Putting human population growth and attendant consumption back on the radar screen: A fisheries perspective
Worldwide, fish populations are in decline, once formerly abundant species now are increasingly threatened, endangered, or extirpated, and most commercial fisheries have “max’d out” their capacity. The root cause is pressure from human activities, both directly from fishing and indirectly from other activities of the human enterprise. Ultimately, human population growth is the driver of consumption and economic growth, but these also drive population growth, particularly in the developed world. In this overview, we present data to confirm Ehrlich’s “IPAT equation” (Impact = f(Population, Affluence, and Technology)) and show the trends that place fish and fisheries under increasing pressure. Next, we illustrate the direct (fisheries harvests, aquaculture) and indirect impacts of other economic activities on fish and fisheries, the latter with examples from agriculture, silviculture, urbanization, mining and hydroelectric power generation. We conclude with a discussion of the phenomenon of “eco-social anomie,” the breakdown both of expectations of what species should be present (in abundance) in healthy ecosystems and societal loss of interest.
It is evident that both consumption and human population growth create the squeeze on ecosystems that sustain fisheries. Despite reticence to discuss these topics, ecologists must re-engage to support policies to guide humanity toward smaller population size and reduced consumptive footprint.