What is Illegal Fishing?

Illegal fishing refers to fishing goings-on that are carried out by overseas vessels with no authorization in waters under the control of another state, or which breach its fisheries rules and regulations in some other way.

In other words, it’s that kind of fishing activity that contravenes the fisheries regulations and laws like refusing to acknowledge fishing times and fish harvesting in marine or water protected areas. Most of the illegally harvested fish are sold in black markets and were reported to be in the ranges of 14 to 33 percent of the globe’s legal catch. Let’s have a look at various causes that influence illegal fishing and done in different ways.

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Various Methods of Illegal Fishing

1. Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawling is one of the most damaging methods of fishing. It is an industrial technique that uses huge nets weighed down with weighty ballast that gets dragged down the sea bed, collecting and squashing everything that is on the way, from fish to aquatic plants.

A lot of species, together with the ones that are at the risk of extinction, get caught accidentally, and when returned to the sea, they are normally dead. Such collateral damage also referred to as discards, can go up to 80% or 90%.

In addition, big parts of the seafloor, the territories where fish live and look for food, get compressed during the process. The large nets used in bottom trawling have a big mouth leaving scars on the seafloor that can even be 4 kilometers in length.

The harm to the ecosystem as a result of the method may be permanent in some cases. Bottom trawling also stirs up sediment that may be poisonous, at times creating muddy water that gives aquatic species a difficult time surviving.

Besides, this method of fishing destroys the natural features of the environment where plants and fish would typically live, relax, and even hide. The floor of water bodies consists of extraordinary biodiversity, and this is what bottom trawling interferes with.

In the past two decades, for example, researchers have discovered a lot of marine areas that are deeper than 400 meters to 2000 meters, with hundreds to thousands of a number of creatures.

The technique is mostly used by industrial boats in the high seas, at times regulated in protected waters. Bottom trawling has been blamed for contributing largely to overfishing and is often used for fishing in prohibited marine areas.

2. Bycatch

Bycatch means accidentally catching numerous types of aquatic life in the process of catching other fish.

It can also consist of the wrong size of the intended fish, other creatures that do not get eaten or the ones which are not in demand, or the species that are almost extinct, including particular birds, aquatic mammals, and turtles.

On other occasions, some fish get thrown back because the fishing boat has not been licensed or lack enough space, and sometimes the captain could change his or her mind on catching some particular fish.

The large quantity of bycatch amounting to millions of tons annually gets thrown back into the water bodies, injured or dead.

An up to date WWF report approximates that 40% of the worldwide marine catches are bycatch and that in a lot of cases, the fish disposed of are immature.

Evidently, the consequences are bad since the capability of the marine creatures to reproduce becomes a lot harder. Apart from the pressure placed on aquatic creatures, bycatch is a representation of a grotesque waste of food for both predators and humans alike.

3. Using of Explosives or Blast Fishing

The usage of explosives for blasting fish is a method that has been used for years. Explosions have the ability to create very big craters that range from 10 to 20 square meters of the sea bed.

Apart from killing the intended fish, they also kill the other neighboring species. When the coral reefs are destroyed, the restructuring may take years.

Explosives are commonly used because they can be easily and cheaply accessed, such as dynamite or homemade bombs made from locally available materials. Also, their regulation comes from construction and mining companies. Other explosives can be retrieved from old munitions, past and present wars. In other places, fishermen get access to the explosives through illegal trading.

4. Ghost Fishing

Ghost fishing refers to the deliberate or unintentional leaving of fishing objects in a water body. The fishing nets still continue to catch fish and other creatures big and small, and the fish eventually die from overtiredness or suffocation after a long struggle to get to the top to breathe.

The act of abandoning or losing fishing nets at sea has been intensified by rising fishing goings-on and the introduction of synthetic fishing nets that are very durable.

5. Cyanide Fishing

Cyanide fishing involves divers crushing cyanide tablets into plastic squirt bottles of water and puffing the concoction to confound and confine live fish in the coral reefs. The method is mostly practiced all over Southeast Asia regardless of being illegal in a lot of nations in the area.

The method was initially used in the 1960s in the Philippines so as to obtain live fish for selling to other countries to aquarium owners, a market that has tremendously grown. In the present day, the method is used in supplying fish for Hong Kong and Singapore restaurants.

The cyanide method is very harmful to the creatures that gulp it down. Research shows that aquarium fish that has ingested cyanide grow cancer within a year of being bought. It is also said that one square meter of the coral reef is destroyed for every fish caught with cyanide technique.

6. Muro-ami

This illegal fishing method is mostly used in Southeast Asia. It involves using a huge encircling net with a number of pounding tools, normally weighty stones or cement blocks attached on the surface to pound fish out of coral reefs. Fishermen pound the coral reefs with the cement blocks scaring the fish out.

Normally, the fish do not get scared, but the stones and blocks crash the coral reefs leaving the fish with no place to hide and end up getting caught. The continuous crashing of the coral reefs destroys the bottom sea aquatic ecosystem, which takes years to get restored.

