The Big Stick in the Caribbean Sea and Overfishing
This is a huge problem, but few people know about it. The Caribbean, an amazing place teeming with life, used to be one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the whole world. It still has a number of coral reefs in many areas, but the use of large gill nets is starting to wipe out the population of many species of fish, including the endangered red snapper and the endangered bluefin tuna that live in these areas. Not only that, but these are also the ones being targeted by fishermen in these parts. These may not seem like important fish, but these, especially the tuna, are the staple diet of most birds, dolphins, and other animals here.
Now, what the tuna and snappers eat are bait fish that live in these areas. These include ballyhoo, which is eaten by almost every predatory fish and seabirds in these areas. Ballyhoo are taken from the wild for bait, but in very small numbers and are not in much trouble because the plants and zooplankton they eat are not endangered. The gill nets used to harvest the sought-after fish have holes the perfect size for what they are meant to catch, and are usually too big to catch the ballyhoo. Not just tuna! The nets used to capture the fish work something like shown below. This is a diagram to show how it catches fish. It is very effective, even better than rod and reel setups in some cases. But one can easily tell that if a protected fish or a baby dolphin or something got stuck, it was the end. This makes a problem because the fish often die in the net so when it is pulled out, you cannot save it.
How it works
There are laws protecting species and saying if they are caught, they have to be thrown back. But you cannot help them being caught. Also, if it is dead, even if you throw it back it won’t help. The reason the fish die is because the net gills them, which means their gills get stuck in the net. Fish are very sensitive in their gills and, putting aside the fact that many people gill fish to land them, it is still a very bad thing to hold a fish from its gill. If a fish’s gill can’t open and close easily then it will most likely not survive long. If a dolphin, whale or porpoise is stuck in a gill net, it will not be able to breathe and will also die. Most people don’t consider that birds too can get stuck in these nets. If a bird like a gull or a tern sees the fish stuck in the nets, they will think it is food and dive to get it. In the process, it will get its wing or beak stuck in the net, and unable to reach the surface to breathe, it will die.
To add to this awful cause, birds hang around these fishing boats to eat leftover or “scrap” fish. Not just the snappers are snapping about it! People are actually trying to help by raising these fish indoors, but these “hatcheries,” as they call them, make more money selling these beautiful fish to pet stores than they do releasing them into protected areas where they can’t legally be hunted. People are trying to help these fish, but it’s really hard. The governments that own these reefs can’t just ban gillnet fishing altogether. People would fight against that, but we can protect more of these sites so gillnet fishing can’t happen there. A coral reef is a supersite. A supersite is a place where more wildlife can live than in a normal area. “We know that well-managed marine protected areas can increase the resilience of marine species in the Caribbean and the Pacific in the face of mounting threats. In an extremely species-rich region dominated by small island states, intergovernmental cooperation between countries should be boosted to ensure protected areas are managed effectively, and destructive fishing practices are minimized,” says Kent Carpenter, manager of the IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit. We can help too. If we buy the right kind of pet fish, the demand will lower and overfishing will stop.
When getting a fish, ask where it was taken from, and only buy those bred in captivity. As long as we take care, the reefs will be fine. However, it’s not just the Caribbean that’s being majorly overfished; the Great Barrier Reef and other places are probably even worse than these islands. It’s our choice what we do with the world. We can deplete it, or we can conserve it. What we’re doing now is depleting it, but that can change. If we’re careful, then we’ll be able to save this beautiful sea!