EJF investigations reveal that the fish is handled and packed in extremely unhygienic conditions
At a time when world fish stocks are under unprecedented pressure, pirate fishing operations are stealing from our seas and oceans.
'Pirate' - or Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) - fishing undermines attempts at sustainable fisheries management. It causes massive damage to the marine environment and jeopardises the food security and livelihoods of poor coastal communities in developing countries.
Globally pirate fishing accounts for US$10-23.5 billion a year, representing between 11 and 26 million tons of fish.
Pirate fishing is driven by the enormous global demand for seafood, and threatens the future of world fisheries. The impacts are social, economic and environmental, and in many cases IUU operators specifically target poor countries.
Investigations by the EJF, a UK based charity and advocacy organisation, have demonstrated the direct links between pirate fishing in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, the illegal operators, and the Asian and European seafood markets - the largest in the world.
This month they published a damning new report, ‘Dirty Fish',which demonstrates that EU regulations are failing to protect consumer health while simultaneously streamlining the arrival of illegal 'pirate' fish into the EU market.
Sierra Leone is desperately vulnerable to pirate fishing as a result of recent civil war which resulted in the deaths of 50,000 people, a struggling economy and dependency on fish.
Foreign illegal fishing vessels are stealing around US$29 million of fish from Sierra Leone each year.
The 'Dirty Fish' report documents the findings from 14 months of EJF investigations, in which pirate fishing vessels have been tracked and boarded to obtain film, photographs and other first-hand evidence.
They found that many South Korean and Chinese pirate fishing vessels, which dominate the pirate fishery in West Africa, carry import numbers designated by the European Commission, specifically the Food and Veterinary Office of the Directorate-General of Health and Consumers (DG Sanco). The DG Sanco number infers that the vessel has met supposedly strict EU hygiene standards, and is therefore allowed to export fish to the EU.
However, EJF's work reveals that the fish is frequently handled and packed in extremely unhygienic conditions.
In addition, companies with one vessel with a DG Sanco number can have other illegal vessels that 'launder' their fish through the numbered vessel.
in 2008 EJF documented vessels fishing illegally in Sierra Leone; all identified vessels are listed by DG Sanco, and many have a history of IUU fishing.
The use of DG Sanco numbers by pirate fishing vessels in West Africa is believed to be widespread, making consumers vulnerable to unhygienic food and facilitating IUU fishing.
Destructive, damaging and dangerous
'Dirty fish' is much more than a threat to the health of European fish eaters. It causes extensive damage to marine environments and puts further pressure on the world's already over-exploited fish stocks. Pirate vessels employ destructive fishing methods that destroy seabed habitats and results in high levels of bycatch - up to 75% of the total. EJF has documented how the pirate fishermen simply dump this load of dead and dying marine life overboard.
Those who feel the sting of pirate fishing most directly are local artisanal fishermen. Fishing is a vital source of income for the Sierra Leonan men and women, and fish is a crucial component of food security, contributing 80% of the total animal protein to the country. The report reveals that pirate fishing vessels operate in direct competition with local artisanal fishermen by stealing fish and appear to deliberately run over the nets and boats of local fishermen causing catastrophic damage, injuries and even death.
‘Pirate fishing is driven by a growing unsustainable global demand for seafood, and now threatens the future of world fisheries,' EJF Executive Director, Steve Trent said today: ‘The EU has a clear responsibility to act on this problem now, create a joined up system of regulation and make sure pirate fish does not enter the market.'
Go to the EJF website where you can:
• Find out more about how EJF are campaigning to end illegal fishing
• Sign the EJF ‘End Pirate Fishing' online petition
• Write an online letter that you can send through their website to DG Sanco demanding that something is done.
• Donate money to the campaign
Laura Sevier is the Ecologist’s Green Living Editor.