New drive to stop destructive fishing

Posted: 7 March 2006

A global database to track down illegal fishing vessels and a new set of guidelines for regional fisheries management to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are among key proposals announced today by the High Seas Task Force.

The Task Force, made up of fisheries ministers from six nations and three conservation organisations, hopes to expose the owners of the fishing fleets who remain hidden behind veils of corporate secrecy. "The new Global Information System on High Seas Fishing Vessels will help identify them and reduce the severe overexploitation of fish stocks," said Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) at the launch.

Smashed and dead cold-water coralfragments in a trawling ground onthe Norwegian continental shelf.© Institute of Marine Research, Norway
Smashed and dead cold-water coralfragments in a trawling ground onthe Norwegian continental shelf.© Institute of Marine Research, Norway
Smashed and dead cold-water coral fragments in a trawling ground on the Norwegian continental shelf.© Institute of Marine Research, Norway.
IUCN says illegal and unreported fishing is now a planet-wide scourge that undermines sustainable fisheries, exacerbates damage to marine habitats and species, and threatens the livelihoods of responsible fishers and communities dependent on fishing.

Over half of the global fish stocks are already fully exploited, and 25 per cent are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. "This leaves little room for expansion and no margin for error," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the Union's Global Marine Programme.

Pirate fishers

The worldwide catch of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is worth up to US$9.5 billion, according to a High Seas Task Force study. Such catches make up about 14 per cent of the value of marine catch globally, based on figures available for 2001. Up to 30 per cent of illegal fishing occurs beyond national jurisdiction, where there are fewer controls.

The Task Force report reveals the ploys used by pirate fishers and loopholes in current enforcement systems that enable them to escape detection and sanction. One of these loopholes, used by roughly 15 per cent of large-scale fishing fleets globally, is registering under a flag of convenience - a flag of a country that does not enforce international maritime law strictly.

Green turtle in seagrass
Green turtle in seagrass
The seagrass beds in the Gulf are home to the World's second largest group of endangered dugong and significant populations of herbivorous green turtles.© Alex Stewart/UNEP
The report identifies nine practical initiatives to close the net on these modern-day pirates. Partners to the talks will start implementing them immediately. The aim is to understand better how unregulated fishing is impacting target fish stocks and other marine species; to encourage an improved network of regional fisheries management organisations; and to help national authorities detect, apprehend and sanction those involved in pirate fishing.

The High Sea Task Force report comes on the heels of a major UN-backed meeting two weeks ago that identified illegal and unreported fishing and destructive fishing practices as the two most significant and immediate threats to ocean life beyond national jurisdiction.

In 75 per cent of the high seas, deep sea fisheries are totally unregulated. No management organisations are in place to control these activities. Long-lived sharks and deep sea fishes are being caught at an unsustainable rate, and fragile corals reefs, seamounts and sponge beds are in peril from bottom trawling.

Near extinction

Populations of two deep sea fish - the onion eye and the round-nose grenadier- caught in the northwest Atlantic have crashed by 93 per cent and 99 percent over the past 26 years. Both now qualify for listing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. So far, deep sea fisheries have proven extremely unsustainable: on average, they have peaked after five years and collapsed after 15 years.

Illegal long-line fishing is harming sea turtles and killing some 300,000 sea birds every year. The Tasks Force wants a complete network of effective regional management oranisations to tackle these problems.

"The World Conservation Union cannot allow current high seas fishing to foreclose opportunities for sustainable and equitable use of ocean resources. Closing the net on IUU [illegal and unregulated] fishing is essential, and the Union will spotlight irresponsible operators so that they abandon their illicit activities," said Achim Steiner.

Source:IUCN

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