It is interesting to ponder how little attention the world pays to the oceans. This other 71% of the planet is all too often ignored. I wonder if perhaps it is because we have such poor terms to talk about the ocean’s bounty.
So here’s food for thought. Consider our major protein categories and what species they comprise:
Chicken encompasses just 1 species: Gallus gallus domesticus
Pork encompasses just 1 species: Sus domesticus
What about seafood? This one term typically encompasses the 50-100 species most of us eat in the west…but there are in fact 15,000 species of edible aquatic animals.
Given the number and variety of seafood species, it seems to me we should all stop using this general term ‘seafood’ and start talking about these foods in far more precise language. If we borrow from The Sea Around Us Project (SAUP), we might better break down seafood into 10 commercial groups including flatfish, anchovies, crustaceans, and cod-likes (see here).
Here’s the next installment in this illegal fishing news round up.
1. Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry (KKP) patrol boats arrested four Vietnamese vessels and 37 people allegedly engaged in illegal fishing in the waters of the Natuna islands in the South China Sea, it was revealed on Thursday. (Source)
It’s nice to see reported how illegal fishing is a global problem. Typically it’s Africa that gets most of the attention.
2. The President of Somalia said that the government will stand up for its people and demand that the international community formally recognize its territorial waters under international maritime law, and helps Somalia to protect them, so that highly lucrative fish and oil and gas assets can begin to generate revenues for the country and the people. (Source)
Interestingly, the President suggests forming Somali Coast Guard. It is believed that some of the pirate groups originally formed out of unofficial coast guard units to protect fishermen. This history is nicely explored by in a Democracy Now video piece in April 2009 available here. Also interesting is that contrary to my mental image of a desolate country, there is a functioning national fishing company in Somalia catching groupers, snappers, king fish, swordfish, tuna, and lobster…all apparently for export.
3. Australia: A DUBBO man described as one of the worst illegal fishing offenders in western NSW has received a seven-month jail sentence. (Source)
I like this article as it shows how good old police work can protect fisheries. The illegal fisher was caught through a police surveillance operation. Further, the police used the opportunity to point out to local residents “to contact the Fish Watch phoneline on 1800 043 536 or lodge a report online” if they suspect illegal fishing.
4. Sri Lanka: The Coast Guard ship stationed in Sri Lanka’s Northern region had a new task given to its crew two days earlier. Following a tip received from a local fishing boat, the crew waited for “intruders” to engage in illegal fishing. One after another, the fishermen entered the Sri Lankan waters to grab fish in abundance. Assisted by the Sri Lanka Navy, the Coast Guard craft – CG 42 – surrounded 26 people who were fishing in Sri Lankan territorial waters amid strong warnings. The Coast Guard charged the 26 suspected of fishing illegally in early April and handed them over to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. (Source)
Another great example of good old fashioned police work. It shows the importance of getting tips from fishermen, the real ‘eyes on the water’. Also a great example of what information sharing with your neighbors (India) and building capacity with experts (U.S.) can do for your coast guard.
5. European Union: Sri Lanka has been able to get the adversary announcement issued by the European Union to the local fishing industry over the allegation of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU) by Sri Lankan fishermen in international waters, removed, state-run radio reported. (Source)
As suggested in #4, Sri Lanka is stepping up its game on illegal fishing. Seems it was enough to satisfy the European Commission.
1. Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) members are failing to control fishing fleets and prevent illegal fishing and need to impose stricter controls to protect tuna stocks, Greenpeace International said on Friday. (Source)
No great surprise there. The key recommendation from Greenpeace is to ban all transshipments at sea. Greenpeace followed this up with a report on the poor data available on tuna fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean.
1. An Overview of Illegal Fishing by Peter Neill of World Ocean Observatory. (Source)
Good quote on the framing of the problem in W. Africa:
In almost every discussion of illegal, unregulated fishing, enforcement has always seemed the insurmountable issue — the lack of police personnel, customs inspection, forensic and financial expertise, cross-border sharing of information, prosecutorial commitment, and surveillance and arrest capacity on the open ocean and in the off-loading ports and harbors to manage and combat illegal activity that is demonstrably out of control.
Yet Neill suggests the problem is really about just catching a small group of criminals:
This is an effort long overdue. In conversations with fishermen, government officials, and policy-makers, amplified by news reports and UN distress at the level of unregulated fishing worldwide, I have become convinced that the problem, as evidenced by the circumstances described, has at its core a very small group of individuals who through ownership of fishing companies, vessels, inter-locking directorates, foreign flag registration, political influence, and assuredly bribes and pay-offs as a cost of doing business are responsible for the majority of this illegal activity. I make no specific allegation here, but even the simplest investigative effort on the Internet begins to reveal contracts, relationships, corporate structures, and offshore registrations, frequent ownership/management changes, corporate hiring of former regulators, and other behaviors, surely all legal in the overt appearance of things, that suggest a level of manipulation and control that aggregates the power and return from international commercial fishing to an ever-decreasing circle of players. A forensic investigation of these arrangements, at the level of legal and accounting analysis available only to an international law enforcement agency such as INTERPOL, would be a tremendous step forward in understanding how the system works and thus suggesting specific targets for further discovery, surveillance, indictment, prosecution, and trial for those responsible.
