Illegal fishing is depleting the seas and robbing poor nations in Africa and Asia of resources, but a lack of global cooperation is undermining efforts to track rogue vessels, an environmental group said yesterday.
The Pew Environment Group, a Washington-based think-tank, has found that a UN scheme to oblige ports to crack down on illegal fishing boats is handicapped by a lack of accurate information, implementation and participation, Reuters reports.
In the five years from 2004, of 176 vessels blacklisted by regional fishing authorities, only 55 turned up on port records, Pew said in a report it presented to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.
In some cases, ports were not checking ships’ identity, using the unique vessel number on their hulls. In others, ships had found ways of avoiding detection, such as changing their names, sometimes doing so mid-voyage before entering a region where enforcement was stricter.
Blacklisted vessels are, in theory, banned from landing fish at ports in the regions signed up to the scheme.
“We need to expand from a regional approach to a global approach so all ports are acting against villains, otherwise they just move to another part of the world,” said Stefano Flothmann, head of International Ocean Governance at Pew.
Pew estimates that a fifth of all fish landed come from illegal, unregulated or unreported vessels and this figure rises to around half for valuable species like blue fin tuna.
In some areas like West Africa and Southeast Asia, countries simply lack the resources to patrol their waters.
“For some countries, this represents a major loss of income and is having a direct impact on the development of these countries,” Flothmann said.
“In Somalia, a country which is totally incapable of enforcing anything in its waters, coastal fisheries have been devastated, turning fishermen into recruits for pirate gangs.”
Part of the problem that Asian countries which consume large quantities of fish such as China, South Korea and Taiwan, are not too scrupulous about where the catch comes from, Flothmann said.
Europe, however, was also not exempt from criticism: much of the fishing fleet from countries like Spain and Norway use flags of convenience to dodge fishing quotas, he said.
Pic: Fish market in Uganda