Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

We need all hands on deck to stop plunder of global ocean fisheries

Max Jarrett –

We live in a world of plenty, yet millions of people are impoverished. More often than not this paradox endures because of the plunder of resources by politically connected elites, powerful commercial enterprises and corrupt criminal networks.

The global commons, which include the vast part of the world’s ocean, have not escaped this plunder. Much of the Earth’s population has been short-changed, economically, environmentally and nutritionally by legal (though careless) overfishing and the scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Millions of African citizens depend on fishing for their jobs, food and income, yet for years Africa’s rich coastal waters have been plundered by foreign fleets, often fishing illegally. This is an issue close to my heart, both personally and professionally.

My diet is mainly fish-based and I haven’t eaten meat or poultry products for 27 years. I was born near the ocean in Monrovia, Liberia and during my regular travels in the region over the last quarter century I have noticed the steep decline in the quality and quantity of fish available on the local markets across West Africa, and a related sharp rise in prices.

“Natural resource plunder is organised theft disguised as commerce,” according to Kofi Annan, the chair of the Africa Progress Panel (who I now work with). “Commercial trawlers that operate under flags of convenience, and unload in ports that do not record their catch, are unethical.” I agree with him fully.

The social and economic costs of this plunder are huge. IUU fishing represents a theft of revenue comparable to tax evasion. Overfishing – legal, but careless – reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment. Both destroy fishing communities, who lose opportunities to catch, process and trade fish.

The 2014 report from the Africa Progress Panel (APP), Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, noted that one large trawler can catch 250 tonnes of fish in one day, which is as much as 50 small local artisanal fishing boats would catch in a year. It also highlighted that IUU fishing costs West Africa alone $1.3 billion per year.

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