* Black market sales amount to 20 percent of seafood sold
* Conservation group urges tracking fish from source to
By Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON, May 8 Fish piracy - seafood caught
illegally, not reported to authorities or outside environmental
and catch regulations - represents as much as $10 billion to $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, then
compared those statistics to seafood sales in various world
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
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 $1 million brought a $3,5000 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 $292 million to $476 worth of shark fins sold.
Oceana said that Florida law enforcement agents' estimates
showed that one illegal operator stole $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
In addition, adults and children have been trafficked into
service on illegal fishing ships, making a catch more lucrative,
the report said.
Illegally caught Russian sockeye salmon is estimated to be
60 percent to 90 percent above reported levels, a loss of $40
million to $74 million, according to Oceana.
Annual black market sales of bluefin tuna may reach $4
billion, with the amount of illegally caught fish five to 10
times higher than the official catch, the report said.
"I don't think people think of fish as valuable, and when
they think of crime, I don't think they think about seafood,"
Oceana senior scientist Margot Stiles said in a telephone
interview. "But behind closed doors and out at sea, there's all
this money made by stealing fish."
In the past, governments have stepped up enforcement to
combat the problem, but that approach was limited.
Stiles suggested a two-part solution: first, cut back
government fishing subsidies, which ultimately pay for some of
the illegal catch, and increase seafood tracking from its source
to the consumer.
Using the same technology as in the package delivery
industry, some large seafood dealers, markets and restaurants
are already tracking fish.
MJ Gimbar, chief fishmonger at Black Salt Fish Market in
Washington, said his company's program is inexpensive to
implement and offers customers assurances about what they are
buying: "It allows them to put a face with the fish."
The market's website offers species-specific information on
the sources of its seafood, here .
Oceana reported in February that one-third of seafood tested
in the United States was mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and
Drug Administration guidelines.
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Marilyn Thompson
and Philip Barbara)