3 tools to promote sustainable fishing and end human rights abuses

Two men drive out into the ocean in their shrimp fishing boat surrounded by sea birds flying along above them.

Our oceans provide us with a wealth of benefits, including a seemingly infinite supply of fish. But today, one third of the world’s assessed wild fish stocks have been pushed beyond their natural limits, and populations of the most vulnerable marine life continue to get caught up in nets and hooked on lines. Simply put, the way we fish today is unsustainable. That’s bad news for nature and people, and not only because it impacts important sources of food and income.

The problems that lead to declines in ocean life are rooted in some of the same underlying conditions that lead to human rights abuses—weak laws, a lack of transparency, and demand for cheap products. And the solutions to help people fish more sustainably also create the critical infrastructure needed to eliminate human rights abuses in fisheries. WWF is working with fishers, managers, and the marketplace on three tools that are being put to work right now.

Reporting standards 

The value of illegal fishing and trade is estimated to be upwards of $36.4 billion each year, and where there is illegal fishing and trade, there are often other major violations, including human rights abuses such as forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor. Information is the power that authorities need to detect bad behavior and hold to account those abusing the system.

According to a report commissioned by WWF, the world has been slow to adopt the kinds of technologies and systems that aid responsible management of fisheries. One reason is a lack of universally recognized standards for collecting and reporting data, which makes it nearly impossible to track seafood from catch to consumer. 

WWF works with seafood companies to develop voluntary standards that lay the foundation for seafood traceability worldwide. Today, more than 60 companies around the globe, including some of the most influential seafood buyers, have committed to put these standards to work. 

Pomada shrimp in Posorja, Ecuador

Offloading freshly caught skipjack tuna from a vessel that is outfitted with electronic monitoring.

Electronic reporting apps

Capturing data to help create that transparency can be difficult, particularly when small-scale fishers have limited resources and infrastructure to self-report.

WWF developed an electronic app, an e-logbook, to help shrimp fishers in Ecuador report catches. A successful pilot caught the attention of fishers and leaders in Chile and now the government agency that oversees fishing uses the app to meet the country's industrial fishing fleets. To date, the e-logbooks have recorded information on at least one thousand fishing trips. Other traceability apps, like Peru’s TrazApp, are seeing similar integration throughout mahi-mahi, squid, shark, and bonito supply chains.

Tracking & monitoring systems

In large-scale commercial fishing, observers provide an important layer of monitoring. But it is not always feasible—or safe—to bring a human observer onboard a vessel while it’s fishing. WWF’s been involved in several projects designed to determine if electronic monitoring systems can keep up with human observers. So far, the results are promising.

In Ghana, the proof is in the pilot. An entire tuna fleet was outfitted with a system that uses cameras and satellite tracking to record fishing activities. Afterward, expert analysis found this approach to be both cost-efficient and effective. The system also promotes observer safety as people collect data after the trip and in an office, rather than during a trip on the vessel.

Transparency is the biggest threat to the black-market seafood trade and the systemic abuses that fuel it. The more we know about seafood’s pathway from the vessel that caught it to the plate on which it’s served, the more effective we can be at making sure there’s nowhere for environmental and human rights abuses to hide.

Read more about bringing fisheries forward.