Unsustainable Seafood: A New Crackdown on Illegal Fishing
When people talk about illegal trafficking in wildlife, the glistening merchandise laid out on crushed ice in the supermarket seafood counter—from salmon to king crab—probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But 90 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, and according to a new study in the journal Marine Policy, as much as one-third of that is caught illegally or without proper documentation.
The technical term is IUU fishing, for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. But such improbable allies as Greenpeace and Republican members of the U.S. Senate now refer to it as “pirate fishing.” And it ensnares seafood companies, supermarkets and consumers alike in a trade that is arguably as problematic as trafficking in elephant tusks, rhino horns and tiger bones.
Among the egregious violations, according to the study: up to 40 percent of tuna imported to the U.S. from Thailand is illegal or unreported, followed by up to 45 percent of pollock imports from China, and 70 percent of salmon imports. (Both species are likely to have been caught in Russian waters, but transshipped at sea and processed in China.) Wild-caught shrimp from Mexico, Indonesia and Ecuador are also more likely to be illegal, and some illegal wild-caught shrimp may be disguised as farmed shrimp.
In recent months, government agencies and international maritime regulators have begun taking counter-measures to stop the illegal trade. Late last month, the European Union (EU) banned the importation of fish from Belize, Cambodia and Guinea, alleging that those nations either sold flags of convenience—registrations having nothing to do with the location of the actual owners—or otherwise failed to cooperate in efforts to stop illegal fishing. The EU also issued “yellow card” warnings to Curaçao, Ghana and South Korea.
The U.S., which has lagged behind Europe on the illegal imports issue, also acted early this month, with the U.S. Senate approving four treaties aimed at limiting illegal fish imports. The most important of them was the “port state measures” agreement, under which 11 coastal nations have committed to keep foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing out of their ports. That treaty still requires approval by 14 other countries, meaning it will be several years before it takes effect.
Finally, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in December approved a requirement that every fishing vessel of 100 tons or larger have an identifying number, like the vehicle identification number on a car. Freighters already have IMO numbers, which stay with them from the laying of the keel to the scrapyard. Extending that system to fishing vessels will make it harder to disguise an illegal catch by simply swapping a vessel around to different companies or different flags of convenience, says Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. It will also close a loophole that has made it convenient to use fishing vessels in drug deals, gun running and other criminal activities.
Long characterizes the permanent identifying number and the closing of ports to certain vessels as two of the three major steps needed to reduce the illegal trade. But the third step—creating a worldwide vessel monitoring system to track where and when vessels are fishing—will be more challenging.
Vessel monitoring systems (or VMS) already exist in some fisheries, says Long, but “global VMS would be a significant step forward.” Most ships already have Automated Information Systems, which give out critical data to nearby ships like name, course and speed. But fishing vessels sometimes turn them off when working in illegal waters. Transshipping an illegal catch at sea to other vessels is also a common strategy, to disguise it as legal. A global system using satellites would make that sort of cheating harder to disguise.
“Now all the effort goes into chasing the bad guys,” says Long. “You spend 80 or 90 percent of your time trying to get the 10 or 20 percent who are misbehaving. We want a system where people who follow the legal standards, and haven’t transshipped at sea, can do business smoothly. It’s all about transparency.” On the other hand, if a non-complying vessel “comes in with its hold full of fish, and it gets turned away form port after port, it costs them money. It’s all about reversing the burden.”
The ultimate goal, says Long, “is to put in place a system where retailers can say what boat caught what fish and where. It’s impossible today, but it’s not impossible.” His group is now working on “traceability” with supermarket chains, including Metro Group. He also hopes to enlist bankers and insurance companies in ensuring that the vessels they finance or insure are not engaged in pirate fishing.
In the absence of ocean-to-dinner plate accountability, the study in Marine Policy about pervasive illegality in the imported seafood market adds a new layer of confusion for seafood consumers. Numerous studies using DNA barcoding have already demonstrated that seafood being sold in the U.S. commonly does not come from the species on the label—with rockfish often substituted for red snapper, or mako shark for swordfish. Concern about the disappearance of cod and other once-common species has also recently led many consumers to tailor their purchases according to sustainability ratings, like the ones from the Marine Stewardship Council or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But the Marine Policy study makes it apparent that fish varieties we thought were sustainably caught may in fact be contraband.
