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“Fish Piracy” Costs USD 10 Billion To USD 23 Billion A Year - Report

Fish piracy - seafood caught illegally, not reported to authorities or outside environmental and catch regulations - represents as much as USD 10 billion to USD 23 billion in global losses each year, a non-profit conservation group estimated Wednesday.

Because pirated fish is sold on black markets, specifics of the economic impact are tough to decipher. But Oceana, a Washington-based organization, looked at the records of fish catches by country as reported to the United Nations, and then compared those statistics to seafood sales in various world markets.

When these numbers didn’t match up, the group estimated the amount lost through fish piracy, a practice that U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco has called “one of the most serious threats to American fishing jobs and fishing communities.”

The report said illegal trade could account for 11 million to 25 million metric tons of seafood, a minimum of 20 percent of seafood worldwide.

Illegal fishing targets some of the most expensive species, including shrimp, fugu pufferfish, lobster, whole abalone and sea urchin uni. Penalties are often a fraction of potential profit, the report found. In one U.S. case, an illegal catch worth up to USD 1 million brought a USD 3,500 penalty.

The report estimated that illegal trade threatens 260 million jobs dependant on marine fisheries.

For example, the shark fin trade in Hong Kong suggests that three to four times more sharks are being killed than official reports say, with USD 292 million to USD 476 worth of shark fins sold.

Oceana said that Florida law enforcement agents’ estimates showed that one illegal operator stole USD 1,400 a week from legal operators by exceeding the catch limit on king mackerel.

Fishermen who comply with legal standards can also lose business when they sell in the same market as illegal operators who don’t follow environmental or sanitary standards, the report found.

In addition, adults and children have been trafficked into service on illegal fishing ships, making a catch more lucrative, the report said.

Annual black market sales of bluefin tuna may reach USD 4 billion, with the amount of illegally caught fish five to 10 times higher than the official catch, according to Oceana.