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  • Threat 3 Overharvest

    Threat #3 Overharvest

    Fish_netWhether in the smallest pond or the largest ocean, fish can be overharvested.

    For example, too many large bass can be removed from a pond. With those top-level predators gone, small fish become too abundant and the result is a population of stunted bass and bluegill.

    In a larger fishery, consequences are more complex and often more devastating. By the mid 1980s, commercial fishermen had depleted mullet populations along the coast of Florida. With this primary forage fish nearly gone, populations of redfish, snook, tarpon, and other gamefish declined, as did numbers of birds that also fed on the mullet.

    But a ban on inshore netting allowed the mullet to repopulate and with them came a resurgence in gamefish and birds.

    Similarly, overharvest by both commercials and recreational anglers nearly destroyed the East coast striped bass fishery by the late 1970s. But in little more than a decade, moratoriums and strict limits had enabled those fish to recover.

    overharvestingPreferably, of course, overharvest should be avoided so bans, moratoriums, and strict limits are not needed to enable recovery. And it should be avoided because, sometimes, recovery might not be possible. Some fear that is what’s happening with some ocean stocks, including bluefin tuna.

    Growth of the catch-and-release ethic has helped diminish the threat posed from overharvest by recreational anglers, especially in freshwater. For example, bass anglers typically release nearly 90 percent of their catch.

    This is not to say that anglers shouldn’t keep a few fish to eat. Additionally, harvesting a few smaller ones often can help a fishery. For example, if a lake has a 12- to 18-inch protected slot for bass, keeping a few under the slot contributes to a faster growth rate and larger size for the remaining fish.

    But being a good steward means adhering to size and number limits. Also, it means reporting those who don’t.

    And it means being respectful to the resource at times when fish are especially vulnerable, such as when they congregate under the ice or when they’re nesting in northern waters, where the spawning season is short and growth rates are slow.

    Solution: Harvest selectively, avoid harvesting from sensitive fisheries, and report poachers with vigilance.

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