The impact of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is visible and far-reaching in Latin America. It damages marine ecosystems and livelihoods and facilitates other crimes, InSight Crime, an international organization that investigates organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a September report.
“Illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing is […] the most serious problem that South America’s oceans suffer from,” Milko Schvartzman, an Argentine marine conservation expert and member of the nongovernmental organization Círculo de Políticas Ambientales, told Diálogo on October 3. “The first impact of IUU fishing is environmental.”
In a report, the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University, Washington, D.C., points out that the impact of IUU fishing on the environment is devastating due to overexploitation, the decline of fish stocks, the collapse of fisheries, fishing activities carried out each time into deeper waters, and illegal practices that nearly extinguish protected species, among others.
In the case of South America, the varieties most caught by the Chinese fishing fleet are short fin squid and giant squid. The Chinese fleet catches them out of season (without respecting size or breeding season), and does not comply with any active regulations, Schvartzman said.
Catching this mollusk severely impacts the ecosystem as it plays a vital role in marine ecosystems as both predator and prey.
“In addition, this fleet dumps tons of waste, oils, toxics, plastics, obsolete fishing parts on a daily basis,” Schvartzman said. “In the Pacific there are about 300 Chinese vessels fishing for squid, and in the Atlantic there are more than 400.”
Among the direct economic consequences of IUU fishing are food insecurity for artisanal fishers and fishing communities, decreased income for legal fishermen, and tax revenues for governments. After Asia and Africa, South America suffers the greatest losses from IUU fishing, the CLALS report indicates.
“The [Chinese] fleet, subsidized by their country, has slave labor,” Schvartzman said. “They don’t pay living wages, they don’t meet any navigational, labor, or environmental safety standards. There is unfair competition with the fishermen of the region who pay taxes and comply with environmental and navigational safety standards.”
Peter A. Murray, advisor to the Secretariat of the 17-nation Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), which facilitates sustainable fishing in the region, said that fishing has become a tool to launder drug money, InSight Crime reported.
Among the problems, Murray noted, is that IUU fishing is often “treated as a regulatory problem and not as transnational organized crime. Countries’ efforts often go unnoticed.”
Part of the solution
According to the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo, in June, the Chinese fleet moved some 300 miles away from the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Galápagos, Ecuador. The Ecuadorian Navy indicated that the situation was under control and that it was constantly monitoring this fishing fleet, which at the time had about 175 vessels, the naval institution said.
“[…] The looting that this fleet causes doesn’t change much,” Schvartzman said. “It’s the same number of ships in the same region […], it moved away a little and this has to do with geopolitics more than anything else. Ecuador’s diplomacy managed to get the Chinese fleet to move a few miles away from the coast and that’s important.”
Experts that InSight Crime and the CLALS interviewed concerning the impact of IUU fishing say there are ways to confront criminals, such as increasing security forces’ capabilities to stop countries with bad practices and creating programs for fishermen who can no longer make a living from the sea.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made because of public awareness of the problem. Society knows that the problem is serious, that there are countries that collaborate with these fleets, that there are ports that provision them, they know their movements. Transparency is part of the solution,” Schvartzman concluded.