Cracking Down on the Ocean's Pirate Fishermen

Publication: Time

Author: Bryan Walsh

05/22/2010 - The oceans are being emptied of fish. A forthcoming United Nations report lays out the stark numbers: only around 25% of commercial stocks are in a healthy or even reasonably healthy state. Some 30% of fish stocks are considered collapsed, and 90% of large predatory fish — like the bluefin tuna so prized by sushi aficionados — have disappeared since the middle of the 20th century. More than 60% of assessed fish stocks are in need of rebuilding, and some researchers estimate that if current trends hold, virtually all commercial fisheries will have collapsed by mid century.

"Fisheries across the world are being plundered, or exploited at unsustainable rates," said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

In some respects, Steiner could have stopped at "plundered," because as much damage as the legal, commercial fishing trade has wrought on the oceans, it's the illegal trade that could spell their doom. Legal fishermen — the everyday farmers of the seas — have licenses they must protect and laws they must obey. But illegal fishing — often done on the high seas where regulations are lax and catch limits can be exceeded with impunity, or in the coastal waters of developing nations, which lack the ability to fight back — abides by rules of its own. Now, a team led by Stefan Flothmann of the Pew Environment Group has published a study in the May 20 issue of Science showing just how hard stopping the illegal fishing scourge will be.

Read the full article, Cracking Down on the Ocean's Pirate Fishermen, on Time's Web site.

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