Pirate fishermen are currently enjoying a gold rush in Europe selling the liver oil from illegally caught deep-sea sharks. Some of the world’s most notorious pirate fishing vessels have been able to exploit loopholes in weak EU laws designed to prevent the sale of illegally caught fish, but that overlook the sale of shark liver oil. As a result these poorly-understood animals are suffering.
Deep-sea sharks, which live below 300 meters, use the oil in their livers to regulate their buoyancy, but in consumer products the oil, or squalene, is used in everything from cosmetics to Omega-3 dietary supplements to industrial lubricants. Deep-sea sharks are slow-growing and slow to mature making them especially vulnerable to overfishing. That’s why Oceana is calling on the EU to close a loophole that allows this illegally caught product to come to market.
As Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe said on Thursday:
“Vulnerable deep-sea sharks have become the new gold pursued by internationally renowned poachers – including vessels that have been linked to European interests. As long as EU rules against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing neglect this product, European borders remain wide open to illegal shark liver oil.”
In the past Oceana has successfully fought to end the use of shark liver oil in consumer products. In 2008, following pressure from Oceana, Unilever announced that it would remove shark squalene from its cosmetic brands, including Pond’s and Dove. In North America, Oceana persuaded the Vermont Country Store to stop selling an shark squalene skin enhancer unfortunately branded as “Oceana”.
Know what’s in your lip gloss or face-cream. Alternative squalene sources exist, including olive oil, rice bran, wheat germ and amaranth seeds. Before you freshen up make sure you aren’t leaving sharks out to dry and help Oceana bring an end to illegal fishing.
The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee.
The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing. The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.
The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.
S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.
In a hearing yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, administration officials and fishing industry representatives expressed support for a bill that would strengthen the U.S.’s ability to address the growing global problem of illegal fishing.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – also known as pirate fishing – is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen, and seafood consumers alike. With bipartisan support led by sponsors Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Congressman Frank Guinta (R, NH-1), the bill demonstrates that pirate fishing is an issue not defined by state or by party. It is encouraging to see Congress get serious about addressing this challenge.
The legislation, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act” (H.R. 4100), would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
“Fishing communities are the lifeblood of Guam, [the Northern Mariana Islands] and other islands in the Pacific… so protecting our fishermen from illegal fishing enhances economic opportunities and protects cultural and natural resources that our communities rely upon,” said Congresswoman Bordallo. “My bill increases capacity for inspection, identification and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, amends several international agreements to incorporate civil and criminal penalties, and also broadens data-sharing authority with foreign governments in order to identify and penalize nations that do not comply with fisheries management regulations.”
Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Rumor has it that the Senate is looking to act on its bill, S. 52, before the end of the year. We hope the House will move H.R. 4100 to the floor soon as well. Last fall, the Obama Administration announced that it was stepping up efforts to crack down on pirate fishing by entering into a joint agreement with the European Union to coordinate efforts. Yet the U.S. currently lacks the necessary enforcement measures to give the agreement teeth. This legislation would provide the U.S. with these tools, strengthening existing fisheries laws and adding new provisions to deter illicit activities.
We commend the House Natural Resources Committee for holding this hearing and putting the spotlight on this issue, and hope that the Committee will take up the bill soon for a vote. This legislation takes an important step forward in the effort to protect our oceans from overexploitation, ensure that law-abiding fishermen compete on a level playing field, and protect consumers who want to make responsible choices when buying seafood.
Today, the U.S. and E.U. signed a historic agreement to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. These activities are responsible for most illegal fish on the market, some of the most destructive fishing practices in use, and a loss of as much as $23 billion in revenue for legal American fishermen.
The agreement builds on measures each side has already enacted, such as an American moratorium on driftnet fishing and European import processes that require seafood certification. Additionally, two bills currently in the Senate would ban mislabeling seafood and put government money to reducing seafood fraud.
News of the US-EU agreement comes on the heels of a new study recommending that industrial deep-sea fishing be banned. Many deep-sea fish, such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, have long lifespans and low birthrates that make them highly susceptible to overfishing. The study also cites the harmful effects of bottom-trawlers, which both wipe out entire local populations of the target fish species and bulldoze long-lived deep sea corals.
Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly told the Washington Post that the costs of deep-sea fishing far outweigh the benefits.
“It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of biodiversity, it’s a waste of everything,” Pauly said. “In the end, there is nothing left.”