Giving the Hook to Illegal Fishing

In this Wednesday, July 8, 2015 photo, herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine. New England fishermen are
In this Wednesday, July 8, 2015 photo, herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine. New England fishermen are catching staggering amounts of herring, signaling the rebounding of a fishery that collapsed in the early 2000s. But some conservationists and rival fishermen say the fishery, which is important for both food and bait for tuna and lobsters, is wiping out other fisheries with its massive pelagic trawlers. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

For retailers, preventing illegal fishing is about much more than simply keeping certain seafood products from ending up on our supermarket shelves. The impact of unlawful, and ultimately unsustainable, fishing practices goes much deeper, with potentially severe consequences for our oceans and the communities that depend on them.

Illegal fishing and unsustainable fishing practices are leading to the depletion of fish stocks in some corners of the globe, with direct consequences for coastal towns and villages for which fishing is the lifeblood of the local economy, providing employment and incomes. In addition, crew members aboard fishing vessels that operate outside of the law have no protection, which can lead to them becoming victims of human-rights abuses. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to cost the global economy somewhere in the region of between US$10 billion and US$23.5 billion per year. When we consider the challenge of feeding a rapidly expanding world population (expected to reach nine billion by 2050), the food-security dimension to this problem also becomes apparent.

The need for global action to combat IUU fishing was recognized by the UN General Assembly working group that put together the Sustainable Development Goals last year. One of those goals highlights the need to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development by 2020," by "effectively regulating harvesting, and ending overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other destructive fishing practices."

As retailers, we want our consumers to enjoy seafood products from around the world -- but not at any price. For this reason, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its members are working proactively to ensure sustainable practices in their seafood supply chains. Tackling IUU fishing is a key element of this. In 2015, the BRC, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) developed a free guidance document offering advice on practical actions to prevent illegally-caught fishery products from entering supply chains in the United Kingdom. British retailers are using their expertise to influence global sourcing for the benefit of all, and the BRC is strongly encouraging seafood companies abroad to adopt these principles.

Preventing illegal fishing won't, however, be achieved by one country or industry alone. Coordinated action at national, European and international levels is critical. At European level, this was recognized in 2008 with the introduction of the European Union's Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Regulation. This aims to ensure that only legally caught seafood products that comply with strict rules are sold in the European Union. Exclusion from the EU is a harsh penalty for any country's fishing industry, because it is the world's largest market for fish and fishery products.

However, more needs to be done and the overall responsibility for tackling illegal practices ultimately must lie with governments. Retailers' efforts need to be supported by more government action at a national and international level, through a number of measures including:
  • A global record of fishing vessels using International Maritime Organization numbers as unique vessel identifiers;
  • A system of monitoring, control and surveillance enforced across flag, coastal, port and processing states;
  • Promoting the use of risk-based analysis;
  • Encouraging states to ratify and implement the Port State Measures Agreement;
  • Promoting information-sharing between port states, flag states, coastal states, market states and other actors; and,
  • Standardizing and improving port controls to reduce the risk of illegal-fisheries products entering their markets

While the EU's IUU regulation has been a major step forward in the fight to reduce illegal fishing, the practice will only be effectively eradicated if all governments across the world work together as we have outlined above. The greater the collaboration between all players concerned, the lower the risk of IUU fish products getting into supply chains and ultimately onto our supermarket shelves.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 14.

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