Seafood giants join forces to battle pirate fishing in Barents Sea

Feature story - 30 May, 2007
Eight of Europe's largest and most influential seafood companies, including McDonald's and Bird's Eye, are demanding better controls on pirate fishing in the Barents sea.

Greenpeace activists take direct action to halt North Sea trawlers fishing cod towards extinction.

Pirate fishing is estimated to take approximately 25 percent of the global fish catch annually. It's a  lucrative business worth some US$9 billion a year. In the Barents Sea, it's estimated that one in every five cod landed are caught illegally.

In a letter to the Norwegian government, the seafood majors commit to adhere to voluntary industry guidelines adopted by the European Fish Processors and Traders Association last September. The guidelines were drawn up to avoid Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Barents Sea cod and haddock. They also include a commitment to refuse all fish from vessels blacklisted by Norway or relevant regional fisheries management organizations like the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.

For Cod's sake, take action

But the companies are also demanding tighter regulations to ensure that the fish they buy are not illegal:

An up-to-date black-list with updated vessel information, clear legal standards for listing and transparent criteria for de-listing would be a valuable component of this effort. We therefore urge you to ensure that a better list is created, that we and our suppliers can use to ensure we are not purchasing from vessels fishing illegally.

We understand that avoiding fish from black-listed vessels is part of the solution necessary to reduce illegal fishing in the Barents Sea cod fishery. However going forward we feel that the use of a "white list", or list of vessels that are proven to operate legally, may mid to long term provide a more comprehensive way to help eliminate illegal fishing.

The signatories include some of Europe's largest seafood processors and purchasers such as restaurant chain McDonald's as well as Espersen, Royal Greenland, Youngs Seafood and Iglo/Birds Eye, Frosta/Copack.  

This is the kind of action by the corporate sector which we need.  Other seafood purchasers need to follow suit and make clear commitments to avoid fish from blacklisted vessels as soon as possible.  And the governments responsible for blacklisting vessels need to do their jobs.

For example, the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate has not yet published any of the Russian ships that were documented in illegal and unreported activities in 2005 and 2006. As a result, fish buyers have no official warning to avoid fish from these ships.  

The Greenpeace Blacklist: doing a job governments should do

That's part of the reason we've launched our own blacklist and have taken action against pirate fishing vessels and even seized illegal nets. Because unlike many governments, we're not about to stand by while our oceans are plundered.

Issues such as over-fished and illegal Eastern Baltic cod, destructive fishing techniques like bottom trawling and reliance on severely depleted and often illegal tuna still cast dark shadows over the future of the seafood sector, including several of the letter-writing companies.

To make matters worse, the situation in the Baltic Sea puts a number of additional pressures on fish stocks: overfishing, pollution, eutrophication (nutrient enrichment of the water caused largely by agricultural run-off), climate change, oil spills, bottom trawling and destruction of habitats have made a catastrophic situation, further threatening the survival of cod and other species.  Illegal fishing just makes a really bad situation far, far worse.

Pirate fishing can be stopped. Governments can outlaw flags of convenience and refuse entry to fishing and supply vessels. It is a matter of political will to deliver the kind of enforcement that is needed to protect the marine environment and the communities that depend upon it.  

All of us who buy fish, whether we're seafood conglomerates or buying an evening's meal, need to ask if the fish we're buying is illegal.  And governments like Norway need to make sure we can get a clear answer.

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