- March 2 - Governments agreed last night on a plan to combat pirate fishing at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (1), which makes it more difficult for pirate fishing companies to hide their true identity and get their ill-gotten fish to market.
"Flag of convenience" - or pirate fishing - vessels are a threat to fish stocks and the marine environment because they blatantly ignore all fishing rules and are accountable to no one.
The fish pirates make a mockery of international efforts to conserve fish stocks and protect other species on the high seas. Their unregulated nets and lines snare not only countless tons of fish, but also sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, albatrosses and other endangered seabirds and non-target fish species.
Scientists estimate that in four years at least 330,000 seabirds were caught and drowned by pirate fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
The international plan of action to "prevent, deter and eliminate" pirate fishing agreed by some 114 countries after a week of intense negotiations was much weaker than Greenpeace and a number of governments argued was needed.
Nevertheless, if implemented, the plan will make it harder for pirate vessels to hide their ownership through fictitious names and companies, tranship their fish at sea and trade in pirate-caught fish. The FAO plan also calls on governments to make it illegal for banks, insurance companies, seafood buyers and suppliers to do business with pirate fishing companies.
Greenpeace calls on countries to implement these and stronger anti-pirate fishing measures into national fisheries law and regional fisheries management bodies.
Governments must now get serious about tackling pirate fishing,¨ said Matthew Gianni of Greenpeace International. This plan is only voluntary and weak in key areas such as closing ports to pirate fishing vessels. But if governments make it illegal to trade in pirate caught fish and go after the real owners and operators of pirate fishing vessels then were on the way to ridding our oceans and seas of these lawless fleets.¨
During the negotiations, Mexico and Brazil were largely responsible for undermining key parts of the plan by actively weakening proposals to close markets to pirate-caught fish and close ports and their waters to pirate vessels. A number of countries, including Norway, Mauritania, Australia, Iceland, Malaysia, the European Union and the United States, said that they had wanted a stronger plan to combat the pirate fishing problem.
According to the latest UN FAO report, State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture released this week, some 75 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted.
The report also reveals the alarming impact of overfishing on entire marine ecosystems. It states that most areas of the world's ocean ecosystems are close to full exploitation. The eastern Indian ocean and the western central Pacific ocean are ¨the only areas showing little sign of stress¨
¨The threat posed by overfishing to the health and biodiversity of our oceans has never been greater,¨ said Gianni. ¨If governments don´t have the political will to eliminate pirate fishing, and soon, how can we trust them to manage fisheries at all?¨
Greenpeace estimates that there are some 1300 industrial-scale fishing vessels flying flags of convenience. The "registered" owners of the vessels are located in some 80 countries, but most are based in Taiwan, the European Union (primarily Spain), Panama, Belize and Honduras.
Greenpeace has been actively campaigning against pirate fishing. In the past two years, it conducted two ship expeditions in the Southern ocean and one to the Atlantic ocean to document pirate fishing for Chilean seabass (Patagonian toothfish) and tuna.
Greenpeace demands that governments:
· Close ports to FOC fishing and support vessels;
· Close markets to FOC-caught fish; and
· Close or otherwise prevent companies and nationals from owning or operating FOC fishing and support vessels.
Notes: (1) The final UN FAO negotiations on fisheries began on 22 February and continued through to the 1st March 2001. The Committee on Fisheries meets by-annually and negotiations will end on Friday 2nd March.