by Chevanne A.Y Charles
What is IUU fishing?
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing or IUU fishing is an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of fishing activity. It may occur both on the high seas outside of the jurisdiction of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in areas within our national jurisdiction. It concerns all aspects and stages of the capture and utilisation of fish, and it may sometimes be associated with organized crime. The following breaks down the illegal aspects, the unreported aspects and the unregulated aspects of IUU fishing.
Under SVG regulations, illegal fishing may be conducted by a national or foreign vessel in SVG’s maritime zones under its jurisdiction, without the permission by way of a license of SVG, or in contravention in some other way of our laws and regulations;
Illegal fishing may be conducted by vessels that are registered in other States or vessels that “fly the flag of other States.” Most nations including SVG are parties to regional fisheries management organisation (RFMOs) and a vessel would be fishing illegally if they operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures that the RFMO would adopt because the Flag State is bound and by extension so is the flagged vessel.
This is simply caught fish which have not been reported or have been misreported (saying we caught less than we actually did), to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations.
When a vessel does not substantially follow reporting procedure set out by the RFMO which is incorporated into national law, regulation, policy and procedure then this may also be classed as unreported fishing.
This element of IUU fishing covers stateless vessels engaged in fishing who are not registered anywhere as well as vessels or fishing company from states who do not have any fishing regulatory obligations whatsoever.
It also covers locations that do not have any conservation or regulatory management that are consistent with international responsibilities for the conservation of living marine resources under international law.
How can IUU Fishing hurt the crew of the IUU Fishing Vessel?
“IUU” Fishing has evolved into one of the most pressing threats the sustainability of the fishing industry. Apart from several species being faced with genuine extinction, IUU Fishing poses a threat to the safety of the crew in a way that not many individuals recognize. This is the issue of economics.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust, an organization that is think-tank which focuses on solving the world’s most challenging problems, financial drivers behind IUU Fishing can lead to poor safety and labour conditions for vessel crew. When Stocks are overfished, fisher’s catch and their income are reduced.
Consider it as a chain reaction, IUU Fishers look for every profit-maximizing opportunity and method to exploit fish stocks from innovative and illegal technologies to “ghost” hunting (turning off their tracking devices to hunt illegally). They also exploit management loopholes by developing ways to under-report and misrepresent their total catch.
This overfishing leads to a decline in stocks which is further exacerbated by the cycle of IUU Fishing. When there is an oversupply of fish then prices inevitably drop and therefore, IUU Fishers will take home much less profit. Less profit then means there is less money to invest in maintenance, repairs and safety equipment making vessel unsafe and conditions deplorable.
The crew is then forced to work in hazardous and incredibly dangerous conditions for long hours and are given less pay to minimize operating costs. This then leads to fish stocks being exploited to unsustainable levels which will see more species added to the endangered species list. This undermines legitimate fishing operations and food security.
Ultimately, IUU fishing is a serious threat which will destroy efforts to sustainably use our oceans. In SVG, it is the artisanal and traditional fishers who act responsibly that will feel the impact of IUU more than larger fishers in other states. IUU fishers are literally stealing our future and indirectly threaten other industries including employment, marine tourism, health sector and our food security.
Chevanne A.Y Charles is a lawyer specialising in International Maritime Law based in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines