Raise your hand if you love fish! If that’s you, you’re not alone – fish is delicious. However, the world’s demand for seafood has had some detrimental effects.
While not a problem for all marine life, overfishing has created historically low population numbers for several particular species. We’re going to look at the top ten most overfished fish, plus some close runner-ups.
The Top 10 Overfished Species in the World
Overfishing disrupts food chains and destroys habitats. Despite the great lengths of some nations to rebuild fish populations, overfishing remains an ongoing problem for the following fish species.
1. Atlantic Cod
Cod is a significant fish in New England history and one of the most commonly eaten fish in the Northeast. Sometimes known as scrod, Atlantic cod lives in a range that covers an area reaching from Greenland to the Mid-Atlantic states.
Cod was once so abundant that colonists named Cape Cod in Massachusetts after the fish. Unfortunately, cod has been overfished since those colonial times.
This prolonged overfishing has drastically reduced the population of Atlantic cod over the past generations. This heavy reduction has had a ripple effect throughout the aquatic ecosystem of the Eastern Seaboard.
There are currently efforts to rebuild Atlantic cod populations, but the population remains below the target level. There are now some restrictions on gear that fishermen can use to reduce their effectiveness in catching cod.
2. Red Snapper
Red snapper lives throughout much of the Atlantic ocean. It is a relatively large fish, reaching about two feet long, and has quality meat.
Because of this meat, red snapper is one of the most commonly fished species for commercial purposes. This has led to significant overfishing, especially in areas of the ocean near Mexico.
The make matters worse, the red snapper is a sought after catch in recreational settings as well. This, combined with the commercial value, has led to declining red snapper populations.
Red snapper also takes a long time to reach sexual maturity. This only exacerbates the overfishing issue as many fish fail to reproduce before they are caught.
3. Bigeye Tuna
Bigeye tuna is one of several fish species that are overfished in the oceans of East Asia. As is the case with other species in that region, overfishing is a result of a culinary demand for high-quality cuts of fish.
Bigeye tuna, sometimes called ahi, is especially valuable in a culinary sense. The reason is that chefs often use this fish as a form of sashimi.
Although popular in regional dishes like sashimi, the bigeye tuna overfishing issue is a worldwide concern. This species lives in many oceans and falls victim to several destructive methods of fishing.
Currently, there is a multinational effort to reestablish a strong population of bigeye tuna. Despite this effort, populations remain very low.
4. Atlantic Salmon
Most people are familiar with seeing salmon as the main protein on their dinner plate. The pleasing taste and texture of that meat are what have led to the overfishing of Atlantic salmon.
(We also have an article on Best Tasting Fish to make you known of good tastes)
In recent years, this problem has only gotten worse. Since salmon contains relatively high levels of healthy fats, more people are choosing to eat it.
While those fats imply a positive impact on human health, they have led to a severely detrimental outcome for the Atlantic salmon species. This devastation includes dwindling population numbers and loss of habitat.
The commercial popularity of salmon has indirect effects on other populations of fish. The effort to feed commercially-raised salmon has caused declining numbers in other fish species.
5. Albacore Tuna
There are several varieties of tuna common in fish markets, but albacore tuna may be the most common of all. Albacore tuna is the same tuna that is in most cans you find at a typical grocery store.
Naturally, the widespread presence of canned tuna means that there have been significant efforts to catch and sell albacore tuna. Since tuna is often an important predator in their food chains, overfishing has had a negative impact on entire ecosystems.
Proof of the extensive fishing efforts comes from the fact that albacore tuna is not inherently susceptible to overfishing. This fish matures early, meaning that it has time to breed.
Despite this, populations of albacore tuna are low. The popularity of canned tuna seems to hint that this won’t change soon.
If you are surprised to find sharks on the list of most overfished species, then you likely have not heard of shark finning. Shark finning is a cruel process that is surprisingly common in certain parts of the world.
The process of shark finning does not directly kill the shark. After removing the fins, the shark is still alive. Since fishermen have no use for the rest of the shark’s body, they throw it back into the ocean while still alive.
It is a virtual guarantee that the shark will not survive after finning. Without their fins, the shark will have an extremely limited ability to swim. Because of this, shark finning has reduced populations of shark species.
Shark finning is a gruesome practice, but that has had little effect in discouraging the act. Instead, the Chinese delicacy known as shark fin soup remains highly sought after.
Pollock is a highly lucrative commodity in the commercial fish market. This species dwells in waters in and around the Gulf of Alaska.
Pollock is used in several common foods, such as fish sticks. This meat is also the base ingredient in California rolls.
This species lives in deep and mid-level parts of the ocean. In most cases, fishermen catch pollock through trawling.
Cod is among the few fish that once rivaled the production of pollock. Some estimates indicate that the entire pollock population can decrease by half in a single year. Because of this, there are now significant efforts to discourage pollock fishing in Alaska.
8. Atlantic Halibut
Atlantic halibut has been so overfished that it is now listed as an endangered species. Much of this overfishing occurred throughout the previous century. The longevity of this practice is the reason Atlantic halibut numbers remain low.
There is a good reason why people wanted to fish for halibut so badly. This fish is large and flat, meaning that it can provide plenty of valuable meat.
To its detriment, Atlantic halibut has been a popular dish on multiple continents. This means that several nations have contributed to overfishing. In response, the United States has shut down its commercial halibut fisheries.
But the issue still remains today as other countries continue to overfish this species. The methods for catching halibut are also a problem as they tend to destroy habitats and catch many other species of fish.
9. Atlantic Sea Scallop
Though this is the only one on this list, shellfish are prone to overfishing as well. One of the worst examples of this is the overfishing of the Atlantic sea scallop.
Most know of sea scallops because they are a typical ingredient in a multitude of seafood dishes. But these shellfish are also popular for their attractive shells.
To catch sea scallops, fishermen will dredge the bottom of the ocean floor. This not only captures many scallops and other species, but it also destroys critical habitats.
The overfishing of the Atlantic sea scallop is especially bad in the mid-Atlantic region. There, dredging practice kills many important species like skates and coral.
Hoki is not the most recognizable fish name on this list. But even if you don’t recognize the name, it is likely that you have eaten hoki at some point in your life.
Hoki is a common substitute for white fish like cod and pollock. Fast food restaurants often take advantage of this and use hoki in their fried fish sandwiches.
The native range for hoki is spread across the waters surrounding Australia and New Zealand. Fishermen in that region use bottom trawling to catch hordes of hoki fish.
Currently, the overfishing of hoki is a significant issue for the entire aquatic environment of that region. Today, hoki populations are at an all-time low with no indication that they will rise again.
A Few Other Overfished Fish Species Worthy of Mention
Above are ten of the most overfished species in the world. But overfishing is an issue much broader than that. This harmful practice affects many more species of fish throughout the oceans of the world. Here are some of the honorable mentions that did not make it onto our main list of overfished species:
- Chilean Sea Bass
(You might be interested in reading our article on Most Consumed Fish in the World)
It is hard to imagine an end to the global problem of overfishing. Even though we are more conscious than ever about our impact on the environment, it seems as though much of the damage has already occurred.
It remains to be seen if this damage can be undone. But as of now, commercial demands and recreational practices have made overfishing a continuous challenge. Yet, there may be some hope. International groups are working to protect endangered fish species. By using the information in this article, you can make smart consumer decisions to help that effort.