March 3, 2006
Pirate Trawlers Face Crackdown on Overfishing
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, a 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.
Canada, saying it hoped "pressure and embarrassment" would force transgressors to comply with the new recommendations, threatened to take unilateral action against what it said was rampant illegal fishing in the high seas off its east coast.
"Our time frame is short, we are running out of patience ... we have the responsibility to make sure that our stocks are protected," Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn told reporters from Paris.
The report 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 years.