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Commercial Fishing: Environmental Ethics Case Study

This case study takes up the matter of commercial fishing. It is believed that:

Over-indulgence in fishing has destroyed fish stocks in rivers and coastal areas and has lowered yields dramatically. The use of trawlers has damaged the river beds beyond repair and has caused discomfort to marine life. Perhaps, what mankind does not understand is that marine life and sea life underpin his existence since there would be a heavy loss of livelihoods if sea lives became unsustainable for human living.

The present situation is that there is competition between fishermen regarding the number of boats that could be pressed into fishing operations – the larger the number of fishing boats, the higher the catches and, fisherfolks with lesser boats are left with a little or no yield. While the number of fishermen and boats is teeming, the fish population is dwindling alarmingly and many renowned species are now on the verge of virtual extinction, thanks to man’s predatory nature. The present crisis has developed because there are too many fishing boats running after too few fishes. Some species of fish are well extinct and other rare ones, for instance, a single” Bluefin tuna” command a price of around “$60,000 in Japanese markets.” (Skunked, n.d., p.38)

This is a tragic situation because fishing is not a business for most people but a way of living and in more senses than one, the fisherman is presiding over their own extermination and destruction. However, despite the threats of overfishing in these zones, the plankton food needed for fish larvae was abundant, and the Georges Banks were fertile and productive due to the presence of rich nutrients in the water, and abundant sunlight that nourished the tiny plants that provided food for marine life. The cod fish business was a major business during this time and contributed significantly to European business, prior to the Industrial Revolution. But unfortunately “overfishing on a massive scale brought many fish populations, including cod, haddock, and halibut, to the brink of commercial extinction.”

(Will the fish return, n.d., para.2). And this business also had its threats. Heavy loss of lives during storms and more than 10,000 people feared drowned over time in Georges Banks alone. Each storm causes losses of boats and their inmates into the turgid waters. However, the main trends of overfishing significantly reduced yield such that by the turn of the 21st century, fishing in Georges Banks was no longer considered profitable. Thus, it has become necessary to seek recourse to interventions like Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ) which would control individual fishing rights and how fishing is indulged in. (Skunked, n.d., p. 50).

Another point mooted is that of buyouts, by which fishing rights would be permanently or temporarily suspended, until the fish population improves. However, the main aspects that need to be considered are how future research could improve the qualitative and quantitative aspects of aquaculture. Converting coastal areas into fish farms to breed high quality fishes would in effect sound the deathknell for marine life, which would be difficult to implement.

Identify the stakeholders and the various perspectives, concerns, interests, and pressures each stakeholder brings to the situation

The main stakeholders would be the fishing communities and also the respective governments whose country vessels were indulging in fishing in these restricted waters. To a very large extent, the yield would depend upon the number of fishing boats that were pressed into service. But this changed later on in form of heavy duty stern trawlers which could amass large haulage tones of fishes, causing great losses to fish population that were incapable of being replenished. From shrimp fishers discarding red snapper to “biomass trawlers scraping the seabed and disturbing entire ecosystems, industry practices range from inefficient to devastating.” (Weber, 1994, Weber identifies three major causes for the decline world fisheries, para.2).

This exacerbated the dwindling fish population and the US governments were constrained to invoke laws such as the Magnusum Act which gave the US fishing rights up to 200 miles. The constant depravation of fishing population through these methods led to dramatic reduction of fish population and after some time, the trawlers ceased to be productive and were withdrawn.

“Georges Bank was famous for its plentiful fish, lobster and scallops until it was drastically depleted by overfishing.” (Ecosystem, n.d., In this exhibit: Georges Bank, para.1). The next concern was the Georges Banks being opened up for oil explorations, although there was no oil explored to prove that this venture would be a commercially viable one. However, for once, the Government got its priorities right and declared that preservation of a natural resource,viz. fishing rights were more important aspects that needed to be preserved and nurtured.

Examine the relationship between environmental science and ethics as they relate to the various stakeholders’ interests

In this case of Georges Banks, it is seen that overfishing and natural depravation of marine life caused havoc and environmental destruction of a very unethical kind, thanks to the greed and commercial exploitation of vested interests, including the fishing community. Fishing ceased to be a way of life and became gross commercial ventures, especially tuna business which became a major commercial venture due to ready availability of cheap fishes. What was not being realized during these times of gross exploitation of marine resources was that, it was limited and would soon be exhausted. In their greed to make money, the Government, local community and fishermen laid scant respect to the need for replenishment and seeking ways and means for creating new breeding grounds, disease control management and allowing for the pisiculture to grow adequately before being commercially exploited for profits.

In terms of interests of government, it can seek to edict and enforce laws that could best serve community interests. The role of government as a major stakeholder in the fishing industry, in terms of deciding the modalities by which ethical fishing could be indulged in, the rules and norms that need to be followed by fishing trawlers, maximum loads, distribution patterns, etc. need to be controlled effectively by the government in order to ensure harmony and equity in fishing practices. However, the use of unethical practices by individual fishermen could not be ruled out, and thus the need for some kind of institutional norms became necessary for the common good of the community.

Another aspect that needs to be considered is that fishing in the Georges Bank was very competitive and involved great personal risk and danger, especially during stormy weather. There have been countless cases of boats overturning, people drowning and lives and properties lost at sea. The Government needs to take action to avert such occurrences and also restorative steps for the families of those killed, or lost at sea. The fisherfolks today are a dispirited lot” They view themselves as the last leaders of a heroic life, the last independents in a corporate country, the last real entrepreneurs, mustering intelligence, tradition, and courage to wrest a living from the merciless sea.” (Skunked, n.d., p.52).

Reference List

Ecosystem: In this exhibit: Georges Bank. (n.d.). American Museum of Natural History. Web.

Skunked: crisis in the New England fisheries. (n.d.).

Skunked: crisis in the New England fisheries: The sadness of it all. (n.d.).

Weber, P. (1994). Net loss: fish, jobs & the marine environment: Weber identifies three major causes for the decline world fisheries. Web.

Will the fish return: HoW gear and greed emptied Georges Bank. (n.d.). Bio Bulletin. Web.


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