The notion of an ever-bountiful ocean is a tattered myth. Overfishing, bycatch, and habitat degradation threaten the future health of our marine ecosystems. Nearly half of the U.S. fish stocks as assessed (103 of 230) are either currently depleted or headed in that direction, and the status of many more stocks (674) is unknown, but it is suspected that many of these are also overfished. Each year, countless unwanted fish, turtles, and birds are taken as bycatch and discarded dead or dying. Habitats crucial to healthy fish populations are being rapidly degraded. Entire ecosystems are being altered and some fishing communities face a difficult and uncertain future.
The picture is not entirely bleak; we have made significant progress on many marine conservation issues. Still, there is much work yet to be done. Zoo and aquarium professionals impact fisheries as consumers through the purchase of feeder fish for piscivorous animals in their collections. In addition, they influence millions of visitors annually through educational programs. With wise, informed choices in feeder fish purchases, and through public education programs, zoos, and aquariums can have a direct and a widespread impact on fisheries conservation. Together, we must bring a long-term sustainable approach to fisheries management.