All this matters, of course, mainly because of the likely effect on the fisheries themselves. About 85 percent of all commercial fisheries are now being exploited up to or beyond their biological limits, according to Tony J. Pitcher, a fisheries researcher at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the new study. Not being able to account for illegal fishing, much less stop it, makes it impossible to figure out what a sustainable legal catch should be. Beyond that, illegal fishing vessels tend to flout limitations on the type of gear, the fishing methods, or the locations where they work, often resulting in a major death toll for dolphins, turtles, sharks and other bycatch.
For instance, small skiffs operating gill nets to catch shrimp off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula are, according to the new study, “the leading cause of death for the vaquita, a small porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California that is widely cited as the most endangered mammal in the world with a population of only around 200 individuals.”
The illegal trade can also have dire consequences for law-abiding fishermen. In 2012, for instance, the illegal harvest of king crab from Russia not only outweighed the entire catch from Alaska, but U.S. fishermen complained that it drove down their prices by 25 percent. So far in this century, that single Russian fishery has cost U.S. fishermen an estimated $560 million. Experts have put the global cost of illegal fishing at $10-$23.5 billion a year.
The heavy participation of informants in the new study in Marine Policy suggests that the fishing industry may be ready for increased transparency. “There were a surprising number of people within the industry who were uncomfortable about being involved in illegal trade,” says Pitcher. That’s partly out of concern for the future of fisheries.
“The retailers all have the same problem,” said lead author Pramod Ganapathiraju. “They say, ‘I’m getting 20,000 tons of snapper from Indonesia. I’m not sure what I’ll get five, or 10 or 20 years down the line because there are so many countries fishing there and so little control of illegal fishing. But I don’t have any alternative place to get those fish.’”
Ganapathiraju says consumers can play a major role by asking retailers to display the country of origin for the seafood they sell, and by inquiring about whether the retailer can document the legality of the catch. In the U.S., buying from domestic, or even local, suppliers is also helpful, since U.S. fisheries are managed more sustainably than in most other countries.
“You know the vessel doing the catching, or it’s easily traceable. It’s more like a farmers market.”
Finally, he says, the U.S. government needs to increase its workforce for monitoring seafood imports at major ports. Seafood arriving by shipping container deserves special scrutiny, because dealers often use legal imports to disguise illegal ones in the same container. Importers and retailers will become more careful about the origin of the seafood they sell, says Ganapathiraju, as the likelihood increases that they will be caught and held liable for breaking the law, knowingly or otherwise.
In 2011, for instance, federal agents raided a leading seafood company in Seattle and seized 112 tons of king crab illegally harvested in Russia. Though it did not admit guilt, Harbor Seafood ultimately forfeited $2.75 million for its role in the transaction. In another case, the U.S. actually sent proprietors of a Georgia-based fishing business to jail in 2004 for illegally harvesting South African rock lobster over a 14-year-period. Last year, after a decade of appeals in that case, a U.S. judge for the first time ordered the payment of restitution to a foreign government. The culprits, who have fled the country, now face a $29 million payment to the government of South Africa.
That kind of enforcement could ultimately make the open seas seem far less open, and pirate fishing the modern-day equivalent of a hanging offense.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- Sixth North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead Prompts Concern ... ›
- Lobster Industry Ensnared in North Atlantic Right Whale Deaths ... ›
- First North Atlantic Right Whale Calf of the Season Spotted off ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Heather Houser
Compost. Fly less. Reduce your meat consumption. Say no to plastic. These imperatives are familiar ones in the repertoire of individual actions to reduce a person's environmental impact. Don't have kids, or maybe just one. This climate action appears less frequently in that repertoire, but it's gaining currency as climate catastrophes mount. One study has shown that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from having one fewer child in the United States is 20 times higher—yes 2000% greater—than the impact of lifestyle changes like those listed above.