The worst-case scenario is that they never grow back. Nonstop use of the Muro-ami technique could lead to the total eradication of coral reefs ecosystems in Southeast Asia in the next decade as it is reported that reefs affected by Muro-ami fishing take hundreds of years to recover.

7. Kayakas

Kayakas is also known as bahan, bahiglukay, lukayan, gill net, ring net, or bahan. This method is the local smaller version of the “Muro-ami” with bamboo or tree trunks and coconut leaves or other materials as scarelines to drive the fish out of the coral reefs.

8. Overfishing

When more fish are caught, than can be naturally reproduced by the remaining population is called overfishing. There are recreational and commercial “bag limits” to ensure proper management of various species of fish. Recreational anglers contribute to overfishing by keeping more fish than state or federal laws legally allow. Overfishing has a negative impact on aquatic biodiversity because every living organisms play a special role in keeping the balance of an ecosystem.

9. Electro-fishing

Using electricity generated by dry-cell batteries, electric generators, or other sources, this illegal method kill, stupefy, disable or render unconscious wish and other aquatic animals. The possession of any of the above shall constitute a presumption that the same was used for fishing.

10. Obnoxious or Poisonous Substances

Plant extracts, chemicals (such as cyanide) and other substances,

raw or processed, are used in this method to kill, stupefy, disable or render unconscious fish and other aquatic animals. The use of plant extracts to eradicate predators in fishponds must be within acceptable limits, and that must not cause poisoning in neighboring waters. Synthetic pesticides (Brestan, Aquatin) are also not allowed in fishponds.

11. Keeping Undersized or Oversized Fish

Length limits ensure that a smaller population of fish is eligible for harvest. This reduces pressure on juveniles and larger spawning size fish needed to repopulate.

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Causes of Illegal Fishing That Affect Our Marine Life

Illegal fishing is highly propelled by the lack of proper fishing zone management as well as the lax fishing policies. Below are some of the reasons for illegal fishing:

1. Lax regulatory systems in the issuance of fishing permits

When there are no serious penalties, the idea of (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) IUU fishing is very profitable. It is argued that not so many nations have implemented levels of regulations that are effectual in deterring illegal fishing.

Implementing rules such as forfeiting catches and fishing boats will be very effective in reducing such cases.

Moreover, there are a lot of fishermen using counterfeit operating companies, and their names keep on changing so as to avoid penalties when they get in trouble.

2. Lack of enough funds or resources for surveillance and tracking

Financially weak states set other priorities other than marine fishing surveillance. Those that have illegal fishing policies tend to pay their staff very low wages, which encourages vessel owners to take advantage.

Financially weak states also have poorly maintained marine patrol boats and aircraft, leaving room for illegal fishers to do as they please.

3. Economic and social circumstances

Research shows that a lot of the fishermen involved in illegal fishing are mostly from developing nations with a slow-growing economy and poor living conditions.

The same scenario is also registered in developed nations. What is more, individuals from poor financial and social circumstances get provided with work where illegal fishing takes place; they are misused and do not even have social protection.

This cycle of unending poverty and the need to have a source of livelihood encourages illegal fishing in continents such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

4. Lack of proper supervising, control and surveillance activities

As you would have thought, the amount of supervising, control, and surveillance initiatives have the ability to have considerable control of illegal fishing. It gives helpful indicators to lawful fishing operators and dispiriting probable rebelliousness.

Some of the notable aspects under this category include:

  • Lack of knowledge regarding fish populations and quotas in a universal standard.
  • Little to no rules regarding fishing practices, which encourage fishing fleets to bypass areas that do have regulations. This is the case in most international waters.
  • Problems with customs and importation clearance bodies where the provenance of fish is not questioned

5. High demand for IUU fish

When the prices of fish rise, so do the need to get them illegally and the financial gains from IUU fishing searching for the creatures that go for high prices. For instance, estimating the cumulative money lost from IUU fishing of Patagonian toothfish was about $518million between the years 1996-2000.

6. Low risk & high return

Illegal fishing historically has been a low-risk, high-return activity. That is, the chances of being caught are relatively low, as are the costs of fines and prosecution, particularly when compared to the huge profits that can be made by selling the fish. Some fishers skirt the law in pursuit of higher catch, taking advantage of patchy regulation of the commercial fishing industry and poor enforcement regimes at sea. The risks are worth taking because the rewards are huge, and the chances of being caught, small.

7. Supervision is costly

The purchase, maintenance and operational costs of patrol boats and aircraft are very high. They must spend sufficient time out at sea or in the air for effective control. However, in some states, even though they are available, they are not operational because of the logistical problems that are lack of fuel, proper maintenance regime, etc.

8. Authorities lack interest

There is an absence of sufficient and adequately trained personnel in the relevant authorities. The authorities’ motivation to invest in relevant personnel is poor. Financially weak states set other priorities. Salaries are low, and vessel owners take advantage of this situation and make irregular payments to observers/ fisheries administrators to cover up their activities.

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