Why legal fishing is an endangered industry

Unscrupulous operators taking advantage of lax regulations are making overfishing a global problem that's only getting worse.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 8, 2013 7:19AM
A Chinese fishing vessel caught fishing illegally waits in the Peruvian port of Callao, on November 24, 2004 (© Mariana Bazo/Reuters)Fishermen in New England, who have been struggling for years, are going to have an even tougher time of it this summer. Federal officials have placed strict limits on catches of species such as haddock and flounder to allow their depleted stocks to recover. And two Southern California fisheries have collapsed in recent years under the noses of federal regulators.

Sadly, these are just two of the many signs of overfishing, a problem that has become a global disaster.

According to Quartz, illegal fishing is a $10 billion to $23.5 billion annual industry. As these operations exhaust stocks of local fish, legal fishermen are being forced to venture farther from home, which drives up their costs and eats away at their profits. The implications are no less dire for the environment.

"A study of catch data published in 2006 in the journal Science grimly predicted that if fishing rates continue apace, all the world's fisheries will have collapsed by the year 2048," according to National Geographic.

One problem is lax oversight. Many ships today operate under foreign flags to evade strict environmental and labor laws. As Quartz noted, 56% of the world's merchant vessels operate under the flags of Panama, Liberia, Malta and the Marshall Islands, countries that combined account for 0.12% of the world's population. Bolivia and Mongolia, which have no coastlines, have also gotten into the lucrative flag of convenience (FOC) business, the site reported.
Some countries, such as China, also appear to be lying to international bodies responsible for monitoring fish stocks about the extent of their fishing. Researchers have estimated that Chinese boats are catching more than 12 times what they're reporting. European countries are part of the problem as well because of their use of FOCs, especially Spain.

"To evade enforcement, flag-hopping vessels participate in 'transshipping' or transferring illegal catches to other boats known as 'reefers,'" Quartz said. "Reefer vessels have vast refrigerators in which they can store huge caches of fish for long periods between ports."

Like anything else, the problem of overfishing -- no matter how self-destructive the practice is in the long run -- won't be solved as long as so many people can easily make money from it in the short run.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

Jul 8, 2013 9:32AM
Ah the Chinese. So lawful, so truthful. Let's send more jobs their way.
This is a war on our fisheries.  Couldn't we sink the enemies ships?   
Jul 8, 2013 11:58AM
Problem is with U.S. Resources collapsing is Laws that were passed by Late Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, and current House representative, from Alaska, Don Young!  Don currently Chairs the House resources committee for U.S. Fisheries.  He is in the pocket of Really Big Corporate fish Companies like Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, both of Seattle, and many more corps.  They have all monopolized the fishing industry through shady legislation, backdoor deals, and constituent favors!  Who needs a multi-million dollar Airport, and Hydro-plane vessel, on an island in Alaska, with only 100 locals, yet has a huge facility to process fish and crab.  These awards to projects, continued manipulation of congress has been happening ever since the 200 mile EEZ Zone Magnuson-Stevens Act went into place, in the late seventies.  The Billion dollar Groundfish Industry profits funnel money to Super Pacs in D.C. to SLANT decisions for the Factory and Shore Based Trawlers, and Canneries, with all disregard for a TRUE Balance of the oceans' resources.  NOAA-NMFS Scientists were funded by Congress committees that were controlled by Stevens and Young as chair persons, to limit studies, and steer their direction towards profits, as opposed to conservation.  Why did federal fisheries get controlled by the Transportation committee instead on Department of Natural Resources, for the last 20 years then? It was because Senator Ted Stevens and Don Young, wheeled and dealed to maintain exclusive control for corporate profits, and keep themselves in office.  They have/had no scruples when they allowed Bottom Draggers to rape waters 20 miles and into shore, and decimate the health of other stocks of fish and crustacea.  They are also shady in all oil and timber dealings!  Stevens was convicted 7 times in a bribery scandal, and got off on a technicality, because FBI abused their powers, but it proved that Stevens was crooked!...Don Young has been continually rubbing elbows with shady congressmen, and always being mentioned in bogus funding for construction projects and fisheries decisions.  Coconut Road?...Community Development Quotas for Bering Sea stocks, for villages to get funding, and only upper management profits millions of dollars, and with no transparency?......With idiots like these making critical decisions that affect eco-systems long term, no wonder the USA continues to spin out of control, and having occurred irreparable damage, not only scientifically, but economically, as well....Don Young should serve life in prison!....and all his supporters too!  The U.S. Taxpayers are getting Ripped Off!  These wise guys have ruined resources and many lives!  Further investigation with these fishing companies, North Pacific Fisheries Council advisors, and their constituents will reveal how a once public resource is being privatized for short term profits to a select few....It's was equivalent of letting the fox guard the hen house!
Jul 8, 2013 10:29AM
Men you need to pull out, there too many damn people.
Americans have to learn to develop a taste for freshwater fish. The lake I live on has enough carp, that nobody fishes for, to feed a large city for a long time. Thousands of lakes, are underfished, for pan fish, crappies and sunfish and perche, are all good eating fish. Result is these lakes get overrun with fish, and they do not have a chance to eat enough, to grow into a eating size fish.
Jul 8, 2013 4:34PM
Just like hunting the seals in the far north to extinction, just wait a bit longer and eventually, there will be no seals or fish left and the problem is gone.  All those that think that the world population should always be increasing, because for some reason that is always a good thing, what do you think now?  The earth has hard limits, it is not infinitely big.
Jul 8, 2013 3:59PM