This highlights the on-going debate about what is the nature of the illegal fishing problem. Is most of the damage caused by a handful of large-scale bad operators or a huge number of fishermen just cheating a little bit.
2. A new report from conservation group Oceana is blaming widespread seafood fraud on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing practices. The report, released this week, is titled Stolen Seafood: The Impact of Pirate Fishing on Our Oceans. In announcing the report, Margot Stiles, Oceana’s campaign director and senior scientist likened the effects of IUU fishing on ocean life to the effects of the illegal ivory trade on the world’s elephant population. (Source)
See here for the report. Interestingly, Oceana shows it subscribes to the ‘bad apple’ theory of illegal fishing just like Neill in #1. That is, that most of the damage is a result of just a small number of illegal actors. Increasingly, however, I think that the small amounts of cheating by ordinary fishermen is being neglected and may matter far more in the long-run. Here’s a quote from the Oceana report:
The majority of seafood businesses legally catch and sell fish. However, according to Tony Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, “there is a small but significant group of habitual offenders who deliberately and regularly flout the regulations.”
3. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told fishermen this week that so-called “pirate” fishing is not just bad for fish stocks, but bad for legitimate fishermen’s financial health. (Source)
“It is disappointing and frustrating when critics of strong fisheries management claim that U.S. policies put them at a competitive disadvantage in the international seafood market,” Schorr said. “The answer is not to lower U.S. standards, but to deny market access to the pirate fishers who operate outside the law.”
There is no widely accepted definition of fisheries management. According to Cochrane and Garcia (2009), the FAO’s Technical Guidelines (1997) offer a working definition that attempts to summarise the practice or task of fisheries management:
“The integrated process of information gathering, analysis, planning, consultation, decision-making, allocation of resources and formulation and implementation, with enforcement as necessary, of regulations or rules which govern fisheries activities in order to ensure the continued productivity of the resources and the accomplishment of other activities.”
The above working definition carries with it assumptions and biases about what ‘good’ fisheries management should include, i.e., the inputs to the process. The MSC standard, however, is often referred to as an outcome standard, meaning the focus is about assessing what works to produce sustainable outcomes for species and ecosystems. So, to maintain consistency with MSC’s approach, fisheries management is defined as: the framework or system of laws, policies, strategies, rules, measures, practices or customs that combine to determine how humans may use or extract the living resources of aquatic ecosystems.
Here’s an excerpt from a report that describes an effort by an ICES working group to find the ideal fishing gear. It comes from “Best Practices for Managing, Measuring and Mitigating the Benthic Impacts of Fishing”, a report prepared for the Marine Stewardship Council.
I think the examination of gears’ strengths and weakenesses is quite important, though fishery specific factors will always play a key role in enhancing or mitigating them. Thus, a useful exercise but context still maters a lot. (Just see my last post for food for thought.)
I highly recommend readers take a look at Figures 5 and 6. They are good visualizations of the strong relationship between environmental sustainability and catch controllability – defined largely by catch selectivity – and the weak relationship between enviromental sustainability and operational functionality, which is more important for the safety and income of the fishing operation. (At last! The challenge of getting fishermen to accept sustainable fishing practices is revealed! j/k)
Given the amount of text, I will not format the text to show it as quoted text. It appears after the break. All bolding is my own.
One approach to conduct a qualitative assessment of different gears types with the aim of identifying “responsible fishing methods”, with respect to a number of “ideal gear properties” has been defined by the ICES Working Group on Fishing Technology and Fish Behaviour (ICES, 2006a). A range of capture methods were considered, including: beam trawling, bottom trawling, Danish (Scottish) seining, diving, dredging, drift nets, gillnets, jigging, long-lines, pelagic trawling, pole and line, purse seining, pots, trammel nets and traps.
The ideal gear properties were considered to be definitive of three key areas of impact, with respect to “responsible fishing”, and were grouped accordingly: Controllability of Catch, Environmental Sustainability and Operational Functionality (Table 2). Each capture method was scored with respect to each “ideal property” and then a simple index (index = mean score) was defined, with respect to each of the key impact areas (Table 3). To visualize the relationship between the three impact areas, for different capture methods, the indices were plotted in Figure 5, Figure 6 and Figure 7.
Please note, none of the indices described account for the relative catch efficiency (i.e. catch per unit effort) of the different capture methods. This omission is deliberate and was necessary for the following reasons. The catch efficiency of a particular capture method is fishery specific; i.e. it is highly dependent on the target species, location of the fishery, prevailing environment conditions, among other factors. Furthermore, it was generally accepted that most commercial fisheries will have evolved to use the most efficient capture method available to them. Therefore, most “alternatives” are likely to be less efficient than the current capture method. So, it was not practical, nor particularly informative, to assign an efficiency score in this qualitative overview.
