What is Illegal Fishing?

Illegal fishing refers to fishing goings-on that are carried out by overseas vessels with no authorization in waters under the control of another state, or which breach its fisheries rules and regulations in some other way.

In other words, it’s that kind of fishing that contravenes the fisheries regulations and laws like refusing to acknowledge fishing times and fish harvesting in marine or water protected areas. Most of the illegally harvested fish are sold in black markets and was reported in 2011 to be in the ranges of 14 to 33 percent of the globe’s legal catch. Various causes influence illegal fishing and done in different ways as discussed in this article.


Methods of Illegal Fishing

1. Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawling is one of the most damaging methods of fishing. It is an industrial technique that uses huge nets weighed down with weighty ballast that get dragged down the sea bed, collecting and squashing everything that is on the way, from fish to aquatic plants. A lot of species together with the ones that at a risk of extinction get caught accidentally and when returned to the sea, they are normally dead. Such collateral damage also referred to as discards can go up to 80% or 90%.

In addition, big parts of the sea floor, the territories where fish live and look for food, get compressed during the process. The large nets used in bottom trawling have a big mouth leaving scars on the sea floor that can even be 4 kilometers in length. The harm to the ecosystem as a result of the method may be permanent in some cases. Bottom trawling also stirs up sediment that may be poisonous, at times creating muddy water that gives aquatic species a difficult time surviving.

Besides, this method of fishing destroys the natural features of the environment where plants and fish would typically live, relax and even hide. The floor of water bodies consists of extraordinary biodiversity and this is what bottom trawling interferes with. In the past two decades, for example, researchers have discovered a lot of marine areas that are deeper than 400 meters to 2000 meters with hundreds to thousands of a number of creatures.

The technique is mostly used by industrial boats in the high seas, at times regulated in protected waters. Bottom trawling has been blamed for contributing largely to overfishing, and is often used to fish in prohibited marine areas.

2. Bycatch

Bycatch means accidentally catching numerous types of aquatic life in the process of catching other fish. It can also consist of the wrong size of the intended fish, other creatures that do not get eaten or the ones which are not in demand, or the species that are almost extinct including particular birds, aquatic mammals, and turtles.

On other occasions, some fish get thrown back because the fishing boat has not been licensed, or lack of enough space and sometimes the captain could change his or her mind on catching some particular fish. The large quantity of bycatch amounting to millions of tons annually gets thrown back into the water bodies, injured or dead.

An up to date WWF report approximates that 40% of the worldwide marine catches are bycatch, and that in a lot of cases the fish disposed are immature. Evidently, the consequences are bad since the capability of the marine creatures to reproduce become a lot harder. Apart from the pressure placed on aquatic creatures, bycatch is a representation a grotesque waste of food for both predators and humans alike.

3. Using of Explosives

The usage of explosives for blasting fish is a method that has been used for years. Explosions have the ability of creating very big craters that range from 10 to 20 square meters of the sea bed. Apart from killing the intended fish, they also kill the other neighboring species. When the coral reefs are destroyed, the restructuring may take years.

Explosives are commonly used because they can be easily accessed and affordable. Also, their regulation come from construction and mining companies. Other explosives can be retrieved from old munitions, past and present wars. In other places, fishermen get access of the explosives through illegal trading.

4. Ghost Fishing

Ghost fishing refers to the deliberate or unintentional leaving of fishing objects in a water body. The fishing nets still continue to catch fish and other creatures big and small, the fish eventually die from overtiredness or suffocation after a long struggle to get to the top to breathe. The act of abandoning or losing fishing nets at sea has been intensified by rising fishing goings-on and the introduction of synthetic fishing nets that are very durable.

5. Cyanide fishing

Cyanide fishing involves divers crushing cyanide tablets into plastic squirt bottles of water and puffing the concoction to confound and confine live fish in the coral reefs. The method is mostly practiced all over Southeast Asia regardless of being illegal in a lot of nations in the area.

The method was initially used in the 1960’s in the Philippines so as to obtain live fish for selling to other countries to aquarium owners; a market which has tremendously grown. In the present day, the method is used in supplying fish for Hong Kong and Singapore restaurants.

The cyanide method is very harmful for the creatures that gulp it down. Research shows that aquarium fish that has ingested the cyanide grow cancer within a year of being bought. It is also said that one square meter of coral reef is destroyed for every fish caught with cyanide technique.

6. Muro-ami

This illegal fishing method is mostly used in the Southeast Asia. It involves using a huge encircling net with a number of pounding tools, normally weighty stones or cement blocks attached on the surface to pound fish out of coral reefs. Fishermen pound the coral reefs with the cement blocks scaring the fish out.

Normally, the fish do not get scared but the stones and blocks crash the coral reefs leaving the fish with no place to hide and end up getting caught. Continuous crashing of the coral reefs destroys bottom sea aquatic ecosystem which takes years to get restored.

The worst case scenario is that they never grow back. Nonstop use of the Muro-ami technique could lead to the total eradication of coral reefs ecosystems in the Southeast Asia in the next decade as it is reported that reefs affected by muro-ami fishing take hundreds of years to recover.


Causes of Illegal Fishing

Illegal fishing is highly propelled by the lack of proper fishing zone management as well as the lax fishing policies. Below are some of the reasons for illegal fishing:

1. Lax regulatory systems in the issuance of fishing permits

When there are no serious penalties, the idea of (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) IUU fishing is very profitable. It is argued that not so many nations have implemented levels of regulations that are effectual in deterring illegal fishing. Implementing rules such as forfeiting catches and fishing boats will be very effective in reducing such cases. Moreover, there are a lot of fishermen using counterfeit operating companies, and their names keep on changing so as to avoid penalties when they get in trouble.

2. Lack of enough funds or resources for surveillance and tracking

Financially weak states set other priorities other than marine fishing surveillance. Those that have illegal fishing policies tend to pay their staff very low wages, which encourages vessel owners to take advantage. Financially weak states also have poorly maintained marine patrol boats and aircrafts leaving room for illegal fishers to do as they please.

3. Economic and social circumstances.

Research shows that a lot of the fishermen involved in illegal fishing are mostly from the developing nations with a slow growing- economy and poor living conditions. The same scenario is also registered in developed nations. What is more, individuals from poor financial and social circumstances get provided with work where illegal fishing takes place, they are misused and do not even have social protection. This cycle of unending poverty and the need to have a source of livelihood encourages illegal fishing in continents such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

4. Lack of proper supervising, control and surveillance activities.

As you would have thought, the amount of supervising, control and surveillance initiatives have the ability of having a considerable control of illegal fishing. It gives helpful indicators to lawful fishing operators and dispiriting probable rebelliousness. Some of the notable aspects under this category include:

  • Lack of knowledge regarding fish populations and quotas in a universal standard.
  • Little to no rules regarding fishing practices, which encourage fishing fleets to bypass areas that do have regulations. This is the case in most international waters.
  • Problems with customs and importation clearance bodies where the provenance of fish is not questioned

5. High demand for IUU fish

When the prices of fish rise, so does the need to get them illegally and the financial gains from IUU fishing searching for the creatures that go for high prices. For instance, estimating the cumulative money lost from IUU fishing of Patagonian toothfish was about $518million between the years 1996-2000.

Image credit: pixabay


A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.