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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Fight the pirates - an appeal for action against the global fish robbers
Armed and masked, scouring the oceans, stealing food from hungry families modern day pirates are a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood movies. But they are a multi billion-dollar reality for many communities that can least afford to be robbed.
From the islands of the South Pacific, to the coastal communities of West Africa, the pirate fishermen, who then claim their profits in European and Asian ports, are netting millions of dollars in much-needed income.
The United Nations estimates that Somalia loses $300 million a year to the pirates; Guinea loses $100 million. Globally more than $4 billion is lost each year and estimates in the Pacific range from $134 million to $400 million. This is up to 400 per cent more than Pacific Island states earn in access fees and licenses.
As it is, the financial return from access fees and licences to the Pacific region is a mere 5 per cent of the $2 billion the fish is worth on the retail market. The bulk of the returns, both from legally and illegally caught fish, go to distant fishing nations like China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the US and the EU.
Pirate fishing officially known by its more technical and less colourful name: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the scourge of the oceans. The fisheries sector is important for many African, Caribbean and Pacific countries whose economies tend to be fragile because of their small size and remote geographical location.
Apart form being a means of advancing economic well-being through both commercial and subsistence fisheries, it is an important source of employment and income generation for coastal populations and for women.
It is also vital for food security, providing an important source of protein for local populations.
Pirate fishing, on the other hand, leaves communities without much-needed food and income and the marine environment smashed and empty. Nations that are economically dependent on their fisheries will of course be the first to be ruined. Pirate fishing impacts most heavily on Pacific Island states that see none of the profits and receive no tax income, yet pay the costs through a diminished resource and lost potential catches.
It is disturbingly easy to become a fishing pirate and even easier to evade capture.
The skull and cross bones pennant they proudly fly easily identifies fictitious pirates. In contrast, real-life pirates hide their identity and origin, ignore or break the rules and often sail the flags of countries that ask no questions about the manner and scale of their fishing.
Just with the click of a computer mouse, for as little as $500 and sometimes in just 24 hours, flags can be bought over the internet from countries such as Malta, Panama, Belize, Honduras and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In 2001 Greenpeace estimated there were at least 1,300 industrial-scale pirate fishing ships at sea.
Far from policing the rogue traders, governments around the world do little to check their activities or what is landed in their own ports. The pirate booty is often illegally transferred to factory ships known as reefers mixed with legally caught stocks and then knowingly landed and sold in legitimate ports like Las Palmas and Port Moresby.
There is barely any scrutiny and pirate fishing fleets use these ports without restrictions to maintain their destructive activities. The countries that are the victims of this wholesale robbery are usually those that are least able to enforce the laws in their own waters: frequently they can barely afford to keep their few policing boats afloat. They simply cannot compete with the big industry thieves.
Massive exclusive economic zones, like those of Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia and French Polynesia, make monitoring and law enforcement even more difficult.
While they may operate in a murky world of corruption, pirate vessels, their owners and operators are not impossible to track down. Around 80 different countries play host to them including the European Union and Taiwan, Panama, Belize and Honduras.
International enforcement could shut down this trade, giving income and food back to those who have earned it. But little is done.
Repeated demands by environmental and justice groups to effectively outlaw pirate fishing have fallen on deaf ears. Despite the various international commitments and plans of action approved in the last few years to fight pirate fishing, the activity of these illegal ships has increased in the region.
And it is not only an issue of theft. Environmental destruction goes hand in hand with pirate fishing. Because they operate, quite literally, off the radar of any enforcement, the fishing techniques they use are destroying ocean life.
Tuna stocks around Tanzania, Somalia, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu are targeted each year with giant nets that scoop up entire shoals, including the young fish vital for breeding and future stock growth. Those that wont make a cash killing in the market, but could still provide food and income for others, are thrown back dead.
The pirates fishing activities compound the global environmental damage from destructive fisheries. Worldwide, legal and illegal vessels kill hundreds of thousands of other species as they fish.
Their ships use long-lines - fishing lines over 100 km long, baited with thousands of hooks lined up in a row and pulled behind the boat. Anything that sees the bait as food is caught other fish, whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and the albatrosses that dive for it and are drowned, caught on the hooks. Every year 40,000 turtles die in this way, and hundreds of thousands of seabirds.
Many of these species are being pushed to the brink of extinction simply because of this needlessly reckless practice.
Another lucrative catch is shrimp. But the true cost of shrimp trawling goes well beyond its market value. Fine mesh nets are dragged along the bottom of the sea, leaving nothing behind. One film of shrimp trawling shows fishermen filling a few small boxes with the target catch and shovelling tonnes of unwanted fish and sea life known as by-catch back over the side.
Pirate fishing can be stopped. Governments can outlaw flags of convenience and refuse entry to fishing and supply vessels. It is a matter of political will to deliver the kind of enforcement that is needed to protect the environment and the communities that depend upon them.
Making Piracy History - a six point plan
1. Ports must refuse to launder pirate fish or service pirate fishing boats if they cant land their catch or service their boats then the whole dirty business falls apart.
2. All supermarkets, fish markets and fishmongers need to be able to prove they are not handling stolen goods, by being able to trace the history of the fish they sell. Suppliers who cannot should not be allowed to sell the fish on to consumers.
3. Fishing boats should be controlled through electronic surveillance and governments must take responsibility for the activities of their boats. The authorities must immediately share information to stop pirate catches getting into the market.
4. Often illegal boats never come into port and instead trans-ship their fish at sea: if this practice was made illegal it would be harder for pirates to move their illegal catches around the globe.
5. Some boats and companies are caught time and again breaking the rules. These boats should be named on a single, publicly available list so all nations are able to refuse them services or prevent them from landing their catches.
6. International aid and assistance should be given to developing nations to protect their rich fishing grounds from the pirate fleets. As fishing grounds in the Northern hemisphere have been fished out, fishing boats have moved further South, into the waters of poorer countries that are not equipped to fully protect their fisheries.
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Impacts/Development, communities and livelihoods
Impacts/Environment, biodiversity and fish stocks
Issues/Flag state issues
Issues/Monitoring, control and surveillance
Oceania/Papua New Guinea
East Asia/South Korea