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Illegal fishing: one in six fish estimated to be caught illegally

Posted on 08/11/16 in News

Illegal fishing: one in six fish estimated to be caught illegally

By Heather Chinn

For every six tonnes of seafood taken from the oceans, at least one is caught illegally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns.

Such is the extent of overfishing and illegal fishing worldwide that the oceans are in crisis, according to an FAO report. 

More than 15 per cent of seafood caught every year are being fished illegally and up to 26 million tonnes are believed to be illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU), causing damage to fish stocks and local economies, and threatening local food supplies.

Marine fish stocks are also under intense pressure from legal fishing despite various attempts to conserve and revive fisheries worldwide.

From 1974 to 2013 the share of global commercial fish stocks assessed as being biologically sustainable - that is, fished within levels allowing them to regenerate - plummeted from 90 per cent to 68.6 per cent, the FAO's “State of the World’s Fisheries 2016” report found.

By 2013, the latest year for which comprehensive figures are available, 31.4 per cent of commercial fish stocks were being overfished, that is fished to the point where they cannot recover if present catch rates continue.

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Fully fished stocks, where no increase in catches can be permitted if they are to remain biologically sustainable, accounted for for 58.1 per cent of commercial stocks.

Just 10.5 per cent of global commercial stocks are assessed as being under-fished, leaving very little room for expansion in the marine fishing industry across the globe.

The plight of fish stocks in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is particularly acute and the FAO describing their condition as “alarming”.

Catches in the two regions have dropped by one third since 2007, mainly because of reduced landings of anchovies and sardines, but with most species affected.

The Northwest Pacific was the most productive area for catches by 2014, followed by the Western Central Pacific, the Northeast Atlantic and the Eastern Indian Ocean. Apart from the Northeast Atlantic, catches have increased compared with the average for the decade 2003–2012.

Globally 93.4 million tonnes of fish are believed to have been caught in the wild in 2014 with marine stocks accounting for 81.5 million tonnes of the total.

In the same year the top 25 biggest marine fish producing countries together accounted for over 82 per cent of marine catches.

The top marine fish producer in 2014 was China, which caught more than 14 million tonnes, followed by Indonesia, the USA , the Russian Federation and Japan.

The biggest European producer of 2014, lying 10th in the table, was Norway with over two million tonnes. Spain came in at number 18, with over one million tonnes. Iceland, at number 19, also accounted for over one million tonnes, and the UK was in 23rd place with over 750,000 tonnes.

Photo: A diver releasing fish caught in an illegal trap off the coast of Israel. Credit: Ofir Avny/Marine Photobank