Millions of Tons of Unreported Harvest are Traded Illicitly

A new report by an international team of marine scientists says 7.7 to 14 million metric tons of fish caught each year are potentially contributing to an illicit trade system that threatens food and economic systems worldwide and exacerbates overfishing issues.
The findings of University of British Columbia researchers Daniel Pauly, Lincoln Hood, Ussif Rashid Sumaila and others in British Columbia and Australia was reported in February in an article entitled “Illicit trade in marine fish catch and its effects on ecosystems and people worldwide,” in the Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Their study suggests that these illicit harvests gross between $8.9 billion and $17.2 billion each year, with Asia, Africa and South America hardest hit. Unreported catches of seafood from these regions altogether account for about 85 percent of worldwide catch losses due to illicit trade, researchers concluded.

In many cases small scale harvests go unreported because they are not required by law to be reported. Still illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is recognized as a widespread dilemma which creates barriers to sustainable management of marine stocks.
Researchers said the illicit fish trade is enabled largely via three channels: at-sea transshipments, (with intermediate stops for harvests from multiple boats to be loaded onto freezer and processing vessels), the transport of exports via large refrigerated containers with relaxed inspection requirements, and the transport of illegally caught seafood to local markets in fisheries dominated by exports.

To better understand the size of the issue, Sumaila, who is the director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and his colleagues analyzed globally reconstructed catch data for 143 countries from the Sea Around Us database. They estimated potential economic costs, household income impacts and tax revenue losses that may result from illicit marine fish trade.

Researchers concluded that movement toward transparency and accountability across the entire fisheries supply is needed, including a better accounting of fish catches and their delivery at ports around the world.