Lowering Flags of Convenience for Fish Poachers - Miller-McCune
New international measures to end fish poaching on the high seas would enforce laws where the poacher calls, not where their ships are registered.
“Fish poaching” and “illegal fishing” may sound like misdemeanors, on the cosmic scale of crime, but they provide an astonishing mass of the fish people eat around the world. And they amount to a uniquely self-destructive problem that might one day solve itself by collapsing fish populations.
“China is the largest fisher in the world, and the illegal fishers would come second,” an EU fisheries commissioner, Joe Borg, memorably told the BBC in 2009. “We are speaking of a very, very big problem.”
This winter, a new proposal went before the U.S. Senate to help fight illegal fishing. The EU introduced “port state” measures against pirate fishermen at the start of 2010, and environmentalists have been waiting for the U.S. to follow suit. President Obama quietly submitted a treaty on port-state controls in November. (The treaty is formally known as the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.)
The term “port state” is fishing jargon, but the idea is so simple it seems amazing that no one has resorted to these measures until now. A ship flying a flag from Iran or Belize, let’s say, typically would be regulated by Iran or Belize. If the ship calls at a Spanish port with a load of illegally caught bluefin tuna, until recently, it would be a problem for Iran or Belize — not for Spanish authorities.
Belize in particular has a lax enforcement reputation. Belize is small, and presumably wouldn’t have much of a fleet, but Spanish boats — like commercial vessels around the world — sail under flags of convenience. Spanish fishing trawlers regularly register in Belize, where the government levies fewer taxes and allows captains to dodge certain rules.
So even if Europe and America have treaties to restrict their bluefin catch, until 2010 very little kept a hypothetical Spanish trawler from hoisting Belize colors, sailing to the Mid-Atlantic, and hauling tons of the hugely expensive and desperately threatened tuna back to EU markets.