Pirate fishing

Pirate fishing is a multi-billion dollar organised crime and together we are going to shut it down. You don’t need to have a boat to chase them; all you need is a few pieces of paper and the power of persuasion. Keep reading and then get pirate busting.

Who are these pirates?

Forget about what you've seen in the movies. It’s not Johnny Depp with a fishing rod. Pirate fishing fleets are usually owned by companies that operate far away from where their boats fish. The ships do their best to stay out of sight, re-fuelling, re-supplying and transferring fish to other boats at sea, far away from any port inspectors. This way, illegal fish may be mixed with legitimate catches and "laundered" through ports and on to our plates.

Often these unscrupulous fleets will be instructed to target areas where communities have little political or financial power to fight back.  From the oceans around Pacific Islands, to the coastal waters of West Africa, the pirate fishermen sail in, fish it out and sell it on.  Normally they sell in European and Asian ports where they can almost guarantee the vessels won't be closely inspected. Their hauls can net fish worth millions of dollars – much needed income that rightfully belongs to coastal communities.

The United Nations estimates that Somalia loses US$300 million a year to the pirates; Guinea loses US$100 million. Globally more than US$9 billion is lost each year.

Environmental destruction

Pirate fishing compounds the global environmental damage from other destructive fisheries. Because they operate, quite literally, off the radar of any enforcement, the fishing techniques they use are destroying ocean life. Tuna stocks around countries like Tanzania, Somalia, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu are targeted each year with giant nets that scoop up entire shoals, including the young fish vital for breeding and future stock growth. Those that won't make money on the market are thrown back dead, even though they could still provide food and income for others.

Bycatch is also a major problem with pirate fishing.

How have they got away with it?

Pirate fishing vessels can make millions and it costs them virtually nothing to get into business. They often sail under what is called a "flag of convenience" – where owners register their vessels in a country different from the country of origin. The convenience comes because the "flag" state is usually one that doesn't care what they catch, how they catch it, how they treat their crew or the safety standards of the ships. In fact, they care so little that you can just buy your new "flag" over the Internet for about $500.

Sailors unions, environmental organisations and human rights groups have all condemned the flags of convenience system and called for governments to shut it down.

Making piracy history

Each of us can help make sure pirates aren't making a profit in our areas by sharing the Make piracy history toolkit. It gives a range of ways in which you can shut down their access to your shops and restaurants. Check out the toolkit, share it with friends, family and colleagues and start asking your retailers if they are funding pirates.

Russian Pelagic Trawler Oleg Naydenov. 02/24/2012 © Greenpeace / Pierre Gleizes

The pirates aren't a secret, although they try hard to hide what they are doing. But they land their catch in supposedly regulated ports like Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and Suva in Fiji. It's not hard to check if a ship is sailing under a flag of convenience either. Greenpeace is not a professional detective agency, but we have managed to make up a blacklist of vessels and owners who are operating illegally. Imagine what governments could do with all their resources if they worked with the sailors unions, environmental organisations and human rights advocates to stop this trade. This is what they should do:

First things first – we need to work together. Often countries will not share their vessel registration and licensing databases with other countries, so it is hard to track ships as they move from one fishing ground to the next.

Second thing – ban flags of convenience. There is nothing convenient about ignoring human rights, environmental needs and safety standards. Owners and governments must take responsibility for what is done in their name and for their profit.

Third thing – hire enough fisheries enforcement officers to do the job. Ports such as Las Palmas land nearly half a million tonnes of fish a year and make good money doing it. But vessels are rarely checked as thoroughly as they need to be to find the pirates. Unlike Johnny Depp they don't sail into harbour with a skull and cross bones flying from the mast. Their pirate booty is often illegally transferred to factory ships, mixed with legally caught stocks and then knowingly sold in "legitimate" ports.

Fourth thing – track them down and shut them down. The countries that are the victims of this wholesale robbery are usually those that are least able to enforce the laws in their own waters. But the owners and operators are not impossible to track down as we have shown from our own blacklist. Around 80 different countries play host to them – including the European Union and Taiwan, Panama, Belize and Honduras.

Working together  we could end this organised crime.