Illegal fishing degrades the environment

Rows of shark fins on display (© Fiscalia General del Ecuador/AP Images)
Police in Manta, Ecuador, seized approximately 200,000 shark fins that were to be exported illegally to Asia. (© Fiscalia General del Ecuador/AP Images)

Around the world, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing not only destroys local economies but also the environment.

“IUU and unsustainable fishing affects us right here in the Western Hemisphere,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Jon Piechowski said on October 9. “It threatens economic security, undermines coastal states’ sovereignty, degrades the environment, and weakens the global rules-based order.”

As more and more of the world’s population relies on fish as a source of protein, it is vitally important to regulate and abide by local and national fishing regulations, says the State Department.

A fishing fleet of more than 250 vessels has engaged in suspicious activity off the coast of South America since July. There are concerns that these ships may have overfished around Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Left: Aerial view of fishing boat. Right: Person in darkened room looking at radar screen (© Santiago Arcos/Reuters)
Left photo: A fishing boat in an international corridor near the Galápagos Islands’ exclusive economic zone August 7. Right photo: An Ecuadorian Navy officer looks at radar after a fishing fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged ships was detected in an international corridor that borders the Galápagos Islands’ exclusive economic zone August 7. (© Santiago Arcos/Reuters)

Most of these ships are from the People’s Republic of China. IUU fishers are not only devastating the livelihoods of local fishers but also endangering the health and sustainability of ocean resources and marine fauna, said Piechowski.

IUU fishing undermines science-based conservation of ecosystems. When catch is unreported, local fishery managers cannot fully account for fish mortality in their exclusive economic zone, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2020 Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook.

The results of unreported fishing, then, “place undue strain on important fish stocks” and can disrupt the ecological balance, the Outlook explains. This means if too many fish are taken out of the ocean or sea without fishery managers’ knowledge, then nations are unable to regulate and adapt to their fisheries’ conservation efforts and fish stocks could be permanently depleted.

Further damage to the environment occurs through the gear used by IUU fishers.

“Illegal fishing methods and gear used by IUU fishing perpetrators can also destroy habitats and result in excessive and wasteful bycatch,” the Outlook says. “These practices destroy not only the resource today, but also its ability to be sustainably harvested for years and decades to come.”

Combatting IUU fishing and encouraging countries to work together on sustainable fishing practices is all the more important to conserving the environment, says the State Department.

“The United States, as a matter of policy, is calling upon all of our partners around the globe to combat IUU fishing,” said David Hogan of the State Department on October 9, “and to urge the People’s Republic of China to adhere to international norms and to stop any illegal and illicit practices worldwide.”