April 11, 2022

One of the articles in my local newspaper was an AP reprint on the number of armed conflicts and deaths around illegal fishing on the world’s oceans.  Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean that shares a maritime border with India, and thousands of Indian fishing boats are encroaching on Sri Lankan waters.  The Sri Lankan navy has responded by destroying nets, ramming Indian fishing boats, and shots being fired.  The US Coast Guard has committed to join with the small Pacific Island nations to enforce world fisheries laws in the South Pacific.  Similar actions are occurring near South America as the Argentine Navy has twice fired on Chinese fishing boats in 2018 and 2019.  All these conflicts are the result of IUU fishing.

When I looked online, I found while the world’s fish stocks are under threat from intensive legal fishing, they are also at risk from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  Illegal fishing refers to fishing by foreign vessels without permission in waters under the jurisdiction of another state, or which contravene the state’s fisheries law and regulations in some other manner.  Unreported fishing refers to fishing, which is not reported or have been misreported, by vessels to the relevant national authority.  For example, some vessels harvest more tonnage than they are entitled under official fishing quotas.  Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities in areas where there are no applicable management measures to regulate the catch.  Unregulated fishing on the high seas is not illegal, but results in fish stocks being over-exploited.

It is difficult to precisely estimate the total catch from IUU or pirate fishing, as this is a black market.  Some experts put the annual figure at around 11 million tons, while others suggest it may be as high as 26 million tons.  This is equal to 14 or 33 per cent respectively of the world’s total legal catch (fish and marine fauna) in 2011.  These catches are in addition to the world’s legal catch (fish and marine fauna), of 78.9 million tons.  Unless the IUU share is factored into the calculations, the legal catch quotas for a maritime region cannot be determined correctly.  IUU fishing exacerbates the existing problem of overfishing because IUU vessels operate in marine protected areas where a total fishing ban has been imposed and ignore management plans which are intended to conserve overexploited or depleted stocks. 

THOUGHTS:  According to 2022 census reports, the two most populated countries in the world are China (1,439,323,776) and India (1,380,004,385).  It is no coincidence these countries are actively involved in IUU to find food.  The South China Sea has a long-standing conflict over access to its islands and fishing grounds.  There have been 17 cases of armed violence in the area since 2017, and three-fourths involve foreign fishing crews.  IUU has replaced piracy as the main problem of the world’s seas.  Around one-third of wild fish populations are overfished, and two-thirds are fully fished (more caught than reproduce in wild).  With the high demand for fish, 50% of the world’s seafood is farm raised.  There is no ‘right’ choice between wild and farm raised seafood, but only one is sustainable.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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