Illegal fishing is plundering Arctic waters

Posted: 15 April 2008

Alaska pollock, a species increasingly being promoted in the UK as an alternative to overfished cod, is at threat from illegal fishing, marine scientists report. While progress is being made in tackling illegal fishing for Atlantic cod in the Arctic, huge number of illegal landings of both Atlantic cod and Alaska pollock are continuing to make their way to international markets.

Giles Bartlett, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF-UK, which published the report, says: "Pervasive and highly profitable illegal fishing of Alaska pollock and Atlantic cod in the Arctic is threatening the health of these globally important ecosystems."

The conservaton organisation, which was already concerned about the ability of Arctic fish to cope with climate change, sees illegal fishing as an added stress that can reduce the capacity of fish populations to adapt and survive. UK is importing significant quantities of cod and pollock from the Arctic, due to depleted cod stocks in European waters. About 70 per cent of the world's white fish supply comes from the Arctic, with the world's last large cod stock found in the BarentsSea. According to Norwegian government figures, more than 100,000 tonnes of illegal cod, valued at €225 million (£180 million), was caught in theBarents Sea in 2005. Efforts by industry, government and environmental groups to clamp down on this illegal activity has seenillegal landings cut by 50 per cent, but illegal fishing for Alaska Pollock in the Russian Far-East remains a problem.

While investigation into illegal fishing in the Russian Far-East is less exhaustive than in the Barents Sea, the new report shows that in the Sea of Okhotsk alone, illegal landings of Alaska pollock can reach a value of more than €45 million (£36 million) annually. The economic loss to the legitimate fishing industry and public purse is estimated at €210 million (£168 million).

Global problem

"Illegal fishing in the Arctic is a serious international crime crossing European, African, Asian and American borders." said Dr NeilHamilton, Director of WWF International's Arctic Programme. "Cheats are putting short-term profits ahead of the long-term survival of Arcticfisheries."

Barents Sea cod is taken mainly by Norwegian, Russian and EU fishermen, while the bulk of the Alaska Pollock catch, fished mainly in the Western Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, is taken by Russian fleets with China the largest buyer. With markets spread across the globe, the distribution of black market cod and Pollock is a global problem.

WWF is alarmed that several EU member states are opposing the current European Commission proposal to address illegal fishing.

"We urge all EU countries to support the commission's proposal to deal with illegal fishing, and appeal to processors, retailers andconsumers to not support criminality in fishing," said Giles Bartlett, "Companies should not trade with vessels known to fish illegally, and consumers should demand the seafood they buy comes from a certified, sustainable, legal source, such as Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)Alaska Pollack and Pacific cod."

The report 'Illegal Fishing in Arctic Waters' can be found at http://www.panda.org/arctic.