nations around the world have got much tougher on illegal fishing by delivering
heavier sanctions and harsher penalties. But can illegal fishing ever be
totally eradicated or will the future be more about finding new ways to
effectively control and manage it?
has been significant progress with illegal fishing, not all countries have made
the level required. The European Commission recently granted extensions to
Ghana, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines to their work against illegal fishing.
They have been issued with warnings for not doing enough to address their
fisheries control weaknesses. These included weak legislation, a lack of a
system of sanctions in place to sufficiently deter illegal fishing activities
and a weakness in the systems for control and monitoring. This highlights some
important points. The first is that, despite much progress around the world,
there is still much work to do, and the second is illegal fishing will never be
eradicated or effectively controlled unless the right control and monitoring
systems are in place alongside the necessary supporting legislation.
Union (EU) estimates the global value of illegal fishing is approximately €10bn per year, with
between 11 and 26 million tones of fish being caught illegally every year. This
is about 15% of the total catch around the world.
The EU says it will increase its fight
against illegal fishing as part of its aim to ensure the sustainable use of the
sea and its resources. Last year the EU adopted trade measures against Belize
(although that has now changed because of the country’s further cooperation),
Cambodia and Guinea for their lack of efforts towards illegal fishing. This
year measures have been imposed against Sri Lanka and more are likely to be put
in place against other nations.
Countries delivering new and innovative
ways of monitoring and controlling are likely to determine future success
against illegal fishing around the globe. The UK, for example, has produced
detailed guidance for British businesses including its retailers and food
suppliers to help keep illegal fish products out of its food supply chain. It
suggests ways these retailers and suppliers should act to end illegal fishing
and improve sustainable fisheries and offers advice on risk-assessment and
mitigation and encourages actions to prevent illegal products entering the
The guidance, which has been produced by
the British Retail Consortium, Environmental Justice Foundation and WWF UK
follows an investigation last year by the UK’s Guardian newspaper which found Tai prawns sold to UK supermarkets
were being produced with the helps of slaves who were being subjected to
violence. Eight key recommendations have come from the document, closely
related to increased transparency and traceability of fish supplies. This
includes a requirement for all large vessels to have unique identification to
enable satellite tracking.
Elsewhere, South Korea has recently
announced that it will widen the fishing area for its vessels operating in the
Yellow Sea in a bid to help capture Chinese boats operating illegally in the
According to the Ministry of
Oceans and Fisheries of South Korea, the government has decided to expand the
area of fishing around the country's five westernmost islands by 81km2
to help increase the income of fishermen on those islands who are struggling
against illegal fishing by Chinese vessels.
More than 2,000 Chinese fishing
boats operate in the shared fishing zone between South Korea and China in the
Yellow Sea, with around 300 Chinese vessels entering South Korea's territorial
waters illegally on a daily basis, noted the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The expansion will bring the total area for fishing from the current 1,519km2
Recently Spain’s new approach to illegal fishing has won praise from
around the world. This will see the country impose stronger penalties against
any citizen involved in illegal fishing than anywhere else in the world. Key
industry stakeholders have called for the rest of the European Member States to
follow similar laws in order to effectively
fight illegal fishing globally.
The new Spanish fisheries law 33/2014 is the
translation into Spanish legislation of the EU’s illegal, unreported and
unregulated (IUU) fishing regulation, which requires all EU member States to
take action against citizens and companies found to be involved in any IUU
The new law puts in place measures enabling
the Spanish government to act against Spanish citizens benefiting economically
from operating illegally. For example, Spanish nationals or companies
benefiting from illegal operations of fishing vessels under any flag, including
flags of convenience, and owned or operated by ‘shell’ companies in tax havens.
is also playing an increasingly important part in the fight against illegal
fishing and some of it is becoming very advanced. A new monitoring system has been developed by
the Satellite Applications Catapult, a British government-backed innovation in
collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts.
The project will bring together
and check information from tens of thousands of fishing vessels operating
around the world in a ‘virtual watch room’ showing the information and location
of vessels on a giant video wall displaying the map of the world.
The data used to draw this map
comes from various sources, the most important of which are vessels’ automatic
identification systems (AIS). They broadcast a vessel’s identity, position and
other information to nearby ships and coastal stations, and also to satellites.
An AIS is mandatory for all commercial vessels, fishing boats included, with a
gross tonnage of more than 300. Such boats are also required, in many cases, to
carry a second device, known as a VMS (vessel monitoring system). This
transmits similar data directly to the authorities who control the waters in
which the vessel is fishing, and carrying it is a condition of a boat’s licence
to fish there.
The watch room first filters
vessels it believes are fishing from those that are not. It does this by
looking at, for example, which boats are in areas where fish congregate. It
then tracks these boats using a series of algorithms that trigger an alert if,
say, a vessel enters a marine conservation area and slows to fishing speed, or
goes ‘dark’ by turning off its identification systems. Operators can then zoom
in on the vessel and request further information to find out what is going on.
Satellites armed with synthetic-aperture radar can detect a vessel’s position
regardless of weather conditions. This means that even if a ship has gone dark,
its fishing pattern can be logged.
It may seem like it is ‘Big
Brother’ watching. But if that is what it takes in the fight against illegal
fishing then more innovation and systems like this are welcome.