Fishing stocks in world oceans are currently diminishing mainly due to overfishing, pollution, and coastal degradation. Climate change accelerates these damages in some areas. According to the recent FAO report, 80 % of the global fish resources are totally exploited, 18% are moderately exploited and only the rest 2 % are stable. These figures terrify all of us because humankind needs more and more food to support ever-increasing population as we have been dependent on ocean resources very substantially since antiquity.
On top of that, the world oceans have been recently facing another type of human-induced threats: lllegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Illegal fishing takes place when fishing is operated against law, such as fishing in forbidden areas/seasons, catching protected species of high commercial value as well as undersized fish. Unreported fishing is the fishing unreported or wrongly reported to authorities. Unregulated fishing is normally the fishing with vessels without any nationality or belonging to a country which is not a party to regional fisheries agreement. Thus, IUU fishing combines all these three activities. IUU fishing occurs in both territorial and high seas, carried out by all types of fishing vessel and fishing gear, regardless of size, flag, origin and registration in the oceans and seas all over the world.
It is estimated that minimum 11 million tons of fish is illegally and unreportedly caught annually. This is worth minimum 10 billion USD worldwide. In the developing countries of West Africa, at least 40% of fish caught is illegal with the estimated cost around 1.2 billion USD.
According to CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) report, even around the Antarctic, which is a unique pristine marine ecosystem on the planet, IUU fishing has been spotted. Patagonian toothfish is illegally caught by some nations ignoring the fact that it is an important food for seals, whales, dolphins and many other living creatures. In the Black Sea, sturgeons have been both overexploited and poached mainly for their caviar. It is now forbidden to catch them anymore, although it is too late as so few of them left yet to survive in the Black Sea. Some other targeted fish species of IUU fishing are bluefin tuna and swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition, IUU fishing cause several threats in a manner of sustainability of fishing resources, conflicts between artisanal and industrial fisheries, damaging marine environment and causing also unfair competition, tax crime which leads to loss of revenues for states and more importantly loss of biological diversity in coastal and marine areas due to catch of non-target species such as sea birds, cetaceans, turtles and other non-commercial but ecological key species.
The main cause of this kind of fishing is due to weak governance framework, lack of trained staff and weak enforcement of laws, all of which IUU operators take advantage of, mainly in developing countries. Moreover, many crimes occur such as corrupting officials to issue license, to permit illegal landing of catches, to evade port state controls. While illegal fishing is against national laws or international obligations, the fight against such practices requires the engagement of state administrations, fisheries industries, NGOs and consumers.
Global seafood traceability and monitoring ‘from net to plates’ has also crucial importance to fight this threat and consumers should be made aware from where and how fish comes to their table. Even though the initiatives to combat IUU fishing have increased within the past 10 years, such effort is far from a success story yet. Nevertheless, UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolutions 67/79 and 68/71 highlighted that IUU fishing remains one of the greatest threats to fish stocks and marine ecosystems and continues to have serious and major implications for the conservation and management of ocean resources.
Moreover, the FAO’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing call all states to comply fully with all existing obligations to combat such fishing and urgently to take all necessary steps to implement them. This plan also includes monitoring and surveillance of fishing vessels with systems like Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) to detect illegal operations and fishing grounds. Besides, preparing a national action plan, including capacity building for local authorities, is homework for the states.
To raise public awareness on IUU fishing issues, General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean Sea (GFCM) and Ministerial Conference on Fisheries Cooperation Among African States Bordering the Atlantic Ocean (ATLAFCO), both under the FAO umbrella, initiated the declaration of an international day for fighting against IUU fishing. This initiative may be a chance for zero tolerance of the IUU fishing practices in the Mediterranean Basin and East African Seas and others.
Finally, international cooperation and concerted actions are needed to secure global food security since the world population is increasing and there will be more protein demands continuously. It’s time to fill all loopholes to remove operational barriers for effective regional/global cooperation in combatting fishery crimes. We have to act together against IUU fishing in all oceans and seas for sustainable use of marine resources, not to let future stolen for our children….