The overfishing of our ocean stretches globally, with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reporting 87% of Fisheries being over-exploited. But aside from the legal overfishing another global issue is putting the future of our ocean at risk: illegal fishing. It is estimated that between 13 and 40% of all seafood worldwide is caught illegal. This translates into 800 kilos of illegal fish extracted from the ocean every second, a staggering quantity!
As for all illegal activities it is very difficult to assess the exact dimensions of illegal fishing. However, in 2016 a scientific article was published, which analyzed the catches of the global fishing fleet since 1950. The scientists used a wide variety of data and information sources to derive estimates for all fisheries components missing from the official reported data. What they found is shocking: the global catches between 1950 and 2010 were 50% higher than reported to the FAO.
Illegal fishing plagues us in the form of three practices: Illegal fishing, Unreported fishing and Unregulated fishing (IUU fishing).
Illegal fishing encompasses vessels fishing in restricted waters or practices that violate national laws or international obligations. The laws surrounding fishing are complex and vary according to the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs).
Unreported fishing is the practice of not reporting details of catches or deliberately misreporting catches. Aside from being illegal, this becomes a problem when fish is caught in excess of quotas which is damaging to the ecosystem and in contradiction of expert advice. After all, these regulations are designed to secure an ecosystem which provides profitable and sustainable yields and services to society.
Finally, Unregulated fishing applies to vessels fishing without nationality or under the flag of a country not party to an RFMO. This practice of Unregulated fishing is often not illegal and therefore not prosecutable but circumventing the law is often followed with illegalities, such as when respective catches enter the market. With caring planning, legal but in contravention to the law fishing practices take place. One such example is to fish at the very edge of a marine protected zone, although not violated laws, this is in direct opposition to the spirit of the law. To make matters worse, these issues are all augmented in the ocean. The enormous size of the area that requires management results in making this regulatory job difficult.
IUU fishing poses a great threat to marine ecosystems and actively damages the ocean on a day-to-day basis. IUU fishing and over-exploiting the marine environment are non-distinguishable.
Links with transnational organized crime
Low priority given to IUU fishing by enforcements is an enticing factor for associated activities, because it's low risk, but high return. This environmental crime is lucrative and often associated with large transnational crime groups and humanitarian crimes. Far from constituting a harmless lack of compliance with regulations, IUU fishing destroys marine ecosystems, threatens food security, harms legitimate fishers and damages the economy and state governance. IUU fishers launch multi-vessel fleets on lengthy voyages to all the corners of the globe. They employ sophisticated and coordinated strategies to launder money and fish, and evade taxes. Along the way they enable their activities through the violation of labour and environmental standards, corruption, bribery and violence. Case studies also reveal connections between IUU fishing and human trafficking and drug smuggling.
For further information on this please refer to The Illegal Fishing And Organized Crime Nexus.
What are we doing about it?
At The Black Fish, we operate within Europe. Specifically, the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea are locations in which we have previously carried out inspections with concerns focussing on both the fish species and the practices used. To name some examples from the illegal fishing iceberg: Juvenile landings and illegal dynamite fishing in the Mediterranean Sea, Illegal Cod fishing in the Baltic and illegal fish aggregating devices (FADs) reported continent-wide. The premise of our work at The Black Fish is to first assist in the strict regulation of what is taken from the ocean. Only once this has been accomplished can we continue, as a society, to further manage these watery resources to the benefit of all.