Business and Finance Regional Stability

Illegal Fishing in the Shadow of Piracy

A Somali fisherman carries fish from a car in Hamar Weyn distrct’s fish market. Mogadishu, Somalia. Image: AMISOM Public Information/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Blog on 6 October, 2015.

Extensive illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Somali waters threatens economic development in the Horn of Africa. Somali fishermen are unable to compete because the foreign fishers are better equipped and better skilled. Some Somalis believe that the only way to protect their resources and make a living is by committing piracy.

Piracy slowly grew from unorganized vigilante “coast guards” in the 1990s to transnational organized crime networks, wreaking havoc on the global shipping industry, in the early to mid-2000s. It reached its peak in 2011, when more than 28 vessels were hijacked in the waters off the Horn of Africa. Maritime crime has declined intensively over the past few years, as international naval patrols and armed guards on ships have increased. However, a recent report by Secure Fisheries, warns that those advances could be reversed if illegal fishing is not stopped.

Fishing in a Sea of Malice

Headless policies, toothless laws, photo: dailyjoe/flickr

In the very year the International Maritime Organization (IMO) designated “Year of the Seafarer”, a new report, published by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), has now exposed how illegal, ‘pirate’ fishing operators are ruthlessly exploiting not only the riches of the sea, but also the crews aboard the fishing vessels.

Pirate fishing – less prosaically known as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – is one of the most serious threats to the future of world fishery. Occurring in virtually all fishing grounds from shallow coastal waters to deep oceans, and driven by an enormous global demand for fish and seafood, pirate fishing is leaving coastal communities in developing countries without much needed food and income and the marine environment debilitated and empty.

IUU fishing is an organized criminal activity, professionally coordinated and truly global, respecting neither national boundaries nor international attempts to manage the seas’ resources. It thrives where governance is weak and where countries fail to meet their international responsibilities. According to the EJF and Greenpeace, it is thus not surprising that most illegal fishing is carried out by ships flying so-called ‘flags of convenience’.