The Stickiness of Population<p>Only five years ago, there was minimal coverage of the child-free for climate movement. AOC is just one of many reasons it's lighting up now. New scientific analyses, scholarly debates, and social media conversations have shined a light on reproduction and climate. The influential <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/" target="_blank">Project Drawdown</a> framework for climate mitigation includes a list of solutions ranked by their potential impact, two of which—educating girls and providing access to family planning—they project will have <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions" target="_blank">a greater combined impact</a> on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than almost all other climate solutions because of their effect on fertility rates.</p><p>In January 2020, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/1/8/5610806" target="_blank">11,000 scientists signed onto a study that warned</a> about the unfolding climate emergency. The authors prescribe steps in six sectors that can prevent irreversible planetary collapse, including that "the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity." The framework they propose includes universal access to family planning as well as education and equity for young women. (Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410465111" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific takes</a> on population-based climate actions are more skeptical about their immediate impact given the scale of fertility reductions needed to balance out longer lifespans.)</p><p>Even before 2020, a new movement was afoot to address climate by forgoing reproduction. Blythe Pepino, a British musician in her 30s, formed BirthStrike in 2018 to build a community of people—typically women-identified—who have opted not to reproduce in response to the ecological and social crises that climate change is creating. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the group recognized the need to acknowledge the oppression that colors conversations about reproduction as it relates to climate and so reformed itself into a support group for those grieving parenthood. Their new stated goal is to channel that loss into action on climate justice.</p><p>Organizations such as <a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conceivable Future</a>, however, continue to keep reproduction at the fore. Led by climate activists Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli, Conceivable Future is raising awareness about how the climate crisis affects "<a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intimate choices</a>" like reproduction. The Conceivable Future and now-defunct BirthStrike campaigns share ideological terrain with "<a href="https://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/479349760/should-we-be-having-kids-in-the-age-of-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">population engineers</a>," a group of bioethicists who <a href="https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201642430" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forward policies for</a> limiting the size of the global population through positive incentives like family planning classes and negative ones such as taxes on wealthy procreators. </p><p>In proposing specific policies rather than individual action, population engineers acknowledge the structures within which reproductive choices occur, everything from media influence to the tax code. Even with this shift to the structural, however, the racist, sexist, colonialist, and nativist legacies of the population question within environmentalism still plague child-free for climate. As do the historical and social injustices that constrain so-called choices.</p>
Racism and Xenophobia in Environmentalism<p>This summer and fall, the climate crisis and its correlated catastrophes—<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/14/a-third-of-bangladesh-underwater-after-heavy-rains-floods/" target="_blank">flooding</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/wildfires" target="_blank">wildfires</a>—are intensifying alongside Black Lives Matter uprisings and the <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2020/06/09/coronavirus-public-health-social-justice/" target="_blank">coronavirus health disparities</a> among Black, Indigenous, and Latinx populations. This confluence has brought overdue attention to racism in environmentalism, as evidenced by the Audubon Society's recent <a href="http://audubon.org/magazine/fall-2020/revealing-past-create-future" target="_blank">reckoning</a> with racial injustices in its past and present, including <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-myth-john-james-audubon" target="_blank">publicizing</a> that its famed founder was a White supremacist and a slaveholder. The intersections of <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/09/23/election-black-voters-climate/" target="_blank">climate justice and racial justice</a> have also come to the fore through <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/climate/heat-minority-school-performance.html" target="_blank">studies of how Black communities are greatly harmed by hotter temperatures</a> and through the popular <a href="https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/" target="_blank">intersectional environmentalist</a> platform created by Leah Thomas, a young Black activist and "<a href="https://www.greengirlleah.com/about-1" target="_blank">eco-communicator</a>." To these reckonings we need to add the racism and xenophobia that have long characterized environmentally motivated population controls.