Felonious Fishing-Efforts for Sustaining Fish Stock and Local Economies

The Economist October 24th 2020 pp53-55 |International|Felonious fishing|”The outlaw sea” “Illegal fishing fleets plunder the oceans-and treat their crews abominably”

image credit newscientist.com

Organizations involved in trying to moderate the fishing industry and maintain the world’s fishing stocks

Outlaw Ocean Project

Global Fishing Watch (GFW)


Trygg Mat Tracking (Norway)

Sea Shepard

Hawkeye 360

The Nature Conservancy

The Stimpson Centre

Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission

High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Norway)

Foreign Fishers Agency (Solomon Islands)

Data Presented

Global marine fish stocks, %

· Underfished has gone from 25% in 1974 to about 6% by 2017

· Fully fished has gone from 31% to 41%

· Overfished has gone from 10% to 31%

Subsidy amounts by major fishing entities 2018 $bn

China 7.1 with 5.8 as harmful

E.U. 3.8 with 2 as harmful

U.S. 3.3 with 1.1 as harmful

South Korea 3.1 with 1.6 as harmful

Japan 2.9 with 2 as harmful

Russia 1.6 with 1.1 as harmful

Thailand 1.1 with nearly all harmful

Taiwan 0.89 with nearly all harmful

Summary of Article

Commercial fishing is costly and key governments heavily subsidize the industry mostly to cover enormous fuel expenses. As it turns out though, more than 80% of these subsidies are actually harmful as they lead to overfishing. Since 1974 overfished global marine stocks have increased from 10% to 31% and fully fished have increased from 31% to 41% leading in 2017 to only 6% of stocks underfished. As shown above there are at least ten major organizations trying to moderate fishing to protect local fishing economies and to ensure sustainability of global fishing stocks. Today, the pursuit of illegal fishing leverages modern satellite and information technology including artificial intelligence to identify the culprits that often evade traditional navigational tools like “automatic identification system” (AIS) by disabling them when in questionable waters or questionable times in international waters. The Chinese have large fleets of up to 1,000 industrial-sized boats fishing in North Korean, South Korean and other waters. Much of the fishing is for feeder stock like squid, which is not officially regulated, but is normally consumed by tuna. This is called “fishing down the foodweb.” “One international study concludes that of 1,300 commercial species of fish and marine invertebrates, 82% are being removed faster than they can repopulate.” This, illegal fishing, hurts local governments “of billions of dollars from selling access…and they threaten the livelihoods of tens of millions or small legal fishermen in Indonesia, west Africa, the Pacific Islands and other coastal states” including Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Australia.

Most of the illegal fishing is by licensed fleets and includes catching too much or incorrectly reporting species caught. Some of the methods used like “illegal drifts nets and nets with too fine a mesh, kill vast quantities of by-catch…” Even worse, bottom-trawling off the coast of west Africa …”turns the seabed into wasteland.”

“The Stimson Centre, a think tank in Washington, DC, estimates that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing generates profits of $36bn a year and could account for between 20% and 50% of the global fish catch.”

On the human front, it is difficult to find men willing to work this industry as they endure poor conditions including long hours and unsafe work environment for little pay, insufficient nutrition, emotional and physical abuse. As a case in point, “The [Taiwanese] government has since tightened regulations governing the welfare of 35,000-odd foreign crewmen.” “Yet in October America’s Department of Labour classified fish caught by Taiwan’s long-distance fleet-with 1,100 vessels second only to China’s-as the practice of forced labour.”

Making matters even worse, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Norway) reports that “Increasingly, fishing is used as a cover for running guns and drugs, trafficking labour and laundering money.”

How to improve?

1) Bringing electronic monitoring onto vessels would improve monitoring and enforcement of territorial waters

2) Although difficult, track down and fine the business entities funding the fleets.

3) Most importantly cut subsidies. By cutting the enormous subsidies it is estimated that half of the fleets would be unprofitable.

These actions could result in “ a huge rebound in inshore stocks…providing better [local] food security and millions of [local] jobs.”

Read the full article in The Economist