According to a study, illegal fishing causes billions in losses for developing countries

Developing countries are losing billions of dollars to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which steals revenue through illicit financial flows, according to a new study by the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC).

The study reveals that the top 10 companies involved in IUU fishing are responsible for nearly a quarter of all reported cases: eight come from China – led by Nasdaq-listed Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd – one from Colombia and another from Spain.

Spanish tuna giant Albacora SA emerges as Europe’s alleged largest IUU fishing company and has received millions of dollars in the EU and other subsidies, says the report by a coalition of 11 non-profit organizations. Neither Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd nor Albacora SA responded to a request for comment.

“Illegal fishing is a huge industry that directly threatens the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, especially [those] live in poor coastal communities in developing countries already affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis and the impact of climate change, “said Matti Kohonen, one of the report’s authors and executive director of the FTC .

A team member measures the length of a fish during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Erdem Sahin / EPA

According to the United Nations, over 90% of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited, overfished or depleted. IUU fishing is a major driver of the destruction of the marine ecosystem and accounts for one fifth of the world’s fisheries catches, worth up to $ 23.5 billion (£ 20 billion) per year, the third most profitable crime for natural resources after timber and mining.

Overall, global losses from IUU fishing are estimated to be as high as $ 50 billion (£ 44 billion), according to one study.

Related: Off the coast of Tanzania, in one of the richest seas in the world, why is the catch going down?

Africa is the most affected continent, losing around 11.2 billion dollars (9.76 billion pounds) per year from IUU fishing while 48.9% of the industrial and semi-industrial vessels identified involved in the practice are concentrated , the FTC report found. Of that total, 40% are found in West Africa alone, which has become a global epicenter for IUU fishing.

Elsewhere, Argentina loses between $ 2 billion and $ 3.6 billion (£ 1.74 billion to £ 3.14 billion) in terms of IUU fishing per year, Chile estimates its losses to be $ 397 million (£ 346 million) and Indonesia is $ 4 billion (£ 3.49 billion) annually, equivalent to the country’s annual net rubber exports, he concluded.

IUU fishing accounts for about 20% of the world’s catch, according to a 2013 report from the Pew Trust, thus playing a key role in overfishing. The largest decline in fish stocks is expected to occur in coastal regions that are more food insecure and more dependent on artisanal protein fisheries.

In addition to the problems caused by food insecurity, Kohonen said developing countries are losing billions of dollars in illicit cash flows to illegal fishing while “ship owners continue to operate with complete impunity, using complex corporate structures. and other schemes to hide one’s identity and evade criminal prosecution ”.

The report warns that almost no country requires owner information when registering vessels or applying for fishing licenses, which means that those ultimately responsible for these activities are not punished, in fact, fines are imposed on the captains and crews of the vessels.

It suggests that vessel owners should be required to report ultimate beneficial ownership when registering a vessel or applying for a license by regional fisheries management organizations, flag states and coastal states.

Collecting such ownership data, he says, would enable law enforcement to combat money laundering, tax and financial crimes, thereby creating ways to tackle fishing-related crimes and abuses.

Fishing vessels flying the flag of Asia – particularly China, which has by far the largest deep-sea fleet in the world – account for 54.7% of IUU fishing reported by industrial and semi-industrial vessels, followed by America Latin (16.1%), Africa (13.5%) and Europe (12.8%).

Related: Cat and mouse on the high seas: on the trail of China’s vast squid fleet

At the same time, 8.76% of illegal ships identified use flags of convenience such as Panama and the Cayman Islands, which have lax controls and little or no taxes.

The report urges the EU, the United States and Japan, which together account for 55% of the fish market, to step up their efforts to tackle IUU fishing by eliminating the drivers that allow financial secrecy in the first place, such as the use of of shell companies, joint ventures and flags of convenience.

Worldwide, 820 million people depend on fishing for their livelihoods, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In some regions such as West Africa, up to a quarter of the workforce is involved in fishing. Fish consumption also accounts for one sixth of the world’s population’s intake of animal protein and more than half in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

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