The tendency to treat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) as a minor regulatory violation often obscures the true nature of the dynamics at play. Most notably, a broad failure to note is that the systematic nature of IUU fishing means that its security dimensions are under- appreciated, highlighted in a recent paper produced by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), London titled ‘Below the Surface: How Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Threatens our security’.*
Successive FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture reports tell an alarming tale of declining fish-stocks and collapsing marine and coastal ecosystems. The FAO reports that in 2013 90% of global fish-stocks were over-fished or fully fished – to say nothing of the knock-on ecological consequences of these declines.
IUU fishing is now recognised as one of the primary drivers of this over-exploitation, lying at the heart of today’s fisheries management crisis. By its nature, IUU activity contravenes laws and regulations, many designed expressly to reduce the environmental impact of global fishing.
Greenpeace, among others, paints a vivid picture of the collapse of China’s domestic fishing-grounds due to over-fishing, the use of destructive fishing methods, and a fisheries management system unequipped to respond. Over decades, fishing many times over maximum sustainable yields and the use of bottom-trawlers have caused extensive damage to deep-sea habitats. This has led to the disappearance of some of the most valuable commercially exploited species in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea – the last of these now commonly known as the ‘empty sea’.
The human security impact of the depletion of fish stocks on which communities rely are multiple. One of the greatest concerns relates to food security: in 2013, fish accounted for as much as 17% of the global population’s intake of animal protein.
Fish constitutes a particularly crucial food source in developing countries, most notably densely populated and small-island developing states. Fish contribute at least 50% of total animal protein intake in states such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
The FAO estimates that fisheries account for 2.7% of GDP in Madagascar, 3.7% in Mozambique and as much as 6.6% in Zanzibar, when factoring in gross value-added from fishing, aquaculture, post-harvest and licensing for local fleets. In these countries, the economic losses from IUU fishing contribute substantially to already vast unrecorded money flows escaping them in growing volumes.
In its organised criminal form, the threat from IUU fishing is comparable to that posed by other transnational organised crime types, about which a great deal more has been written in general. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of all forms of organised crime, large-scale IUU fishing included, is the danger they pose to effective state functioning as national economies are undercut and as associated corruption eats away at state institutions.
* ‘Below the Surface: How Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Threatens our security’: written by Cathy Haenlein, RUSI Research Fellow and Marjan Centre Research Associate.
Please click here to download the full paper: