Overfishing, Fact or Fiction?

Three overfishing myths debunked

For many of us, some of the earliest and fondest memories we have are those of a holiday by the sea. Or, if you were lucky enough to grow up near one, perhaps a walk along the shore and a plunge in the water were simply just the part of your week you looked forward to most. No matter how many times one greets the ocean, it seems that you can never behold it enough. Despite its steady consistency, it has a way of endlessly fascinating the young and the old. While its force and power can so easily make us feel small, the sea still requires human help to conserve and protect all the life sustained below the surface. 

Overfishing is a great disruption to our delicate underwater ecology – stripping the waters of fish faster than can be replaced – and in turn, causing damaging ripple effects felt by people and the planet at large. As with all the current pressing environmental issues, the weight and reality of it can feel too much for an individual to bear. This is why the antidote is to start small and bust some of the myths we’ve believed along the way. 


One can easily forget that hidden away under the blanket of blue is a whole other self-sustaining world, teeming with life and activity. Fish form an integral role in the underwater ecosystem, so when large amounts of a particular population are suddenly depleted, the livelihoods of other species ­– from those in the water like sharks, or above it like seabirds ­– are also disrupted by the scarcity. Fish contributes to the nutrient cycling in oceans and are also some of the coral reefs’ greatest supports ­– certain fish will actually eat away at the algae that compete for sunlight and space amongst the coral!


Whether it’s large teams overseeing fisheries supplying the whole of South Africa, or just a father and son catching for their restaurant in Paternoster, all fishing practices impact our oceans, and no matter the square meters, they need to be regulated and managed wisely. With the industry affecting so many people’s livelihoods locally and internationally, it is integral that environmentally friendly practices are adopted. Ensuring this is organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council that offer certification and support, particularly for smaller-scale fishermen. 

Overfishing can be reduced on this level by educating and incentivising such fishermen to honour marine protected areas; make use of sustainable fishing practices – by reducing long-line fishing which often results in bycatch, or bottom trawling which strips the ocean floor of any other sea life too; and assisting in developing alternative income streams, like ecotourism and sustainable aquaculture.


As consumers, every purchase we make is a vote cast toward the future we want, and making the most responsible and informed choice has never been more accessible. An incredible resource is the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative – or SASSI – which was developed by the WWF. This initiative helps every person prioritise sustainability ­– from the seafood restaurant’s supplier to the seafood restaurant’s diner – the ability to make the best decision is within reach. SASSI makes use of a colour-coded ‘traffic light’ system, categorising the various species into a ‘best choice’ green list, a ‘think twice’ orange list and a ‘don’t buy’ red list. This guide is available in pocket-form off the SASSI website and app. You can also download the SASSI app here.