</p><p>The New York Times recently exposed these sins in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/us/anti-immigration-cordelia-scaife-may.html/" target="_blank">a profile of Cordelia Scaife May</a>, showing how this heir to the Mellon fortune converted a love of birding into a network of anti-immigration, pro-population-control organizations that still influence politics today. In the 1960s May linked threatened birdlife to the rapidly expanding human population. May wasn't wrong to see and worry over this link: A host of human activities—from <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/popular-pesticides-linked-drops-bird-population-180951971/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">toxic agriculture and industry</a> to <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0050157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sprawling settlements</a> and <a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555949789/light-pollution-can-impact-noctural-bird-migration" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light</a> and <a href="https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/birds-live-near-human-noise-sing-louder-shorter-songs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">noise pollution</a>—decimate avian habitats and habits. May's anti-immigration approach, however, indicates how readily environmentalism can mutate into racist and xenophobic actions.</p><p>The Times investigators show that "protecting natural habitats and helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies merged over time into a single goal of preserving the environment by discouraging offspring altogether." Taken on its own, this goal resonates with Conceivable Future's and population engineers' aims. To be clear, this does not mean that today's child-free climate advocates are racist nativists. However, it does indicate how readily the affiliation arises because of the ugly history of forced population control.</p>
Contemporary Examples<p>And this history is hardly past. For example, race and class conflicts erupted around a population platform within the Sierra Club only 15 years ago. In 2004, a faction of club members took a page from May and argued that more people living in the U.S. meant more encroachment on less developed land and water. As with May's effort, this anti-immigration push amounted to "the greening of hate," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, who entered the dispute when they found White supremacists lobbying for anti-immigration Sierra Club board candidates. A 2010 <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/20100630/greenwash-nativists-environmentalism-and-hypocrisy-hate" target="_blank">SPLC report</a> firms up the connection between environmentalist intentions and racist agendas by explaining why White nationalist John Tanton infiltrated the club: "Using an organization perceived by the public as part of the liberal left would insulate nativists from charges of racism—charges that … would likely otherwise stick."</p><p>Charges of racism ultimately did stick to Tanton and his anti-immigration, pro-population-control allies. And they continue to stick in analyses of the child-free for climate movement today. Earlier this year, climate journalist Meehan Crist <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/meehan-crist/is-it-ok-to-have-a-child" target="_blank">took up</a> AOC's question of whether it's OK to have a child. In arriving at an answer (for her, yes), she affiliates child-free positions with "anti-feminist, racist and anti-human" values and with bad science. "Darker visions" proceed from this analysis, she writes, visions of those who believe "racial purity will save the planet. Closed borders. . . . Ecofascist death squads." The dark visions Crist spins from the child-free for climate question underscore how readily calls for reproductive limits touch the third rails of modern environmentalism: racism, eugenics, xenophobia, even death-dealing.</p><p>We get even closer to these third rails when we consider that the question of whether to reproduce is, for some people, no choice at all. Modern efforts to limit fertility, which ramped up after World War II, have targeted poor women in the Global South, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the U.S. using coercion and force. BIPOC reproductive justice advocates such as Loretta Ross have condemned dichotomous pro-abortion-rights versus anti-abortion politics for producing "<a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Radical_Reproductive_Justice/hN-4DgAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=loretta%20ross%20radical%20reproductive&pg=PT8&printsec=frontcover&bsq=anemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anemic political analyses</a>" that ignore the reality of forced sterilizations in prisons and the appallingly high maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. These are all forms of what medical historian and ethicist Harriet Washington calls "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WCS1Rs8K8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">medical apartheid</a>."</p>
- 7 Billion People Crowding Out Imperiled Animals and Plants ... ›
- David Attenborough: 'Population Growth Must Come to an End ... ›
- For Many Reporters Covering Climate, Population Remains the ... ›
By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
- Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Are at Their Highest in 23 ... ›
- Russia Unveils Plan to 'Use the Advantages' of Climate Change ... ›
- Arctic Sea Ice Melting by 2035 Is Possible, Study Finds ›
By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
- Climate Change Threatens Two-Thirds of North American Bird ... ›
- 37% of North American Birds Face Extinction - EcoWatch ›
- Meet Five 'Extinct' Species That Have Returned to Life - EcoWatch ›
The world's largest financial institutions loaned more than $2.6 trillion in 2019 to sectors driving the climate crisis and wildlife destruction, according to a new report from advocacy organization portfolio.earth.
- Climate Crisis May Cause the Next Financial Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- World's Banks Have Given $2.7 Trillion to Fossil Fuels Since Paris ... ›
- World's Biggest Banks Are Driving Climate Change, Pumping ... ›