March 3, 2006

Pirate trawlers face crackdown to aid fish stocks

PARIS (Reuters) - Pirate trawlers will be tracked by a new
database as part of a planned crackdown on illegal fish catches
worth $9.5 billion a year that are adding to strains on global
stocks, an international report said on Friday.

The so-called High Seas Task Force, comprising six
governments and three conservation organizations, also urged
tighter rules for trawlers, better monitoring of marine stocks
and improved international cooperation to catch pirates.

"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is now a
planet-wide scourge," the World Conservation Union said in a
statement about the report, issued in Paris.

"The only ones to profit from illegal, unreported and
unregulated fishing are the owners of the fishing fleets who
remain hidden behind veils of corporate secrecy," said Achim
Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union.

A new database -- the Global Information System on High
Seas Fishing Vessels -- would help identify pirate trawlers as
a step toward limiting exploitation of already depleted world
fish stocks, it said.

The task force comprised fisheries ministers of Britain,
Canada, Australia, Chile, Namibia and New Zealand along with
the World Conservation Union, the WWF environmental group and
the Earth Institute.

It estimated that illegal catches were worth up to $9.5
billion a year, or about 14 percent of the global marine catch
in 2001. It said 25 percent of fish stocks were over-exploited,
depleted or recovering from depletion.

A big loophole used by about 15 percent of major fishing
fleets worldwide is to register vessels under a "flag of
convenience," a country that does not enforce international
maritime law strictly, the report said.

Deep-sea fisheries in 75 percent of the high seas,
including most shark and squid fisheries, are unregulated since
they fall outside national fishing limits.

The task force came up with a nine-point plan, to be
implemented immediately by participating governments, including
the new database and aid to regional fisheries organizations
"to detect, apprehend and sanction" pirate trawlers.

Among threats, it said that fishing fleets often dragged
nets along the seabed, damaging coral reefs, seamounts and
sponge beds.

It said populations of two deep-sea fish -- the onion eye
and the round-nose grenadier -- in the northwest Atlantic had
crashed by 93.3 percent and 99.6 percent over the past 26