SOS: Fish in Troubled Waters
The alarming & underestimated problem of illegal marine poaching and the urgent steps we must take to save our seas.
Jaws, the blockbuster movie about man-eating sharks, is surely a thriller-chiller to watch. But Peter Benchley, the creator of Jaws, realized that the Frankenstein unleashed by him might have been responsible for the shark-phobia and shark poaching that followed. Once, on an underwater dive in beautiful Costa Rica, he saw fin-less corpses of sharks on the bottom of the ocean. He realized that the feared sharks were not savage sea monsters but, in fact, mutilated victims of human greed.
Our fish are swimming in troubled waters and are under threat of extinction due to the unchecked problem of marine poaching. We must listen to their SOS call.
What is Marine Poaching
Contrary to popular belief, only 3 to 4 shark attacks happened in the US from 2003-2005, as compared to 108 cattle-induced deaths. Yes, cows can be more dangerous than sharks.
When we think of poaching, we usually think of rhinos or tigers, but we hardly ever give a thought to the fish on our plate or where it came from. Almost 3 million tons of fish are poached every year worldwide! Marine poaching is the illegal hunting, killing or capturing of sea life violating local or international wildlife conservation laws. It endangers not only the fish population but also other animals in their ecosystem and disrupts the essential balance of nature.
Overfishing upsets the whole marine food chain resulting in a collapse of marine biodiversity. For example, the whale is an essential part of the marine ecosystem. When it dies, its carcass offers nutrients to smaller fish and crustaceans; its faeces provide food to microorganisms like planktons. The extinction of whales will not only deprive these creatures of their food but also lead to the overpopulation of their prey, like sea lions, who will finish off the smaller fish in the food chain.
Fish Species Going Extinct
In school, kids get introduced to the beautiful sea world by drawing sharks and whales. But due to illegal overfishing, these and many other large fish species are becoming extinct.
90% of the predators are missing from the top, 15 sea species have gone extinct, and 72 more are on the brink of extinction. No marine creature has been spared from hunting pressure.
Here are some hard to digest facts about endangered sea species that are on the verge of extinction due to overfishing:
Sharks– 100 million sharks are slaughtered every year for shark fin soup (cutting fins and tossing the rest of the shark back into the ocean), liver oil and squalene to be used in useless beauty products. Since sharks reproduce very slowly, they are more vulnerable to extinction.
Whales– 6 out of the 13 great whale species are endangered and vulnerable, even after decades of protection, as mentioned on the World Wide Fund (WWF) website. While commercial whaling is banned worldwide, Japan and Iceland still get away with it.
Sea turtles– Accidental capture by fishing gear is the greatest threat to most sea turtles, especially by large vessels in China and Vietnam. Their shells, skin and eggs are used in medicines.
Vaquitas– Being accidentally caught as bycatch mainly in the Gulf of California, vaquitas are the world’s smallest endangered cetacean1.
Bluefin Tuna– The Atlantic bluefin tuna are especially vulnerable to overfishing as they do not reproduce fast enough.
Corals– Illegal fishing of reef fish has led to the destruction of corals as they are key to keeping the coral healthy. Corals are also poached for making jewellery and medicines.
Dolphins– Apart from being poached for their meat, Dolphins are also ruthlessly used in entertainment parks as they are intelligent beings. They are often trained into starvation and depression.
The largest dolphin massacre took place in Faroe Islands, Europe, this year, where 1428 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were butchered. Even at Taiji, the notorious cove in Japan, the number of dolphins killed in six months is less than this.
Overfishing effects on human survival
You might ask, how is this affecting us, humans? Marine overfishing has a huge negative impact on the world’s economy and tourist industry. Imagine hitting the beaches of Goa, and not being able to spot a single dolphin. A big part of the tourism business will collapse. Jobs of local people will be lost.
Many depend on food from the ocean. We are not talking about fancy restaurants in Mumbai, we are talking about those 3 billion people whose lives depend upon the ocean for food. Oceans also provide us with medicines & regulate the Earth’s climate.
