There’s been both good and bad news lately on commercial fishing. Sustainable fishing in the EU while commercial fishing boats continue to get busted for shark finning.
The latest incident occurred on September 22nd off São Tomé and Príncipe, a small island nation in the South Atlantic. 150 miles west of the coast of Central Africa. São Toméan authorities in cooperation with the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker boarded the Vema. A Senegalese=flagged fishing vessel that was licensed to fish for “tuna and similar species.” (photo – Sea Shepherd)
However, when the ship’s holds were inspected they were found to contain sharks, exclusively. The sharks were predominantly blue sharks classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “near threatened.”
The Vema’s fishing lines revealed that they were reinforced with steel wire, another indication that sharks were targeted. Two tons of shark including severed shark fins were found by inspectors. Unfortunately, the Vema had just returned after unloading its cargo in Walvis Bay, Namibia. A port that is notorious for receiving and shipping shark fins.
This incident marked the fourth arrest by São Toméan authorities with assistance from Sea Shepherd in the last two years. Just weeks before this most recent event the crew of a Taiwanese ship, the Shang Fu, was arrested for shark finning with the assistance of the Portuguese Navy. In August of 2016, 87 tons of sharks and shark fins were discovered on the Aolemar Primeero, plus in October of 2017 the Spanish ship Baz was boarded and found to be carrying over 62,000 kilos of shark.
Spanish Organized Crime
Except for the Shang Fu the other three ships involved in shark finning in São Toméan waters were linked to Spanish owners, who it is believed are linked to Spanish organized crime syndicates.
“Given how sensitive shark species are to overfishing, coupled with the fact that 15 percent of shark species in the Atlantic are now endangered, it is alarming that industrial fishing vessels, many from Europe, continue to massacre sharks under the guise of tuna licenses,” said Peter Hammarstedt, Sea Shepherd director of campaign. “These trojan horse fishing licenses deliberately mislead African coastal states… Sea Shepherd applauds the São Toméan authorities for working together with Gabon and Sea Shepherd to bring African marine wildlife poachers to justice.”
Obviously shark fins are intended for markets in China, however much of the fishing in these same African waters are destined for Europe.
The World’s Largest Market for Imported Fish
Europe is the world’s largest fish import market. The average German, for example, consumes annually over 15 kilograms of fish. A demand for fish that has for decades exceeded sustainable fishing limits.
This demand has led to much of the European fish stock being overfished. Mackerel, ocean perch, angler, bass, eel and North Sea cod are all on the “Abstain” list for EU consumers, a recommendation from WWF and Greenpeace.
Why has this overfishing been allowed to continue? Critics say EU politicians under pressure from industry routinely agree to unsustainable fishing quotas.
Plus, fishermen warn (they always do) that big cuts to fish quotas will put thousands of jobs at risk.
2020 Deadline for Making all EU Fisheries Sustainable
Faced with a looming deadline to make all fishing in the EU sustainable within the next two years, the EU is now acting. Last December, EU fisheries’ ministers met in Brussels and agreed to cap quotas at sustainable fishing levels for 53 fish stocks.
“Two-thirds of fish in the Atlantic and the North Sea will be subject to sustainable catch limits,” said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.
Brexit Is Stirring the Water
What does the UK withdrawing from the EU mean for its conventions on sustainable fishing?
The UK has the second largest fishing fleet in the EU however it has also made strong commitments to ending overfishing and achieving sustainability. Maybe Brexit will not make the 2020 goal of sustainable fishing unachievable.
“It could actually offer the UK an opportunity to really demonstrate its commitment to sustainable fisheries management, and help ensure that other EU member states… implement the CFP.” The CFP is the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.
On January 1, 2021 when the U.K. officially leaves the EU, it becomes an independent coastal state. It can then set its own fisheries management law with the right to control who gets to fish within its 200-nautical-mile wide, exclusive economic zone. (photo – Wikimedia Commons)
However, the UK’s intertwined relationship with the EU does not end there. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries that share maritime borders must jointly manage shared fish stocks. The EU and the U.K. share more than 100 fish stocks.
The EU Has Been a Leader On Important Issues
In 2015 the EU called for a total ban on driftnet fishing in EU waters long before similar bans were enacted in North America.
More recently, the European Commission has tabled a proposal to tackle marine litter. including derelict fishing gear. The EU already has mandated that old fishing gear be collected and returned to port for proper disposal. However, the cost for this disposal was born by the fishermen, a clear disincentive for doing the right thing.
The new proposal passes the cost of ghost gear removal onto the manufacturers of the equipment not on the fishermen.
Meanwhile on the Other side of the Pond
The U.S. is setting new priorities, rather than making fishing sustainable the emphasize now, appears to be on making the fishing industry great again.
Last summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA was reported to be shifting its mission. No longer would conservation and climate be the agency’s mission, now it is to be security and the economy.
In “Strategic Priorities for 2018” the report indicates that cutting the country’s seafood trade deficit is a new Trump goal. Presently the U.S. imports 80% of its seafood. In the words of the “great leader,” “that’s a really bad deal.”
The acting head of NOAA, Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet proposed that to reduce seafood imports, the U.S. must “permit fishing in marine monuments.” (photo – Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, US Fish and Wildlife)
Fisheries Benefit From Bans on Fishing
This proposal flies in the face of science. Numerous reports show that a ban on fishing in Marine Protected Areas allows fish stocks to recover. In the long run, this benefits fisheries. They will reap the harvest of expanding stocks “spilling over” from MPAs into adjacent areas that are open to fishing. A report from 2016 tells us that nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries are already at full capacity or over-fished. What we need are more Marine Protected Areas where fishing is controlled, not fewer.
Seth Horstmeyer of the Oceans 5 program doesn’t believe that increasing the fishing in protected waters will help in reaching the president’s goal.
“Each year the Hawaii-based longline fishery is allocated a quota for how much bigeye tuna they can catch, so opening marine monuments will not allow more fish to be caught and certainly will not reduce the trade deficit,” said Seth Horstmeyer of the Oceans 5 program.
Regardless of these facts, Trump’s idea is not new because the president signed executive orders in 2017 asking for a review of 27 national monuments. Some of those monuments on land have now been severely reduced in size and opened for commercial use.
Interestingly the administration advisor that pushed for opening Utah’s Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to fossil fuel exploitation, has now joined BP.
Apparently, it is now time for marine monuments to be “adjusted,” especially those that were created by Trump’s nemesis Obama. In September, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended opening “Pacific Remote Islands, Rose Atoll and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine national monuments to commercial fishing,” Unfortunately, this may be just the tip of the iceberg.
By Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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