The Pirates of the Fisheries

WASHINGTON, DC – Piracy off the coast of East Africa has grabbed headlines in recent years, but there is another type of piracy that has received far too little attention. Pirate fishing around the world is costing fishermen their jobs and income, and is inflicting serious harm on the ocean environment.

Pirate fishing – often called illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – deprives an estimated half-billion law-abiding fishermen and their communities of up to $23 billion worth of seafood annually. And, because an estimated three billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein, pirate fishing has significant food-security and humanitarian consequences as well. Moreover, illegal fishing operations are known to subject people aboard pirate ships to unsafe and unfair working conditions at sea.

Fishing piracy also undermines the livelihoods of law-abiding fishermen in the United States and Europe. When illegally caught fish reach the global marketplace, fish prices fall and less fish are left to catch legally. And, to make matters worse, illegal fishermen often use highly destructive gear that destroys habitats, endangers marine wildlife, and threatens healthy fisheries.

As head of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European Union Fisheries Commissioner, we recently signed a historic agreement to strengthen joint cooperation to address the global scourge of pirate fishing. Only by working together can we successfully combat illegal fishing operations.