Did you know that the oceans produce more oxygen than the Amazons and store 50 times more Co2 than our atmosphere? Trees have major competition. If overfishing is not stopped, the marine ecosystem will collapse and humanity is sure to be wiped off too. If the oceans die, we die.
Sir David Attenborough, an English broadcaster and naturalist, noted for his educational programs like Blue Planet and The Barrier Reef says, “Our ocean defines our planet. It’s home to more than half of all life on earth today. The air we consume and the water we drink is all linked to the seas.”
Marine poaching in Indian Waters
Machli Jal Ki Rani Hai, Jeevan Uska Paani Hai
It seems like our own dear “machhli” has been pushed out of the water, too and is left gasping for breath.
India has 10% of global marine biodiversity and contributes 6% of fish production worldwide. India is only second to Indonesia in the global list of shark-finning, according to WWF. Under the Wildlife Protection Act of India 1972, of the eighty-eight shark species found in Indian waters, only four have been listed as protected: the Whale Shark, Pondicherry shark, Ganges shark and the Speartooth Shark.
Coral Reef destruction is also a huge problem, mainly happening in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Palm Bay and Gulf of Mannar and Kutch. 60% of the coral reefs are at risk of being destroyed 2. Sea cucumbers and sea horses are also endangered3. Whale shark poaching is rampant on the coasts of Gujarat4.
International gangs enlist poor local fishermen and send the illegal catch to the hungry markets in China and Thailand3. This business is driven by mafia-like groups operating illegally in the country’s waters. Local fishermen who are uneducated and very poor see this as legit work, becoming master poachers using simple tools like hooks and ropes. Thousands of kilograms of shark fins are routinely seized by the government authorities on India’s Western Coasts of Mumbai and Gujarat.
Some efforts are on to control this menace, though a lot more work is required to be done. Our government has drafted a new bill to prevent illegal fishing in India’s Exclusive Economic Zones – exclusive sea zones that are rich marine ecosystems. Only Indian fishermen with a license will be able to fish in EEZ. The government has also set up anti-poaching camps in various places like in Lakshadweep & Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.
Turn ‘Save Our Souls’ to ‘Save Our Seas’
One of the most beautiful, vast and majestic places on Earth will soon be a mystery and history for our future generations if we don’t pledge to Save Our Seas now.
“If we have learned anything from this (Covid-19) pandemic is that we have to live in harmony with nature instead of wiping it out.” Captain Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd Global CEO.
The UN has put Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 14 into focus: ‘Life Below Water’ and half of the world’s countries have adopted scientific initiatives to support sustainable fishing, small scale fisheries and ban harmful fisheries subsidies.
Sea Shepherd, the “global poaching police” are constantly patrolling the waters to stop all kinds of ‘fishy’ activities. We must join the many organizations and individuals who have been working hard towards it already.
What should the government do?
Ban poaching of marine species
The government must entirely ban hunting of endangered species and scrap harmful fisheries subsidies.
Eco-labels on sustainably caught fish must be introduced so that the consumers can demand more ethically sourced/ sustainable fishing practices, thereby compelling a positive shift in fishing methods.
Twist it up
Local fishermen must be educated about the problem and offered alternative jobs & turned into protectors from poachers.
What can we do?
Talk to friends and family and tell them everything you know about this startling issue.
Eat local & seasonal sea-food
Try out fish that are thriving & reproduce fast enough in order to enable endangered species to recover. Ever thought of a jellyfish on your plate? Consider that!
Be an anti-poacher
Join a local organization & support their efforts. Check out Reef Watch Marine Conservation, Goa-based Terra Conscious and Coastal Impact.
If we are to survive, we must listen to the SOS message coming out of the deep blue seas and do something now!
Contributors: A school project by
6th Grade Students of The Green Acres Academy, Chembur, Mumbai
Aimee Mohan (Team Leader of the Project)
1. 10 Endangered Ocean Species | Marine Insight
2. Marine species in danger | Deccan Herald
3. Illegal trade of marine species on a sharp rise| India Today
4. Whale sharks: Saving the gentle giants of Gujarat| Live Mint
5. The world’s biggest beach cleanup.| Very Compostable
6. Life Below Water| United Nations