Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

Gone Fishing


Groundfish catch in Georges Bank, a large elevated area of the sea floor situated between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia.Photo courtesy of NOAA .

For as long as people have lived near water, people have fished. Sadly, in many instances, the history of fishing is paralleled by a history of overfishing. According to the 2018 Report of Status of U.S. Fisheries, of the 479 U.S. fish stocks or stock complexes in 46 fishery management plans, 9% of stocks with known overfishing status are subject to overfishing and 18% of stocks with known overfished status are considered to be overfished. Eight stocks were added to the overfished list, one of whose status was previously unknown, indicating population sizes were too low. Contributing factors to the current level of overfishing globally include:

  • technological advances that have made large-scale fishing easier;
  • too many fishing boats on the water;
  • international partnerships that allow foreign fleets to overfish in the waters of developing countries or international high seas;
  • environmental change;
  • habitat degradation;
  • illegal fishing that violates fishing laws or agreements;
  • large amounts of bycatch of juvenile fish and non-target species; and
  • the shortcomings of fisheries conservation and management efforts.

The impacts of declining fish catches are being painfully felt by many coastal fishing communities around the globe. Jobs are lost and food is scarce. Impacts are also felt in the oceans as other marine species are left with fewer fish to eat. Overfishing affects the entire marine food web. But how do you know when overfishing is occurring or when a stock is overfished? More importantly, can these conditions be reversed?

After completing this investigation, you should be able to:

  • analyze annual fish landing, mortality, and biomass data;
  • explain what caused the collapse of groundfish populations in New England;
  • explain some reasons why cod stocks still haven't rebounded in the northwest Atlantic; and
  • define the terms overfishing and overfished

Keeping Track of What You Learn

Throughout these labs, you will find two kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you engaged and focused on key concepts and to allow you to periodically check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills you should be learning from the lab activities and readings.
Your teacher will let you know which answers you should record and turn in.