Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fishy Conflicts

Boutros Boutros Ghali famously stated that water would spark World War Three. But perhaps he should have mentioned fish as well. Greater attention must be paid to the role foreign fishing companies play in destabilizing the developing world.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing deprives developing countries of much needed funds; not only from revenue lost from the catch, but also, losses in employment, landing fees, fishing license fees and taxes. It is estimated that as much as $23.5 billion are lost each year to IUU fishing.

A well-managed fishing industry has the potential to provide sustainable economic growth. For example, New Zealand successfully and sustainably developed the sector and now takes in four-billion-dollars a year.

In theory, Africa's waters should be protected by international law. The "International Law of the Sea 1982" states that the two-hundred mile zone of a country's coast line is protected. However, many of the African victims to IUU fishing - Western Sahara, Eritrea, Somalia, and Liberia - do not have the capacity to patrol their seaways, and enforce this law. Furthermore, even if these countries did have the means to monitor their coast, the fishing corporations are incredibly adept at disguising their actions. Tactics include switching cargo from vessel to vessel, manipulating the flag system for disguise, and manipulating licenses and paperwork.

Somalia illustrates the consequences of IUU fishing. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, seven-hundred illegal foreign fishing vessels operate off the coast of Somalia. Illegal, over-fishing depletes stocks, destroying traditional fisherfolk livelihoods. Somali small-scale fisherfolk cannot compete with the commercial trawlers and controversial fishing techniques (explosives, cyanide etc) used by the foreign firms. Consequently, 90,000 jobs were lost from the fishing industry in Somalia. Unemployment is major force in driving conflicts. Somalia's problems are heightened because the corrupt government accepts bribes from foreign fishing companies. In addition, foreign companies bribe the Somali government to allow them to dump toxic waste in their waters. Italian ships are reported to travel to Somali waters, dump toxic waste and then return to Italy with hoards of illegally caught fish.

Fishy politics are destabilizing developing countries. Already, tensions are rising between Russian and the Faroe Islands, India and Iran, China and the countries of the West Coast of Africa, and Norway and Western Sahara over the problems of IUU fishing. The UN is increasingly involved in the debate. It is currently piloting an interesting forensic DNA-fish-recognition scheme to tackle illegal fishing.

The website provides in-depth analysis to this interesting field.


  1. Wow, I didn't know about this, brilliant article!

  2. There is a tremendous opportunity for developed countries to help solve the problem you mentioned by supporting the "underground" artisanal fisheries sector in those African countries. Sustainable and organic growth of the local industry would raise awareness and diminish the foreign abuse. But, there is no will from local governments to ameliorate this desastrous situation.

  3. Hello,

    Very interesting article!

    Speaking of fishy conflicts, the fish farm fuss in British Columbia is another example. According to my calculations, a handful of huge, American foundations have granted at least $US 126 million to organizations operating in British Columbia - all of which are not favorable to salmon farming. Since 2000, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has granted at least $75 Million for projects specifically to sway the global fish market towards "wild" fish - especially Alaskan salmon and pollock, and away from the competition: farmed fish, especially salmon.

    I can't help but think that some of that money would have been better spent fighting IUU than "reforming" aquaculture.

    Here's a link to my blog:

    Vivian Krause

  4. Yes, it is indeed an interesting article! We must quickly take the step or lead by dealing with these illegal fishing vessels, which are illegally fishing in other territories Exclusive Economic Zone. Great article!!!