The oceans of today are filled with ghost habitats, stripped of their larger inhabitants. A few people might share the views of the early twentieth-century game fisherman Mitchell Hedges that ridding the seas of fierce carnivores is no bad thing. But our dismantling of marine ecosystems is having destructive and unpredictable consequences.
With species loss and food web collapse comes dangerous instability. The seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of species on which it depends. But its influences is far more menacing than simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Overfishing is destabilizing the marine environment, contributing to the spread of anoxic dead zones and the increasing prevalence of toxic algal blooms, for example. Nature's power to bounce back after catastrophes or absorb the battery of stresses humanity is subjecting it to is being eroded, collapsed fishery after collapsed fishery, species by species, place by place.
It is easy to point fingers and say this is the fault of greedy corporations with their factory ships, or faint-hearted politicians overeager to please the fishing industry, or the great masses of poor people reduced to bombing and poisoning their seas to extract the last few fish. But blaming others is unhelpful. Every fish and meat eater shares responsibility for the losses, and only by working together can we restore the seas' bounty."
—Callum Roberts in The Unnatural History of the Sea (2007, Island Press)