Legal fishing has reached a degree of industrial efficiency that many argue is unsustainable. How large a part of the conservation problem is illegal fishing? How do you measure the scope of a problem that is being hidden?
The seminal peer-reviewed study on the worldwide extent of illegal and unreported fishing concluded that it accounts for $10 billion to $23.5 billion worth of fish per year, or up to 1,800 pounds of seafood stolen from the seas every second. That range is due to the subjective nature of trying to assess a system that is not transparent. Even taking the low end of the scale, this is a problem worth addressing. Ending illegal fishing is achievable through a combination of: better enforcement of existing laws; stronger controls at ports worldwide; mandatory assignment of unique identification numbers to all large fishing vessels (similar to the VIN on an automobile); and widespread use of best-in-class technology to help authorities find, stop, and prosecute illegal fishers and to facilitate more transparency from the moment of catch until it arrives on the plate.
What "best-in-class technologies" are used to combat this problem?
Pew is working with a U.K.-based innovation center that specializes in using satellite technology to address the problem of illegal fishing. We can draw on many technologies, such as imagery from space and satellite-tracking systems and even drones. None of these, however, are silver bullets. To work best and for the best price, they have to be employed more collaboratively and in a more focused way.
You have to always think about two methodologies when it comes to tracking. On the one hand, enforcement: this is the "look-and-find" approach where you need a tool bag of systems in order to find and track those that don't want to be seen. On the other hand, the same system can provide a mechanism for the good guys to prove their good behavior and be transparent in their operations. The second option, reversing the burden on the vessels to prove good behavior rather than expending energy proving illegal activity, is the easiest and most cost-effective way of tracking activity. It also has the added value of making those that are not transparent stand out more–and therefore, it is easier to take effective action against them, whether it is a penalty or a law restricting access to the market.
Many climate scientists worry about a point where we've put so much carbon in the atmosphere that the effects are severe and irreversible. In our oceans, some species have already been fished to extinction. Are we in danger of a tipping point where fish stocks are depleted so severely that they're beyond recovery? How would you rate the ocean's health?
Our project does not work specifically on these issues, but the health of our oceans is in the limelight. One reason that I decided to leave my career in the Royal Navy was that I felt the oceans faced increasing pressure from a variety of threats. I wanted to help fix the problem. Others think that way as well. The U.S. State Department held its Ocean Summit June 16-17, bringing 80 countries together to raise awareness and set the course for solving problems. The Global Ocean Commission issued a report detailing what we all must do to help rescue our oceans from overfishing, large-scale loss of habitat and biodiversity, the lack of effective management and enforcement, and deficiencies in high-seas governance.