Illegal Fishing Is Emptying the Oceans — Here’s How to Stop It
Illegal fishing is depleting the oceans. If current rates of illegal fishing persist, “most global fish stocks will have collapsed by 2050,” according to The Last Fish Swimming: The Global Crime of Illegal Fishing, by Professor Gohar Petrossian (John Jay College). Stocks of cod, swordfish, tuna, marlin, and other fish we love to eat have already dropped 90 percent from preindustrial levels.
But the focus of The Last Fish Swimming is neither on forecasting calamity nor on lamenting the current state of affairs. Instead, the book examines illegal fishing in ways that criminologists would analyze any illegal activity, while offering a “toolbox of strategies” to combat it.
Petrossian argues that illegal fishing is “a crime of opportunity … that can be stopped if the opportunities for committing it are significantly reduced.” Illegal fishing, she writes, takes “advantage of corruption, cultural tolerance of ‘rule bending,’ lack of political will to enforce fisheries regulations, and countries’ inability to effectively monitor, control, and surveil their waters, to carry out their illegal activities.”
What exactly is illegal fishing? Prohibited fishing gear and methods include trawling the sea floor, using drift nets that trap sea life between vertical walls, dynamiting waters, and electrocuting or stunning fish with poison. Fishing is also illegal out of season and in marine-protected areas; it’s illegal without proper permits or vessel monitoring systems, and it’s illegal if more fish or smaller fish are taken than what’s allowed.
The U.S. imports 14% of global seafood, and 30% of wild-caught seafood entering the U.S. is estimated to be illegally caught, Petrossian reports. The European Union imports about 38% of global seafood, half of which is sourced illegally. Meanwhile, developing coastal countries suffer the losses, with 65 percent of their fish resources removed illegally.
The worst fishing offenders by country, the book says, are Thailand, Russia, Spain, and Myanmar, with more illegal than legal fishing vessels in their waters. Next on the worst offender list are Taiwan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Morocco, Argentina, and Turkey.
But “innovative and promising regional and national interventions” do exist, including certification for legal fishing operations, labeling of legally caught fish, and substantial penalties for violations. Technology can also help by tracking vessel activity and even tracking fish.