The report, written by researchers at the University of British Columbia and to be published in Marine Policy magazine, puts the value of the catch from illegal, unregulated and underreported (IUU) fishing at between $1 billion and $2 billion annually, or between 15% and 26% of the total value of wild-caught imports.
Vessels classified as participating in IUU fishing are designated as such because they regularly ignore domestic and international fishing laws, fish in areas closed or restricted to commercial fishing, target endangered and at-risk species, and use illegal gear.
“This study unfortunately confirms what we have long suspected–that seafood from pirate fishing is getting into our markets,” said Beckie Zisser of the environmental group Oceana, which has been documenting issues of fraud and illegal fishing in the seafood industry. “Illegal fishing undercuts honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules, and the U.S. should not be incentivizing pirate fishers by creating a legal market for their products.”
The best way to rid the market of pirate-caught fish is to institute a system of traceability that tracks each fish from the time it is caught until the time it is sold, she said. “Before seafood crosses our borders and enters our markets, it needs to have documentation that verifies that it was legally caught, and that the fish traveled a transparent path from the fishing vessel to our dinner plates,” Ms. Zisser said.
The National Fisheries Institute, which in 2007 created the Better Seafood Board to combat fish fraud, said while it supports efforts to fight pirate fishing, it has serious doubts about the numbers reported in this study.”We find this report, however, a bit skewed. To begin by proposing that 10% to 20% of domestic seafood comes from IUU fishing suggests the author’s other conclusions may be suspect,” an NFI spokesman said. “Experts who know fisheries management would not accept the suggestion that as much as 20% of the U.S. catch is IUU.”