences on not only the population of target species, but also their naturally occurring habitat. Surplus elimination of older, larger, and high-yielding individuals from a population exhausts spawning stocks, thereby diminishing the ability of such a population for self-replenishment (Myers et al. 2007).  The likely effects on the ecosystem include changes in food chains and community structure. Elimination of a dominant species, for instance, could permit prey or competing species to grow, or trigger a decline in predator species that are reliant on the harvested species. The premise of the current essay therefore, is to explore the negative effects of commercial fishing on the marine ecosystem


            According to The Office of The Federal Register defines commercial fishing “means conducting fishing activities under the appropriate commercial fishing permits and licenses “(p. 239).  The 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act defines commercial fishing as “fishing in which the fish harvested, either in whole or in past, are intended to enter commerce or enter commerce through sale, barter or trade.” (cited by Arvanitoyannis 2009, p. 83). On the other hand, marine ecosystem is defined as the earth’s aquatic ecosystem consisting of intertidal zones, mangroves, the deep sea, lagoons, salt marshes, coral reefs, and the sea floor (Barange et al. 2010).Marine ecologists have identified overfishing as the greatest risk to marine ecosystem. Increased demand for fish, coupled with advances in fishing technology has contributed greatly to overfishing. Ultimately, overfishing could result in a    devastating effect on the marine ecosystem since it destroys the natural habitat of various marine species, not to mention that it destabilizes the food chain. Nonetheless, the marine ecosystem is quite resilient and has a high degree of biodiversity, meaning that it can easily spring back from disturbances caused by overfishing, thereby restoring its biological productivity (Dayton, Thrush & Coleman 2002). Furthermore, states have developed various laws that govern commercial fishing, protect fish stocks, and ensure a sustainable marine ecosystem. The position of this paper however, is that commercial fishing, if not properly regulated, could negatively impact on the marine ecosystem. There is need therefore to identify these negative effects of commercial fishing on the marine ecosystem, and to propose sustainable solutions to the problem.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

            The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is a statutory authority of the Australian Government charged with the responsibility of managing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a leading natural resource in the world. The GBRMPA implements programs and policies, legislative measures and management strategies in order to ensure “the long-term protection, ecologically sustainable use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef for all Australians and the international community, through the care and development of the Marine Park” (Commonwealth of Australia 208, n.p.). To achieve this outcome, the GBRMPA relies on three key goals defined in the agency’s corporate and strategic plans: (i) dealing with the main risks impacting on the Great Barrier Reef’s outlook; (ii) Seeing to it that the Marine Park is used in an ecologically sustainable manner; and (iii) upholding an effective, efficient and high performing organisation.    

            The authority is committed to advancing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to better endure the effects of key threats, especially declining water quality, climate change, the remaining effects due to illegal fishing, shipping, and poaching. In order to build the resilience of the Reef, the authority has been engaging industries and communities to raise awareness of resilience and vulnerability, climate change risks, as well as promoting local stewardship actions to cope enable the Reef cope with effects of climate change on the ecosystem (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2015).

  In addition, the authority has also adopted various partnerships and programs with the objective of protecting habitats and species from land-based sources of pollution and unsustainable uses (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2015). The Authority has also partnered with various government agencies, including Traditional Owners, Reef users, industries, as well as other representatives from the community who are concerned about the Reef and its outlook.

            The authority has made considerable progress towards the realization of its objectives. One of the roles in which the agency has been involved is that of controlling the coral predator. Crown-of-thorns starfish, found occurring naturally in the IndoPacific reefs has increased to significant proportions, as a result of surplus nutrient runoff from land to the see. The agency’s policy is to offer support to control programmes aimed at reducing the population of starfish, minimize excess nutrient runoff from land to the sea, and hence avoid loss of the coral reef. Towards this end, the agency had partnered with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators in through their combined efforts, have managed to cull 92,000 starfish (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2015). Also, following the havoc caused by cyclone Marcia in April 2015, the agency, in partnerships with the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, succeeded in organizing a clean-up exercise , a 17 kilometer stretch of local beaches in the Yeppoon area was cleaned up over a duration of 4 days (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2015). This clean-up exercise helped to collect over 5 million tones of marine debris.

Research on sharks & results

            Globally, overfishing has had considerable impacts on the marine ecosystem. Furthermore, the tow-down approach adopted in commercial finding (that is, focusing on apex predators and then targeting other types of fish down the food chain as stocks decline) has been shown to impact negatively on predator stocks (Sergio et al. 2006). Sharks are categorized as top of ‘apex’ predators in their marine ecosystem seeing as they do not have many natural predators (Myers et al. 2007).  Sharks usually feed on other species that fall below them in the food chain, thereby helping to maintain and promote a balanced marine ecosystem.  Researchers further hypothesizes that when apex predators are lost, this enables mesopredators populations to flourish, and this could lead to negative impacts on prey species at lower levels. In comparison with other marine fish, sharks are typified by late sexual maturity, comparatively slow growth, as well as a limited number of young for every brood. On account of these biological factors, sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing.

How to protect the shark

            We have nearly 400 different species of sharks across the globe. Of these, nearly 180 species are found in Australian waters (Commonwealth of Australia 2016). The Australian government permits catching of most sharks for recreational or commercial purposes. However, the Speartooth Shark and the Grey Nurse Shark are categorised as critically endangered species, while the Northern River Shark is an endangered species.  On the other hand, the Whale Shark, Freshwater Sawfish and the White Shark are classified as vulnerable species (Commonwealth of Australia 2016). One way of protecting these endangered species is through legislation following overfishing that has led to a significant decline in their numbers. The aforementioned species have been listed by the 1999 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as 'threatened'. The Act thus deems it an offence to injure, take, keep, kill, move, or trade any member of a species identified as 'threatened'  in Commonwealth waters or on Australian Government land, without having a permit. 

How the commercial whaling affect the environment

            Whales are important to the food chain in that they maintain a healthy ocean and establish the food flow. Reducing the number of whales therefore, has considerable impacts on the marine ecosystem.  Pershing (2014) reports that whales are efficient carbon credits because they carry significant levels of carbon to the floor of the sea upon their death. Elsewhere, Pershing et al. (2010) report that restoring the whale populations to where it was during the Pre-industrial levels could help remove nearly 160,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year. When whales die, they are a source of food to plankton, found in the depth of the sea, and which are a source of nutrient to smaller sea organisms. Commercial whaling thus acts to destabilize the natural ecosystem at the deep sea, meaning that whales no longer play their role in cleaning the environment.


-is the marine sanctuary good to protect marine ecosystem from commercial fishing

Marine sanctuary would be an ideal environment to protect marine ecosystem from commercial fishing. This is because a marine sanctuary is governed by site-specific regulations and legislation that delineates the activities prohibited or allowed in such a setting (Barange et al. 2010).  Adoption of other federal or state regulations and laws regarding commercial fishing would further help to improve the ability of marine sanctuary to protect marine ecosystem against commercial fishing. -what is the advantage from banning the commercial fishing ? why ?

Banning commercial fishing would result in a number of benefits. First, it prevents the likely depletion of fish stocks that is quite common with unrestricted commercial fishing. This will help to replenish the fish stocks of endangered species to within “safe biological limits” (Sergio et al. 2006). Additionally, banning commercial fishing will help save certain targeted species that are either “fully exploited” or are “depleted”. In particular, there have been severe reductions in the stocks of species such as the bluefin tuna, flounder, swordfish, cod, and haddock.

Solutions for the problems and some evidence

To overcome the negative impact of commercial fishing on the marine ecosystem, two main solutions are offered for this problem:

Marine sanctuary: Setting aside a marine sanctuary would help to avoid the possible negative impacts of commercial fishing on the marine ecosystem (Barange et al. 2010). This is because no fishing is allowed in the marine sanctuary. This preserves the fish in their natural habitat.

Banning commercial fishing: Blanket banning of commercial fishing would help save certain targeted fish species from possible extinction (Commonwealth of Australia 2016). In addition, it would help to maintain endangered species to within “safe biological limits”.


As the global demand for fish increases, so does the level of commercial fishing activities. This has negatively consequences on the marine ecosystem, threatening the lives of various marine species. Certain 'apex' predators like sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing. Accordingly, setting aside a marine sanctuary and banning of commercial fishing would be ideal solution to this problem. 




Arvanitoyannis IS (2009). HACCP and ISO 22000: Application to Foods of Animal Origin.

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Barange M, Field JG, Harris RP, Eileen E, Hofmann EE, Perry RI & Werner F (2010). Marine Ecosystems and Global Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Commonwealth of Australia (2016). Sharks in Australian waters. [Online]. Available at: https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-species/sharks#Legislative_protection [Accessed 06 Dec. 2016]

Dayton PK, Thrush S & Coleman FC. 2002. Ecological Effects of Fishing in Marine Ecosystems

of the United States. Arlington, Virginia: Pew Oceans Commission.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (2015).  Annual Report 2014-15. [Online]. Available at:

http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/2978/4/GBRMPA_2014_15%20AnnualReport_FINAL.pdf [Accessed 07 Dec. 2016].

Myers RA, Baum JK, Shepard, TD, Powers SP & Peterson (CH),’ Cascading effects of the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean’, Science, vol. 315, no. 5820, pp 1846-1850.

Pershing AJ, Christensen LB, Record NR, Sherwood GD & Stetson PB (2010). The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle: Why Bigger Was Better. [Online]. Available at:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0012444 [Accessed 06 Dec.



Sergio F, Newton I, Marchesi L & Pedrini P (2006),’ Ecological justified charisma: preservation of top predators delivers biodiversity conservation’, Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 43, pp. 1049-1055.

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