Here in Utah, the worst over-fishing offenders are the Polygamists.  They'll all bring their massive families--one man, 4 or 5 wives, and innumerable children--and fish the rivers completely bare.  We have watched them pull dozens out of the North Fork of the Duchesne in the Iron Mine area near Hanna, UT; and one cabin owner along the river says he has counted on several occasions 150 or more fish taken by a family in one afternoon.  They use powerbait, and they often fail to supervise their numerous children, which results in lots of tangled line in the small dams in the area.  Many fish end up entangled in the line, and die.  The forest service plants rainbow trout several time throughout the season, but the whole plant can disappear in the matter of a weekend.  The cops have been called, but, as the cabin owner stated, "There is no law up in these parts."  And, thanks to our former Attorney General, who proclaimed that he would not prosecute Polygamists, they are more brazen than ever.  Funny, for such a gun-stockpiling, paranoic, anti-government group, they sure like to eat up all of the government's fish and medicaid and food benefits.  They're a plague upon Utah. 

Jul 8, 2013 3:07PM

What we need is another World War or world wide plague to kill off 3 to 4 billion people. There isn't enough food or fresh water in this world to support our booming population.  Wipe out most of the fish eating market (people) then overfishing will stop.  If this doesn't happen then we'll have a critical water or food shortage within 20 years anyway and we'll fight over that!

Jul 8, 2013 9:03AM

Eat more beef, leave the poor fish alone.


Jul 9, 2013 2:39AM
Tuna could very well be extinct by 2018.

We kill our oceans, it's game over for all life on Earth.

The oceans are the lungs of our planet, supplying us with most of our breathable oxygen.

Our oceans are on pace to die. ALL due to mankind's pollution.

Jul 8, 2013 5:06PM
Lets keep that most favored nation status Congress of the USA.. The Communist Chinese need more than the Oceans can provide . < That status to a capitalist communist country ! < What a joke . The US Congress. And everyone their.. Don't matter who or what party they are . LOL When its all GONE !!! Its all GONE World..
Jul 8, 2013 5:15PM
While the Fox low information types have you worried about everything other then what's actual real, we are losing our Clean Drinking Water and Destroying our Ability to feed ourselves. We literally might end up like Easter Island and chop down the last tree.
Jul 8, 2013 8:16PM
  it must be the sport fisherman's fault ,cut his quote down from 10 -flounder to 2-seabass to 0ne,and no more live bait,over fished more recreational  regulations - regulations - more  regulations - regulations-  ,JUST BAN all sportsman- Put a wall up around the beaches register all rod and reels, More is good,WHAT is this country coming to or going to?????????
Jul 8, 2013 7:51PM
When the fish are completely gone then what?  What will all the Asian countries eat that depend on fish?  
Jul 8, 2013 7:35PM
In every walk of life, there are people that want to control other peoples lives. They know best.
Jul 8, 2013 10:17AM
The article fails to mention that the fishing industry is being  strangled by regulation. Where one to two permits were required in years past is now replaced by dozens. The government can screw up a one car parade.
Jul 8, 2013 8:57AM
What happened, Jonathan?  Run out of left wing drivel or are you intimating that the U.S. cut back on fishing further which has already hurt the fishing industry and is driving up prices.  Had to be a reason why for once you are blogging on a real subject.
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