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The pirates of the fisheries, By Jane Lubchenco and Maria Damanaki

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.

The US has turned a corner in rebuilding its fisheries and ensuring that they are sustainable. The European Commission has just presented a proposal to reform the Common Fisheries policy designed to help rebuild Europe’s fisheries. Good science is the cornerstone of both policies. But it is not enough to get our respective houses in order.

Because fish and other ocean wildlife do not stay within national boundaries, international cooperation is essential to the long-term health of the world’s oceans and the sustainability of fisheries and fishing jobs. The US and Europe have a global responsibility as two of the largest importers of fish. We are obliged to ensure that the fish that we import is caught sustainably, so that our markets do not fuel the decline of the oceans and the fishing communities that depend on them, especially those in the poorest countries.

The US, Europe, and other countries, such as Japan, have taken significant steps to address illegal fishing. We are starting to identify illegal fishing vessels and bar them from our ports. Countries are taking measures to track and document fish imports. This week, we commit the US and the EU to combat illegal fishing, to strengthen our monitoring, and to enforce management measures in our role as parties to regional fishery organizations and to various international treaties. We pledge to prevent illegal fishermen from benefiting from their piracy.

What is at stake are millions of jobs that depend on healthy oceans. What is at stake is food security for many parts of the world. What is at stake is the long-term health of the world’s oceans. As allies, the US and Europe are taking a major step forward to end the scourge of pirate fishing.

Jane Lubchenco is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Maria Damanaki is European Union Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

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