Collaboration is the key in the fight against illegal fishing

Illegal fishing is still a major problem. Credit: NOAA Illegal fishing is still a major problem. Credit: NOAA

Adrian Tatum examines the state of illegal fishing around the world and looks at some of the efforts being made to eliminate it.

The lure of the potential riches that can be made from illegal fishing is just too much a temptation for some criminals around the globe. Wherever you look - despite most nations tightening controls, improving monitoring and investing in fisheries protection schemes - there will always be those who continue to chance their luck when the rewards are so great.

March saw New Zealand host delegates from 60 countries at the 5th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop to discuss the latest strategies against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing around the globe.

The conference highlights one thing: illegal fishing practices are still a major problem and only effective collaboration will be the biggest deterrent. Joint host of the conference, The International Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) Network, has been focused on improving cooperation with developing countries so they can build on their efforts to implement internationally agreed measures. It was confirmed at the conference that global cooperation meant it would be even more difficult for criminals to hide.

For small countries such as Gataua and Tokelau, cutting out illegal fishing could make a huge difference to the country’s economy, as revenue from fishing is a large proportion of the overall income.

In countries such as Somalia, illegal fishing is still rife. Just recently three large vessels and over 100 crew members were detained because of illegal fishing. They were caught off Somalia’s Northern coast. Later the same week a further five boats and 50 crew were also caught in the same waters. Somalian officials said illegal fishing was like a ‘natural disaster’ and had reached a peak in its waters. Somalia has recently joined the FISH-i Africa Task force, an organisation set up to end IUU fishing in the Western Indian Ocean. Several coastal African countries are already members and FISH-i is another good example of coordination working at its best. FISH-i focuses on enforcement through use of detailed vessel data and satellite tracking.

In Cambodia, reports have indicated that illegal fishing is on the rise in its waters. Officials at the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said cases of illegal fishing continued to rise last year with approximately 4,000 cases reported and 181 going to court. This was an increase in 288 cases investigated from 2014 figures.

On the Island of Palau, a no take zone has been created in over 190,000 square miles where all export fishing is prohibited. Alongside this, the country has invested in a marine police division with 18 staff. This year will see plans for all tuna longliners to have observers onboard at all times implemented. Palau banned bottom trawling back in 2006 and created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 after banning commercial shark fishing.

But even the larger nations are finding the fight against illegal fishing tough too. The US National Marine Fisheries Service has recently proposed new plans that will help improve data on seafood that is imported into the US. The new traceability plan will be first applied to around 13 types of fish including crab, shrimp and cod. Importing companies will be required to record where the fish was caught, who it was caught by, when it was caught, what type of gear was used and where it was landed.

Pakistan has said that 600 Indian vessels a month enter its water a month to illegally fish and that alone poses a major threat to its marine resources. According to the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (MSA), some Indian fishermen travel up to 135 nautical miles from their coasts and enter Pakistani waters. The MSA said Indian fishermen also used banned fishing nets, resulting in depletion of young fish resource in Pakistani waters.  Muhammad Moazzam Khan, technical adviser at WWF-Pakistan said there was an excellent opportunity to further strengthen the knowledge and skills of law-enforcement agencies and to develop partnerships amongst them to effectively curb wildlife crimes.

Thailand is also desperately trying to bring its nation’s strategy against illegal fishing in-line with international standards. The Thailand Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has said that laws have been recently updated with a management plan for fisheries. This includes a new action plan for illegal fishing.

The FAO has also recently suggested a new set of technical guidelines for catch documentation schemes, a set of documents testifying to the legal origin of the catch, facilitating traceability of the product throughout the supply chain. This could become an important tool in curbing illegal fishing, a goal mandated by the United Nations General Assembly. As fish production, processing and consumption often takes place in different countries, international collaboration and harmonisation is critical to assure success in this effort, says the FAO.

A new UK-funded project is also underway that uses satellite radars to help track fishing vessels that turn off their transponder tracking devices to ‘go dark’. Developed by the Satellite Applications Catapult in the UK, coastguard vessels now use the satellite radars to target illegal fishing more effectively. The European Union is also considering the use of modern technology such as drones and space technology to help eliminate illegal fishing in EU waters. Last month, EU Fisheries Commissioner, Karmenu Vella said some stocks are on the verge of depletion. Mr Vella said fishing operations have used helicopters, under-water radars and other advanced technology to target fish while the authorities controlling them are using out-of-date technology. Mr Vella said he was ‘very hopeful’ advances in new technology would help. He said drones are being trialled currently that could tell not only exactly where vessels are, but whether they have their nets in the water.


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