It has to be stressed that this exercise is a generic approach, too general for evaluating specific fisheries.
In general, it was the opinion of the ICES Topic Group members that no single capture method could be described as “an ideal gear”. Different fisheries and management strategies will of course prioritize each of the “ideal gear properties” differently and will therefore have different requirements of a responsible fishing method. But when considering each of the properties equally, three capture methods were prominent as potentially responsible techniques:
- Diving – This technique was considered to be the most environmentally sustainable method, with the greatest control of the catch. However, its application in a commercial fishery is very restricted. It is a highly specialised technique that is limited by working depth (<50m using air), which would make it almost impossible to apply to most commercial fisheries.
- Pole and line – This technique also scored highly for environmental sustainability and catch control. Moreover, along with jigging, it was thought to have the greatest operational functionality: having low investment costs, usable in most habitats and relatively user safe. However as a practical capture method, it is generally limited to larger, and mostly predatory, fish species (which of itself is potentially damaging to large, less fecund species).
- Pots – This technique was also considered to have a minimal impact upon the environment; apart from the potential for ghost fishing, which can be mitigated for with inbuilt bio-degradability of pots and gear recovery schemes. The moderate score for catch controllability was primarily due to the poor size selectivity of current gears, which again could be improved with minor design changes. However, in terms of application as an alternative gear pots score highly. They can be used relatively safely in most habitats, with only moderate investment in terms of gear costs and training.
Finally, the scores given here are the consensus opinion of the members of the ICES WGFTFB Topic Group on Alternative Fishing Gears. As such, the results of this exercise should not be considered definitive, but a useful tool for considering those properties that may be important with respect to the ideal responsible fishing method. Moreover, this approach, with a wider and more thorough application with respect to input “opinions”, could prove to be a useful management tool when considering the introduction of “alternative” capture methods to commercial fisheries.
I’ve noticed that a number of countries have moved to reduce or have already greatly reduced shrimp trawling in their waters in recent years.
Here’s a list I put together of all the countries with trawling bans and the years of implementation:
- Ecuador. 2012.
- Belize, 2011.
- Hong Kong, 2011.
- Venezuela, 2009.
- Palau, 2006.
- Gulf of Castellammare (NW Sicily, Mediterranean Sea), 1990.
- Indonesia, 1980.
This appears to be a growing trend judging by the uptick in bans in recent years and current demands for trawl bans elsewhere (e.g. Costa Rica). Anyone have other countries to add to this list? Or other countries where bans are being considered?
FYI, I think trawling is often environmentally unsustainable, but I don’t think ‘trawling’ is synonymous with unsustainable fishing. For instance, two tropical shrimp trawl fisheries have received MSC certification: Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery and Suriname’s Atlantic Seabob Fishery.
First, it’s worth sharing comments from a colleague that was involved in the negotiations. This person shared that the guidelines are meant to summarize what countries are already supposed to be doing. It does not create new obligations, but can be considered to add-value to the fight against illegal fishing because it is user-friendly and puts all existing obligations in one place.
I revised the document to see if there are any bits of international law I wasn’t aware of. It seems that perhaps there was a new obligation made after all, though surely it won’t be well observed:
56. States should report to FAO on progress with the implementation of these Guidelines and on the outcome of performance assessments conducted, whether self-assessments or external assessments, as part of their biennial reporting to FAO on the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. These reports should be published by FAO in a timely manner.
As for the existing obligations, I figured I wasn’t aware of all the obligations and I was quite right. Here’s what caught my eye.
Flag states are to avoid registration of likely offenders:
13. The flag State avoids registration of vessels with a history of non-compliance as appropriate, except where:
(a) the ownership of the vessel has subsequently changed and the new owner has provided sufficient evidence demonstrating that the previous owner or operator has no further legal, beneficial or financial interest in, or control of, the vessel; or
(b) having taken into account all relevant facts, the flag State determines that flagging the vessel would not result in IUU fishing or fishing related activities in support of such fishing.
Flag states are responsible for clearly communicating international law to vessel owners:
34. The flag State effectively implements conservation and management measures, including the following:
(a) the flag State ensures that the obligations incumbent upon the fishing vessel owners, operators and crews are clearly accessible and communicated to them;
(b) the flag State provides guidance to the fishing sector to meet these obligations; and
(c) the flag State effectively manages the fisheries activities of the vessels flying its flag in a manner that ensures the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources.
Flag states are not to engage in fisheries access agreements unless they believe that the fishing does not undermine sustainability. Interesting considering so few stocks in West Africa are assessed:
40. The flag State should only enter into fisheries access agreements with a coastal State when both are satisfied that such activities will not undermine the sustainability of living marine resources within the jurisdiction of the coastal State. The flag State should also be ready to cooperate with the coastal State in that regard.