Missing Fish

by Ethan Dolby, Economics


Since the dawn of time human civilizations have mostly turned to regions close to a large water source like oceans, lakes and rivers as a location to live. This is because large bodies of water provide many benefits. First and foremost they provide easy access to water which after all is one of the essential ingredients to human life. Bodies of water also provide ample amounts of food in the form of fish. In fact, in regions near a large body of water, harvesting fish is one of the biggest economic drivers. There needs to be captains for the ships, deckhands to catch the fish. Dock workers who maintain the ships and clean the fish. Factory workers who process and export the fish to other areas. Finally, restaurants, hotels, bars etc. that provide amenities to the thousands of workers and their families who sustain themselves through fishing.

The Aral Sea

Perhaps one of the biggest indicators of how important fishing can be is the curious case of the Aral Sea in the Middle East. Prior to 1960 the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world boasting an area of 26,000 square miles. Every year the fishing industry in the Aral Sea would pull out nearly 44,000 tons of fish. The fishing industry provided tens of thousands of jobs to workers in the area and food to millions of people.


Sadly, various environmental and human actions led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea following the 1960’s. Today the Aral Sea has shrunk to just over 6,000 square miles making it a fraction of its former self. The shrinking of the Aral Sea led to numerous complication for the fish of the region. First, the fish lost thousands of miles of habitat including shallow breeding grounds that are essential to the reproductive process of the local fish. Next as the total volume of the Aral Sea began to decrease dramatically the salinity level of the water rose dramatically. The salinity level rose from 10 parts per million to nearly 100 parts per million. This ten times increase in salt levels cause many of the local fish species to die off. They simply were not built to handle their changing environment. In order to maintain the fishing industry the government introduced new species to the Aral Sea which began to outcompete local fish for resources.


Prior to the shrinking there were 27 native fish species from seven different families leading to 44,000 tons of fish harvested in the Aral Sea each year. By the mid 1980’s 26 native fish species were absent in the Aral Sea. The fishing industry came to an abrupt halt producing 0 tons of fish each year. Having no fish to harvest led to tens of thousands of people losing their jobs and way of life. Even worse the poverty rate in some areas of the region rose up to 83% of the population. Truly staggering numbers that can help paint a picture of how important the sustainability and health of our aquatic ecosystems are. The Aral Sea should be a stern example of the care we humans need to have for other species that we share this world with.


Growing up spelunking, hiking and camping I developed a love for nature and science. Driving a hybrid car and conscientious resource management is how I make sure I am doing my part to help the environment.  I initially went to Ohio State to become either a chemical or environmental engineer. Through my classwork however I discovered a love for economics. I love getting the chance to combine two of my passions.


Ermakhanov, Z. K., et al. Mar. 2012 “Changes in the Aral Sea Ichthyofauna and Fishery during the Period of Ecological Crisis.” Lakes & Reservoirs: Research & Management, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 3-9. EBSCOhost

Thompson. 2008.  “Impacts to Life in Region.” The Aral Sea Crisis. Web. 29 June 2017.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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