Networked solutions to a common problem: illegal fishing
The rise of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a complex and growing global challenge affecting business, the environment and national security. According to a 2015 World Wildlife Fund marine life has declined approximately 50 % over the past 50 years. As fish consumption increases worldwide, global fish stocks are reaching crisis levels. The impacts of IUU fishing affect everyone, but particularly negatively affect coastal communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa. IUU fishing undermines responsible fishing efforts and is linked to forced labor, human trafficking, food insecurity and arms and drug trafficking. IUU fishing can take many forms, from small vessels entering the waters of neighboring countries or misreporting their catches, to the coordinated efforts of transnational organized crime groups. Managing and addressing this problem requires greater cooperation between regions. Some common approaches to collective action on IUU fishing include: (1) legislation and compliance, (2) international cooperation, (3) traceability and transparency, and (4) capacity building and support.
The IUU fishing has been changing over the last decade. First, is the issue of geopolitics. Several studies have found that Chinese companies are a significant contributor to IUU fishing. IUU fishing is also carried out in North America, Latin America and Europe. Second, there is growing recognition that IUU fishing involves not only captains and their vessels but also company executives, public officials, lawyers, accountants, and other administrative professionals. Third, there has been increased awareness in the West. For example, a 2021 survey commissioned by Oceana found that 75 % of Americans want to know more about the fish they eat and 89 % want all seafood caught to meet USA standards. Fourth, advancements in traceability technologies and transparency are exerting increased pressure on decision-makers, companies, and law enforcement.
IUU fishing has a particularly negative impact in Latin America, Asia and Africa. It is linked to forced labor, human trafficking, food insecurity and arms and drug trafficking
Several new technologies have the potential to better manage or even disrupt IUU fishing. Many organizations have been exploring and implementing artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies and data analytics to combat IUU fishing. For example, blockchain technology has been used to enable secure and transparent transaction records. Drones and satellites are also used to monitor IUU fishing, with the former providing a low-cost option and the latter helping to improve surveillance and enforcement by tracking vessel movements and detecting potential illegal fishing activities. With all this large amount of data being recorded and collected, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms are used to analyze large volumes of data. Other new technologies include DNA barcoding techniques that are used to identify species to verify the accuracy of seafood labeling and prevent mislabeling of fish caught through IUU fishing.
Given the growing concern about IUU fishing, significant initiatives have been implemented in Europe, North America and Latin America. The United States has a strong interest in combating IUU fishing. It is the world’s largest market and the fifth largest exporter of fish and fishery products, and the third largest exporter of wild seafood products. Combating illegal fishing has bipartisan support in the United States and is viewed as a source of competition with China and Russia. In 2020, the US Coast Guard named IUU fishing as the top threat to maritime homeland security. Congress included initiatives to prevent illegal fishing and forced labor in the fishing and seafood sector and granted additional tools to the government to detect illegally caught seafood in its annual National Defense Authorization Act of 2022.
Canada also has implemented several initiatives to address IUU fishing, such as the Fisheries Act and the Fisheries Observer Program, which contribute to enforcement against IUU fishing.
Cooperation is essential to combat IUU fishing and the regional agreements aim to strengthen cooperation to respond to the threat posed by IUU fishing
Cooperation is essential to combat IUU fishing and the regional agreements aim to strengthen cooperation to respond to the threat posed by IUU fishing. For Latin America, IUU fishing is of great concern due to the region’s vast marine resources and the impact IUU fishing has on local economies and ecosystems, as well as the connections it has with other illicit activities. Many Latin American countries participate in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) that work to establish conservation and management measures.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union (EU) has also implemented several initiatives to address IUU fishing within its member states and beyond. In 2008, the EU implemented a comprehensive legal framework known as the IUU Regulation that establishes measures to deter IUU fishing activities. The regulation’s measures include vessel traceability, catch documentation and control and inspection procedures for imported seafood products.
The issue of IUU fishing is rising on the global agenda partly because of the great power competition and partly because an increasing number of fish stocks are reaching their limits
EU initiatives have informed and helped shape the policies of its members, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal. These three countries also cooperate actively in a number of RFMOs such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.
The issue of IUU fishing is rising on the global agenda partly because of the great power competition and partly because an increasing number of fish stocks are reaching their limits. The response to IUU fishing is undergoing a technological revolution that is driving greater transparency and traceability. There are not enough coast guard vessels in the world to fully police the vast oceans; rather, IUU fishing requires networked solutions and multi-stakeholder partnerships.