Illegal fishing is a big problem facing the global fishing industry. A report by the ocean conservation group, Oceana, released earlier this month, found that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing accounts for 20 percent (11 to 25 million metric tons of fish) of the global catch. IUU fishing contributes to economic losses of $10 to $23 billion, and threatens the 260 million global jobs that are dependent on marine fisheries.
Released during the 2013 Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries Conference in Washington, D.C., the report calls IUU fishing a “major threat to the oceans, consumers and seafood businesses around the world.”
The sheer size of the problem of IUU fishing becomes clear when you look at some of the examples cited in the report:
- Three to four times more sharks are killed than official reports claim, as the shark fin trade in Hong Kong suggests, which yields $292 to $476 million in shark fin sales.
- Illegally caught Russian sockeye salmon is estimated to be 60 to 90 percent above report levels, which represents economic losses of $40 to $74 million.
- Illegal catches of Chilean sea bass are estimated to be 5 to 10 times greater than is officially reported.
- Half of the swordfish in Greece and cod in the UK are estimated to be illegally caught.
- Black market bluefin tuna may reach $4 billion annually, and the amount of illegally caught fish is estimated to be 5 to 10 times greater than the official catch.
- Illegal catches of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tunas are estimated to be $548 million a year.
Why is the amount of IUU fishing so much more than officials realize? The main culprit, the report finds, is weak enforcement. There is both a lack of government oversight and insufficient regulation. One example clearly illustrates the lack of enforcement: Vessels that have been blacklisted for illegal fishing activities by international organizations are only intercepted at port 25 percent of the time.
Seafood traceability would deter illegal fishing. Although the EU is currently implementing seafood traceability regulations, the U.S. has no traceability requirements for either domestic or imported seafood and there are few regulations for imports or catch documentation. The majority of U.S. seafood imports are not inspected or labeled with basic information about when, where and how the fish was caught.
What are needed, according to the report, are centralized data and surveillance systems, online documents and advance notification of landings to allow inspectors to verify the catch. The report recommends that full traceability measures be implemented, plus global information systems need to be created and authorities need to cooperate with each other, particularly the U.S. government and member countries of regional fishery management organizations.
“Illegal fishing cheats seafood consumers and hurts honest fishermen and businesses that play by the rules,” said Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. “If we want to fight pirate fishing, we need to be able to track our seafood supply from boat to plate so we can keep illegally caught fish out of our markets and off of our dinner plates.”
Congress introduced several bills addressing IUU fishing and seafood fraud, which include the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE) Act, the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act, and the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act. The SAFE Act would ensure that seafood in the U.S. is tracked from catch to plate.