As the High Seas Task Force proposed a global database to track down illegal fishing vessels as one of nine initiatives to close the net on modern day pirate fishers, Greenpeace revealed that European governments are turning a blind eye to unregulated fishing vessels flying European flags.
If governments are serious about tackling IUU fishing, they must address high seas bottom trawling now. Illegal fish catches are worth up to $9.5 billion a year, or about 14 percent of the global marine catch based on figures available for 2001. The High Seas Task Force report released on 3 March 2006, aims to catalyse global action against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Task Force partners will begin implementing a set of nine initiatives that include new guidelines for regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) to fight IUU fishing and sustainably manage ocean resources. (1) “Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is now a planet-wide scourge that undermines sustainable fisheries, exacerbates damage to marine habitats and species, and threatens the livelihoods of responsible fishers and communities dependent on fishing”, said the World Conservation Union (IUCN), one of three conservation organizations and six nations (Australia, Canada, Chile Namibia, New Zealand, and the UK) comprising the Task Force. (2) Up to 30 percent of IUU fishing occurs beyond national jurisdiction. In 75% of the high seas, deep sea fisheries, as well as most shark and squid fisheries, are totally unregulated – no management organisations are in place to control these activities. Long-lived sharks and deep sea fishes are being caught at an unsustainable rate, and fragile corals reefs, seamounts and sponge beds are at risk from destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling. So far, deep sea fisheries have proven extremely unsustainable: on average, they have peaked after five years and collapsed after 15 years. Populations of two deep sea fish – the onion eye and the round-nose grenadier– caught in the northwest Atlantic have crashed by 93.3 percent and 99.6 percent over the past 26 years. Both now qualify for listing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A Greenpeace report launched immediately prior to that of the High Seas Task Force shows that bottom trawling on the high seas is largely unregulated (the second U in IUU) and often illegal. And it’s being fuelled by European interests, in spite of the fact that only a few weeks ago the EU called for strong precautionary measures to protect high seas biodiversity at a United Nations working group on biodiversity. “European interests are fuelling what is recognised as one of the greatest threats to marine life: unregulated high seas bottom trawling” said Greenpeace oceans campaigner, Sari Tolvanen, of Greenpeace. According to the Greenpeace report, only a few hundred ships are responsible for devastating huge areas of the world’s oceans, with 60% of these vessels flagged to EU Member States, principally Spain, Denmark and France. ‘Murky Waters: hauling in the net on Europe’s high seas bottom trawling fleet’ documents the destructive activities of high seas bottom trawlers observed fishing in the North Atlantic by Greenpeace in 2004 and 2005. Several of the vessels had been cited breaking the few rules that do exist in these fisheries, yet all continued to fish. All of the vessels observed were either owned by European nationals or fly the flags of European states. The reports come on the heels of a United Nations working group on biodiversity that identified IUU fishing and destructive fishing practices as the two most significant and immediate threats to ocean life beyond national jurisdiction. However, four of the six governments comprising the task force have been actively blocking progress towards a United Nations moratorium on high seas bottom trawling. “The unregulated bottom trawlers exposed in the Greenpeace Report are just one facet of a broader picture of destruction spanning all of the world’s oceans. All of it leads back to the failure of governments to act effectively to regulate illegal fishing,” said Tolvanen of Greenpeace. “Words are fine, but action is better,” said Remi Parmentier, political advisor to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition who attended the HSTF meeting in Paris. “The EU, the High Seas Task Force and world governments must now put their money where their mouths are and immediately announce that they will support the proposed United Nations General Assembly moratorium on high seas bottom trawling.”