A Greek officer passing the arid Makran coast of Baluchistan during the retreat of Alexander the Great, observed it was inhabited by Ichthyophagi – Fish-Eaters. Everyone eats fish, he noted. Even the dogs.
Subsequent centuries of fishing has so depleted fish stocks that by 2050, when the world population is expected to reach 7.5 billion, many wild species will have disappeared.
While warming seas and ocean acidification also threaten seafood, the FAO estimates 75 percent of wild fish stocks are being lost to overfishing.
Excessive fishing and illegal trawling has so reduced some Northern Hemisphere fish breeds that many are considered unlikely to recover.
The European eel, skate and halibut are on the IUCN most endangered list along with the giant beluga sturgeon harvested for caviar in the Caspian Sea.
Sold as “Deep Sea Perch” in Sydney fish markets, the orange roughy taking 20-30 years to mature is imminently vulnerable. The slaughter of 75 million sharks a year for sharkfin soup is catastrophic.
Morocco, the world’s largest exporter of canned sardines, reports a drop in once prolific shoals in the nutrient rich Canary Current. Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats use small mesh size nets trapping the tiniest fish and crustaceans.
The list of endangered species is endless. Lobster colonies off Somalia have been wiped out by South Korean vessels dragging the ocean floor depriving fishermen of a livelihood, a reason for the rise of piracy.
Chinese boats pulling a huge net between them are decimating fish stocks off Sierra Leone: satellite tracking has recorded 70 of these “pair vessels” working at any time.
The 1982 Law of the Sea allows an Economic Exclusion Zone of 200 miles, but a lack of resources means most African nations are unable to protect fish within.
Fragile craft like the ngalawas of Indian Ocean fishermen can only venture so far from the coast with a result that many off-ashore islands are fished out.
Overfishing reaches a peak in the Southern Ocean where the prized Patagonian tooth fish and the endangered southern blue fin tuna are ruthlessly hunted by vessels plundering the high seas.
Locating shoals using sonar technology, Taiwanese trawlers bait thousands of hooks on lines extending 100 kilometres in an evil operation driven by commercial greed.
Flying flags of convenience, they remain out months, off-loading tuna and sharks onto a huge refrigerated “mother ship” of which 400 are thought to operate across the world.
With the unreported catch estimated at 14 million tonnes a year costing genuine markets around $25 billion, a global treaty is urgently required to rein in illegal fishing.
The main obstacle to multi-national naval patrols of such vast areas of ocean is the cost and penalties are difficult to impose.
Educating poor countries such as the Philippines against using cyanide to fish is also limited by illiteracy.
A small but positive step towards sustainable fish management is the creation of marine reserves such as those gazetted off Pacific islands like Kiribati and Pulau.
Australia has some of the most extensive zones, but allowing recreational fishing defeats the aim of providing fish a sanctuary to breed.
Investment in aquaculture like that announced by West Australian billionaire “Twiggy” Forrest may feed future mouths but it is not a solution for wild fish species who are powerless to prevent their own extinction.