Santos Banegas has been fishing off the coast of Puerto Castilla, Honduras, for the last 35 years. At the start of his fishing career, he remembers routinely catching 300 to 500 pounds of fish a day, which meant he could easily feed and support his family.
Today, he’s lucky if he catches 30 to 40 pounds of fish each day. Banegas—and many other fishers around the world—now faces a difficult choice: Buy larger, more expensive boats that can take him farther out into the ocean in search of fish, or go hungry.
Fish are disappearing from Puerto Castilla and other fisheries around the world because of overfishing, or the practice of catching too many fish.
When people overharvest fish on reefs and elsewhere, they begin to deplete fish populations. This, in turn, means that fishers have to intensify their efforts to catch something. This downward spiral can lead to the collapse or near-collapse of fish stocks, an outcome with consequences for coral reef ecosystems and the humans who depend on them for food and jobs.
Overfishing threatens coral reefs by disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem’s food web. On healthy, sustainably fished reefs, plant-eaters like parrotfish and surgeonfish regularly graze on seaweed, also called macroalgae, keeping it at low, manageable levels. But when people overharvest these herbivorous fish, the macroalgae begins to grow unchecked, which can eventually smother the reefs and make it more difficult for coral larvae to settle.
But beyond harming coral reefs, overfishing also contributes to poverty and hunger.
The fish who live in coral reef ecosystems feed millions of people around the world, including the residents of some of the world’s poorest countries. What’s more, fishing provides critical income for millions of families, assuring the livelihoods of 10 to 12 percent of the world’s population. Coral reefs alone support 6 million fishers in 99 countries.
Unless we stop overfishing and save coral reefs, many communities around the world will face food crises and economic instability.
That’s why we are so committed to protecting, promoting and maintaining healthy fisheries. To address this acute issue, we work with local communities to create new marine protected areas and help to improve the management of existing protected areas, which give fish populations a chance to rebound.
We’ve launched a community scientist program to gain a better understanding of what’s happening to local fisheries, and we’re supporting aquaculture and aquaponics, two sustainable fish and food cultivation practices.
We’re partnering with local communities to develop collaborative, ground-up solutions. And we’re working directly with fishers like Banegas to help raise awareness about overfishing and encourage sustainable fishing practices, which not only help protect coral reefs, but also the health and livelihoods of communities around the world.
With healthy fisheries, everyone wins.