The world’s fisheries are a natural resource that provides employment for over 300 million people and food for billions. Worldwide, fisheries support a $250 billion global economy. Despite their great importance, fisheries’ health and sustainability are increasingly under threat. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a major environmental problem, a security threat and an economic challenge.
The global economy loses billions of dollars annually from unreported, unregulated, or illegal fishing. Indonesia, along with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, make up the Coral Triangle, a 5.7 million square kilometers stretch of tropical ocean waters that contains one of the greatest concentrations of marine biodiversity in the world. As such, it is vulnerable to the effects of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices.
Such fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage shared fish stocks. Poachers and illegal fishers, take fish that could be caught by local fishermen. They pay no taxes or license fees, thus depriving governments of revenue, and sell their fish cheaper, undercutting legal fishermen. And because they may use harmful fishing practices and equipment, they may damage fragile marine ecosystems and vulnerable species such as coral reefs, turtles, and seabirds and reduce the natural productivity of the fisheries.
To address this threat, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center have agreed to work together to develop a system for documenting and tracing legal seafood products in the Coral Triangle region. The initial U.S. funding for the new Oceans and Fisheries Partnership project, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in early August, will be $4.3 million.
The program aims to strengthen regional fisheries management by developing an electronic catch documentation and traceability system for legally caught seafood. Using the latest science and technology, authorities will be able to track fish, shrimp and other seafood species from their source to exporting countries, thus deterring illegal or mislabeled products from entering trade.
Clearly differentiating legal from illegally caught products is one important step towards combating illegal fishing. National governments in the region must also take other important steps towards moving wild fisheries toward sustainable management to ensure that these valuable resources continue to contribute to food security, livelihoods and national economies.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage shared fish stocks. USAID Oceans, the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, working together and along with national governments, the private sector and non-governmental partners, hope to level the playing field for legitimate fishers, protect fragile ocean habitats and ensure the sustainability of our shared ocean resources.