Illegal activities on the ocean include breaking fishing laws, poaching, ignoring marine protected areas, and polluting. Such actions contaminate or destroy delicate marine habitats—including coral reefs or sea turtle nesting beaches—and they deplete fish populations, upsetting the entire marine food chain. Countless species of marine animals die when accidentally caught in fishing gear; many of these animals are already victims of illegal harvest and trade.
WWF works through TRAFFIC to combat illegal trade of marine wildlife and raise awareness among law enforcement officials and consumers. We support monitoring of marine protected areas to protect against poaching, illegal fishing, and destructive fishing methods. And we advocate for stricter fishery controls, enforcement of existing fishing laws and improved monitoring of fishing vessels. Here are some examples of marine animals that suffer from illegal activities at sea:
Accidental capture by fishing gear is the greatest threat to most sea turtles, and illegal fishing undermines efforts to reduce such bycatch. While international trade in all sea turtle species and their parts is prohibited under an international treaty called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), illegal trafficking still persists.
Demand for shark fins drives illegal fishing of sharks worldwide, depleting populations already struggling from overfishing. Illegal fishing for tuna and other species often results in the accidental catch of sharks as well.
The illegal fishing of the totoaba fish in Mexico is contributing to the rapid disappearance of the vaquita porpoise. Fishers accidentally catch vaquita in nets set for totoaba, and the critically endangered porpoises drown.
Commercial whaling is banned worldwide, yet countries such as Iceland and Japan continue to hunt whales. Whales, dolphins and porpoises also continue to be caught accidentally in fishing gear as bycatch, which is exacerbated by illegal fishing. And whales feeding at the surface are harmed by exposure to illegal dumping of waste oil by commercial ships.
Certain illegal fishing methods, such as using dynamite or cyanide, destroy coral reefs. Corals are very sensitive to pollution, and illegal dumping of oil or other wastes smothers or poisons them. Illegal fishing of reef fish has also led to the loss of corals worldwide, as fish grazers help keep corals healthy.
Illegal fishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna is a big problem and the fishery has been plagued by lack of enforcement and control. The giant fish do not reach reproductive maturity until they are 8-12 years old and then only spawn once a year, making the populations especially vulnerable to overfishing.