Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing for short) is one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of fishing, marine ecosystems, marine biodiversity, and human food security. Although international bodies and the UN regard illegal fishing as an environmental crime and the European Union has adopted a regulation to combat IUU fishing the problem has not been fully resolved because there are still gaps and loopholes.
Illegal, undocumented and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, has many facets. In deep-sea fishing, it is understood to mean all types of commercial fishing carried out without the necessary licence, in which the fishing quota authorised under the fishing licence is exceeded, or in which the quantities caught are not, not completely or incorrectly documented. However, it is also considered to be IUU fishing if a fishing vessel fishes in territorial waters of other nations without permission, or if it violates the fishing laws of that country, for example by ignoring fishing times and protected areas. The territorial waters of some West African countries, for example, are among the preferred fishing areas for pirate fishing. In none of these countries is there a strong fisheries control authority, so that the pirate vessels are not in much danger of being caught.
Higher profits through industrial and culinary usage
With the exception of trout, dorade and a few other fish species that are traditionally prepared on the bone, fillets or loins are today the order of the day where enjoyment of fish is concerned. But that doesn’t mean that processing waste and other remains that are often overlooked are worthless: indeed, they often contain valuable ingredients and – if these are processed and prepared correctly – they can definitely find interested buyers. Many of these fish parts are edible and some of them are even considered delicacies in certain regions of the world.
Preferences when it comes to taste are often contradictory and not easy to understand. Dietary preferences have undergone changes in the course of history. What might in one place be seen as waste can somewhere else be considered a culinary delight. In our part of the world no one would think of eating fish entrails, and even the dark strips of meat from the muscle along the lateral line of the fillet are frequently removed. At the same time a lot of these supposedly sensitive fish eaters enjoy eating slimy oysters without considering that they are swallowing a living animal complete with intestine, gills and other guts. What we know, use and appreciate as food is not only regulated by laws and requirements (for the purpose of food safety, for example) but is also influenced by traditions, culture or religion. That explains why by-products like skin, liver, roe and other internal organs are rarely seen on our plates although they are at least just as nutritious as the fillets. Even tolerant people will perhaps turn up their noses at frogs’ legs, scorpions, locusts or insects that are eaten as delicacies in other parts of the world. Our ancestors were much more robust with regard to their food. One only has to think of snipe that was roasted and eaten whole complete with its innards and bowel contents and was seen as the peak of culinary enjoyment. Today this rather dubious pleasure is forbidden in the EU for reasons of hygiene. An unnecessary taboo since most Europeans would probably be quite happy to do without it… With the exception perhaps of some obstinate Italians who in spite of the ban still can’t do without their “merdocchio”.
A number of institutions are involved in deciding how much fish can be harvested from the sea
Fishing quotas have an immediate impact on the players in the fisheries sector and the release of the numbers is closely watched by all concerned. The route by which raw data is converted into the precise figures that are published as fishing quotas is long, with inputs from several institutions, and gives an idea of the enormous significance attached to these numbers.
Fish, individually or in swarms, can usually be found in places offering them the best for their lives: where they find food, where it is safe to reproduce and survive as species. Such preferences, together with environmental conditions, may vary from year to year, and hence the number of fish coming together may vary as well. Fishermen know where to find the fish and are familiar with annual fluctuations. Fishing grounds, when seen as fish habitats, do not feature national borders, whereas fishing vessels carry the flags of their home ports. Fish stocks which are international by nature thus have national owners when turned into catches. The subsets of these fishable stocks allocated to and harvested by sovereign states are called fishing quotas.
Sustainability is a term which has rapidly become an integral part of our everyday vocabulary. Once something of a fringe concept, it is now a fundamental consideration in almost everything we do. Ultimately, this stems from an ever-increasing understanding that the natural resources we consume are far from inexhaustible. Essentially, if we don’t modify our consumption to allow these resources to replenish themselves, then they will simply disappear.
Speakers at the North Atlantic Seafood Conferences widely acknowledged that many of the drivers moulding the reform of the EU’s Common Fishery Policy (CFP) have come from outside the fisheries sector. Celebrity chefs, NGOs, and the press have clearly spoken against discards, and retailers have been flexing their muscles as they demand that their suppliers prove that their seafood comes from sustainable fisheries.
Up to now, violation of regulations within the fisheries sector was punished differently by the individual EU member states. Something that was seen as a minor offence in one country could bring with it tough penalties in another. With the new fisheries control regulation which has been in force since 1 January 2010 the EU created an instrument for protecting fish resources better, fighting unfair competition, and thereby securing the future existence of honest fishermen.
Originally conceived as a one-time fisheries buy-out to reduce fishing pressure, the California Central Coast Groundfish project in the United States has evolved into a long-term fisheries ‘buy-in’ for an environmental organisation that has invested considerable funds, time, and staff to help struggling fishermen and local communities while simultaneously improving a fishery and habitat. The project story presented here provides insights for possible engagement strategies in Europe.
Is a glass half full or half empty? That depends on the individual’s point of view and what he or she chooses to emphasise. Data on fisheries faces the same issue – it can be read in different ways depending on who is doing the reading.
The negotiations between the EU and Norway on the one hand and Iceland and the Faroes on the other hand over the fishing of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic are deadlocked. An agreement on the allocation of the fishing quotas is not in sight. This unacceptable situation is a risk to the sustainability of the mackerel fishery and presents to the world an example which could hardly be worse. Despite years of negotiations, civilised European states still haven’t managed to solve a fisheries conflict to the satisfaction of both parties.
Fisheries management is evolving and there is growing awareness that resource users should be more involved in decision-making and should supply information about resource status if fisheries management is to become sustainable.