Interpol Sets Sail to Combat Illegal Fisheries
April 25, 2012 -
Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.
Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.
Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.
Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."
Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.
Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."
Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.
Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."
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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.
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What do you think of when you think of fishing?
Is it tourists hauling in a marlin? The crew of the crab boats in The Deadliest Catch? A “super trawler” heading for Australia only to be turned back by public protest and government intervention?
Chances are that when you think of fishing, you don’t think of drug running or human trafficking. And of course, in most cases, there’s no reason to do so. But when those fisheries are operating in the shadows and outside the law, it’s a different matter.
In the 90 years since it was founded, Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organization – has become known for its cross-border work in combating the trafficking of drugs and of humans, financial crimes, organized crime syndicates, and art theft, among many other areas. On Tuesday it announced that, for the first time, it will take on a new challenge: illegal fishing.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a “major threat to the sustainability of the world’s fisheries,” causing annual financial losses of up to $23.5 billion worldwide and accounting for up to 20 percent of all of the wild marine fish caught globally. In some regions of the world the situation is even worse. Off the coast of West Africa for example, Pew reports that as much as 40 percent of the catch is illegal. As well as depriving local small-scale fishermen of important income, illegal practices can have other impacts; at least some Somali pirates are believed to have been fishers who watched their fish stocks become plundered by fleets from around the world.
Not all IUU fishing is illegal. Some – such as fishing on the high seas, outside countries’ exclusive economic zones, is simply unregulated. But the truly illegal fishers may fish without licenses or with fake papers, falsify their catches, fish in restricted or prohibited areas, use banned or otherwise destructive fishing gear, falsify their logs, or ‘launder’ their catches. It is this fishing that Interpol is now focused on intercepting.
In concert with Pew and the Government of Norway, Interpol launched Project SCALE at the first International Fisheries Enforcement Conference, which opened today in Lyon, France. Among other things, the project will aim to
disrupt trafficking routes;
increase surveillance to better police fisheries crimes;
and gather better data on fisheries crime to help improve monitoring and enforcement.
For environmentalists and fisheries managers, illegal fishing is a serious problem because of its impact on fish stocks and marine environments, as well as on fishing communities. But as a United Nations report recently underlined, because illegal fishing vessels operate in the shadows, they are frequently used to commit other crimes, including trafficking in drugs and people.
All of which makes Interpol – which already has an Environmental Crime Committee that focuses on illegal trade in ivory, poaching of endangered big cats and illegal logging around the world – a perfect fit for the battle against illegal fisheries.
“Project SCALE is a natural extension of INTERPOL’s efforts to safeguard species and habitat through effective enforcement,” said David Higgins, manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Program, in a press release. “With INTERPOL’s network, capacity building and intelligence-led enforcement support, we will contribute to a more focused and coordinated global effort to combat transnational and organized fisheries crime.”
IMAGE: A small fishing trawler bringing in nets, South China Sea, East Malaysia. (Corbis)