Anchorage, ALASKA –Pervasive and hugely profitable illegal fishing for Atlantic cod and walleye pollock in the Arctic threatens the health of globally important fisheries and their resilience to climate change, says a new WWF report Illegal Fishing in Arctic Waters.
About 70 percent of the world’s white fish supply comes from the Arctic, with the world’s last large Atlantic cod stock found in the Barents Sea. The Russian walleye pollock and Barents Sea cod catches analyzed in the report together account for about a quarter of the world’s white fish supply.
“Illegal fishing in the Arctic is a serious transnational crime crossing European, African, Asian and American borders,” said Dr Neil Hamilton, director of WWF International’s Arctic Program. “Cheats are putting short-term profits ahead of the long-term survival of Arctic fisheries.”
Barents Sea cod is taken mainly by Norwegian, Russian, and European Union fishers, while the bulk of Russian walleye pollock are caught mainly in the Western Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, with China being the largest buyer. With markets spread across the globe, the distribution of black market cod and pollock is a global problem.
“We urge all nations to support initiatives to deal with illegal fishing, such as better flag state control and improved traceability of seafood products,” said Bubba Cook, senior fisheries program officer at WWF-US. “Companies should not trade with vessels known to fish illegally, and consumers should demand the seafood they buy comes from a sustainable, legal source such as the MSC-certified walleye pollock and Pacific cod fisheries in the U.S.”
More than 100,000 metric tons of illegal cod valued at $350 million was caught in the Barents Sea in 2005 according to Norwegian government figures. Concerted efforts by industry, government and NGOs to clamp down on this illegal activity has seen illegal landings cut by 50 percent, but illegal fishing for walleye pollock in the Russian Far East remains a problem.
While investigation into illegal fishing in the Russian Far East is less exhaustive than in the Barents Sea, the new report shows that in the Sea of Okhotsk alone, illegal landings of walleye pollock can reach a value of more than $70 million annually. The economic loss to the legitimate fishing industry and public purse is estimated at $327 million.
WWF is concerned about the ability of Arctic fish to cope with climate change, with illegal fishing being an added stress that can reduce the capacity of fish populations to adapt and survive.
Read the full report Illegal Fishing in Arctic Waters.