Fish laundering? Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

But it turns out that fish laundering not only exists, but is major global problem with massive environmental and economic consequences. And – here’s the good news – Belize has been commended for taking measures against the practice.

According to “The Fish Site” a fishing industry website, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) “strongly supports” a recent decision by the Belize Fisheries Department to put a moratorium on unmonitored transhipments of fish at sea for Belize-flagged vessels, effective immediately.

It’s a complicated issue, but briefly, there is a huge black market in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) or ‘pirate’ fishing, which is not only damaging to the environment, but the global economy as well.

As Greenpeace International succinctly puts it:

“Pirate fishing – known by its less colourful name: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – is the scourge of the oceans. It leaves communities without much needed food and income and the marine environment smashed and empty. In 2001 Greenpeace estimated there were at least 1,300 industrial scale pirate fishing ships at sea.”

Their webpage at paints a horrific picture of the practice and why it must be stopped. In short, it is a very, very bad business, with global losses estimated at between US $10 billion and US $23.5 billion every year and untold environmental damage. While the rest of the world is struggling to preserve fish stocks and entire species, the criminals engaged in the IUU fishing industry are devastating sea life and disrupting fish breeding around the world.

And now Belize is doing something about it.

By putting the moratorium in place, Belize is making it harder for the bad guys to mask IUU fish and get them into the marketplace as legally caught seafood. One of the practices the fish pirates use is transferring fish from a “black” vessel to a legal one, thus allowing pirate fishers to avoid detection and then launder the illegally caught fish into the world marketplace.

Previously, it seems, some people were using Belize flagged ships for this purpose, but thanks to the moratorium, that’s coming to a grinding halt.

Now the Belize Fisheries Department has, with certain exceptions, banned Belize-flagged vessels from being involved with transhipments on the high seas. The exceptions include transhipments regulated by a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) to which Belize is a party. Belize vessels are also banned from transhipments at sea in coastal countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), unless the transhipment was authorised and properly monitored.

Steve Trent, executive director at the EJF said his organisation “welcomes the announcement by the Belize Fisheries Department that they have banned unmonitored transhipments at sea by Belize flagged vessels…

“At the same time, we are calling for action by all Governments, international organisations and the seafood industry to address IUU fishing and urgently implement the transparency required for global fisheries to be managed effectively and fairly.”

We’ll have more on this later, but for now want to commend the Belize Fisheries Department for joining the fight against this little known but very destructive crime against the environment and global food security.