A third of cod from the Baltic Sea stolen by pirates

Feature story - 6 September, 2006
As our ship the Esperanza heads to the Pacific to tackle pirates and overfishing, the Arctic Sunrise heads north to battle another case of piracy. Our new report reveals that 30 percent of the cod caught in the Baltic Sea is stolen, bound for European supermarkets. Are there stolen goods in your refrigerator?

The Arctic Sunrise

Oceans campaigner Ida Udovic said, "A legitimate company would neverdream of buying or selling a car where they knew a third of the partswhere stolen goods. But large distributors and manufacturers of fishproducts ignore that their raw material could be totally illegal, andlook the other way while our seas are being destroyed."

Overfishing out of control

Poland, which is the centre for cod filleting across the region, lastyear supplied Western Europe with an amazing 41 000 tons of cod filets.The sheer amount of stolen cod, added to catch quotas that way above those recommended by scientists, mean the recovery of somecod populations is impossible. The International Council for theExploration of the Sea (ICES: the scientific advisory body for thenortheastern Atlantic region) and the European Union (EU) are callingfor a drastic reduction of quotas, or even for a cessation of codfishing in waters of the eastern Baltic Sea. The eastern Baltic codstock has been reduced to only a tenth of its size during the 'GoldenAges' of Baltic cod fishing in the 1980s. 

To make matters worse, the situation in the Baltic Sea is disastrous:overfishing, pollution, eutrophication (nutrient enrichment of thewater caused largely by agricultural run-off), climate change, oilspills, bottom trawling and destruction of habitats have made acatastrophic situation, further threatening the survival of cod andother species.  The last thing we need on top of this is piratefishing.


Cod laundering

How can companies let this happen? Unfortunately it's hard to tellexactly where the illegal cod from the Baltic ends up.  This meansthat the company making your box of fish fingers can't tell you if theycome from stolen stocks.

Among the companies that buy cod from Baltic catches, usually freshfillets bound for restaurants,  are Pickenpack and Frosta(Germany), Fjord Seafood (Netherlands), Västkustfilé (Sweden) and RoyalGreenland (Denmark). Danish company Espersen has a key role inprocessing and distributing frozen fillets sold under various brandssuch as Euroshopper, and even in fast food restaurants. With a turnoverof over 130 million euros, Espersen is regarded as the largest codprocessing company in the world.

Despite the clear problem, the Baltic Sea states routinely fail to takeaction. The maximum average fine recently imposed anywhere in theregion for illegal fishing has been a mere 538 euros.

Making Piracy History

The Arctic Sunrise is in the Baltic as part of the Defending Our Oceanscampaign and will be highlighting the issue of pirate fishingthroughout the region.  We are demanding a network of marinereserves to shut down the pirate trade and allow vital cod stocks torecover. In addition all fishing vessels in the Baltic should have adevice onboard enabling electronic surveillance, controls ashore andoff shore should increase and a black list for all vessels caughtcheating should be established.

Read the report.

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