In an unexpected turn of events, the Guatemalan Department of Fisheries has asked Sea Shepherd to assist in surveillance and patrol operations in its maritime waters, according to an article by Maritime Executive ( http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Sea-Shepherd-Helps-Guatemala-with-Poaching-Problem-2014-02-11/). Concerned by high levels of poaching for Marlin during the winter and early spring months, the Guatemalan government will be relying on support from the SS vessel Brigitte Bardot.
It has also been reported that the Sea Shepherd, who have incorporated throughout various Latin American jurisdictions, will be rolling out an educational programme and a series of presentations on marine conservation in Guatemalan schools.
The global marine fisheries industry relies on harvesting limited living resource and requires careful regulation in order to prevent over-exploitation of fish stocks, but some characteristics of the sector make regulation extremely challenging. Factors such as the dual role of the State as ocean steward and economic actor and the policy of competitive open access to high seas resources adopted by the international community have resulted in important governance weaknesses.
One of the most pernicious consequences of inadequate governance is the pervasive presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is a major contributor to overfishing and a significant obstacle to sustainability. Its effects extend beyond causing damage to fish stocks and the marine environment: IUU fishing has also been linked to organised crime and food insecurity. It has also been recognised as intrinsically damaging to the industry itself and to the global economy at large.
The international community, aware of the need for conservation and concerned that IUU fishing may have become a chronic industry malaise, has made a sustained legislative effort to clarify how shared marine resources should be managed and protected. As part of this trend, the conservation responsibilities of nations whose fishing vessels harvest the oceans beyond the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones have been reinforced and clarified. But in spite of legislative developments IUU fishing and irresponsible overexploitation continue to be rampant.
It has been argued that the sustainable expansion of international law can only be supported by a corresponding development of structures and processes of legal accountability (Jutta Brunee, 2006). In light of this assertion, legislation to define the responsibilities of fishing nations should have been developed alongside associated accountability mechanisms. Has this been observed by international legislators in the context of global fisheries?
There is an emerging debate on the extent to which flag States should be held responsible for the IUU fishing activities of vessels flying their flags and the extent of their liability (Palma, Tsameny and Edeson, 2010). Despite the nebulous nature of State accountability in International Law, it is becoming increasingly important that debate on this subject gathers pace.
The outrage of land grabs pales by comparison to the exploitation of vulnerable and increasingly rare ocean resources by some fishing nations.
As China’s giant fishing fleets plough the ocean unabated, small fishing nations are suffering devastating losses in their own marine capture and processing sectors. Their fishing vessels, not being able to compete with constant and extensive exploitation by Chinese fleets in neighbouring waters, are coming back to their home ports empty-netted.
Fiji has recently reported the closure of important segments of its tuna industry, with expected job losses of about 8,000 and growing concerns over its food security.
Maritime nations, entrusted by international law to be the stewards of the ocean, are in fact the main contributors to its devastation, as they are subsidising their ludicrously oversized and no longer profitable fishing fleets to continue their plunder. The Japanese government spends USD 4.6 Billion in subsidies to unprofitable fishing fleets, whilst China follows closely with subsidies of USD 4.1 Billion. Other States that dangerously subsidise their industrial fishing fleets are the EU (USD 2.7 Billion), the US (USD 1.8 Billion) and the Russian Federation (USD 1.5 Billion).
The impact on the oceans of the relentless overexploitation by the biggest fishing nations is profound. In the Pacific Ocean, valuable commercial species such as Albacore and Bluefin tuna are shrinking at unprecedented rates.
Sources: Pew Environment Group; Undercurrent News.
Some tuna populations are shrinking rapidly in the Pacific Ocean
Well, the writing was on the wall. Large fishing nations have long asserted their physical and financial superiority in our shared oceans. Muscling their way into international negotiations, they have steadfastly refused to lower their quotas, kept their oversized fishing fleets artificially afloat with subsidies and refused to rein in furtive night time poaching by their trawlers, seiners and long liners into waters where they were not welcome.
Time after time we have seen the big bullies assert their dominance over the sea’s living creatures as if they had exclusive right to them.
And now, the consequences are beginning to emerge. There are reports today that the small island nation of Fiji, known for its marine beauty and abundance albacore, may have lost its tuna fishing industry at the hands, nets and hooks of the Chinese (http://fijilive.com/news/2014/01/tuna-fishing-industry-has-collapsed-southwick/56333.Fijilive)
As China keeps its growing fishing fleet awash with State sponsored subsidies, tax waivers and ship construction aid, Fiji’s fishing boats remain today tethered in their harbour, with nothing to catch. China’s predatory fleets are not only decimating a key ocean species, but they are also causing food insecurity in a small, vulnerable coastal nation ( http://www.atuna.com/index.php/2-uncategorised/485-albacore-crisis-can-cause-food-dilemma-in-fiji#.Ut5ZkJE4k18 ).
China is asserting its dominance in the Pacific, as Fiji shuts down one of its key economic sector and faces a dilemma that is likely to have deep repercussions for its economy and its people. Overfishing is the new disease of the small island nations and, as artificially large fleets supported by irresponsible nations continue to plunder the oceans, the cure may not be easy to find.
I recently travelled to norther Sicily, and hopped over to the Eolic Islands, where the diving was rumoured to be good. First impressions in Milazzo we mixed: the town seems nice enough, though there seemed to be a bizarre shortage of restaurants and an abundance of ice-cream parlours. Multiple fishing vessels came to shore at night, many sporting monofilament nets. Local fishermen (no fisherwomen anywhere) seemed to carry an abundance of small tuna-like fish in their iceboxes.
Next day, Stromboli didn’t disappoint. Black volcano ash masquerading as beach sand, calm blue mediterranean waters and the midday sun welcomed us on arrival. Stromboli was grumbling with rock and smoking away into the night, when we watch it erupt in fireworks.
Strombolicchio was the diving site of choice in the morning. The beautiful little island is surrounded by a small marine reserve, at least in theory. Before immersion we passed 5 gill net suspension buoys, some only a metre away from the vertical cliff walls. Immersion was good, the water warm and clean. The coral and anything living in the rock was a delight, the current fun and the rock wall a marvel. Fish larger than my thumb could only be glimpsed below 37 metres (how long are those gill nets?).
No fish in Strombolian waters for divers to see, then. Just plenty of fishing nets.
The Strombolicchio near Stromboli Island in Southern Italy (Eolie) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)