Can you imagine a world without fish?

Did you know that almost 80 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited? And 90 per cent of sharks and tuna have already gone? 

Did you know around 300,000 whales and dolphins are accidentally caught each year, and disposed of into the sea?

This is the grim reality of our oceans and the results of overfishing.

Overfishing is not just happening somewhere in the ocean. It’s happening in your ocean, in every corner of every ocean around the world. However, as 95 per cent of the world’s fishers live in developing countries and operate in coastal waters, coastal fisheries are now on the brink of collapse.

My research focuses on understanding the current state of the coastal fishery and exploring sustainable solutions to combat overfishing, taking Sri Lanka as a case study. This research is multidisciplinary and uses a mix of research methods.

In the first phase of my research, analysing 40 years of fish catch data, I estimated the maximum amount of fish that could be caught while enough is left for replenishment. I found that this level had been exceeded long ago, and overfishing has continued. Now, too many boats compete for too few fish. And some fishers engage in fish bombing, using homemade explosives to kill and collect many fish to maintain their catch.

“Overfishing is not just happening somewhere in the ocean. It’s happening in your ocean, in every corner of every ocean around the world.”
However, there is hope

The fish population can be restored by allocating catch limits, reducing boats and preventing fish bombing. That responsibility lies with the fishing community, which is challenging, because fishing is their only livelihood.

In the second phase, I interviewed and surveyed fishers to identify practical strategies to reduce overfishing. Results show that while they disagree with boat reduction they are willing to adopt fishing-free days and seasonal fishing closures. But they would need compensation during these periods.

I suggested that governments should discontinue current subsidies such as cheap gasoline, discounted boats and free fishing nets, which keep boats fishing. Instead, these funds could be allocated as compensation for not fishing.

In the final phase, I am developing a mobile app that local fishermen can use to monitor, report and stop fish bombings.

Overall, my research outcomes are a relevant and globally adaptable way to combat overfishing. In the future, I plan to collaborate with international partners to implement these outcomes and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water.

Krish Gnanapragasam
Griffith University 2023 Three Minute These (3MT) Winner, Krish Gnanapragasam

Krish Gnanapragasam is a PhD candidate in Griffith Business School in Brisbane, Australia. Krish won the 2023 Griffith Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition with a three minute explanation of overfishing in his native Sri Lanka. Krish also took out the  audience-voted People’s Choice Award.