Throughout history, the earth’s oceans have often been viewed as limitless resources.
Again and again, that view has been proven wrong. Whether you look at the relentless whaling of the 19th century or the boom years of Cannery Row, each time the oceans’ resources are taken for granted, environments suffer.
In both cases, the industries cannibalized themselves, fishing at an unsustainable pace and paving the way for their own destruction as the natural resources they relied on became increasingly scarce.
Lessons like these should have taught society about the dangers of the illegal fishing industry that’s currently flourishing around the world. But too often, the quest for profits is more important.
“The illicit fishing industry is worth tens of billions of dollars a year,” says David Luna, a former U.S. Diplomat and national security official. “Environmental crime is one of the top five illicit crime areas because it’s so profitable for criminals.”
A 2016 study found that total global fish catches were falling three times faster than the UN had predicted—and named overfishing as the culprit. Now, any hope of getting the world’s overfishing problem under control involves cracking down on illegal activities. If left unchecked, it will have wide-reaching effects.
Illicit fishing impacts both people and the environment.
Somewhere between 20% to 32% of the fish sold in the U.S. are caught illegally. And this creates a ripple effect throughout many different aspects of society.
When people think about forced labor and modern-day slavery, they often think of deadly mines or brutal agricultural work in developing countries. But fishing is actually one of the largest industries in the world using forced labor, as roughly 2.6 billion people depend on fish as an important part of their diet.
It also produces incredible amounts of harmful waste. Forty-six percent of the great garbage patch in the Pacific ocean is made up of fishing gear.
With over 20 years examining illicit activities and corruption, Luna understands how overfishing can trigger environmental consequences that disrupt normal societal patterns, leading to a drop in the quality of life for many—and even increased migration.
“Illicit fishing is connected to other illegal activities that create a bigger overall threat. When illicit fishing becomes connected with other criminal areas like human trafficking or the destruction of coral reefs and poaching of endangered marine life, it presents a larger overall threat to human populations. And in some parts of the world, as it convergences with other illicit threats including corruption, organized crime, and terrorism, it creates bigger threat altogether—insecurity and instability.”