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Pirate Fishing: One Out of Every Three Fish Imported to America Was Likely Caught Illegally

A new report reveals the alarming amount of illegal fish sent to America for consumption.

The scientific journal Marine Policy recently published a study that estimated the amount of unreported and illegal fish brought into the US, according to National Geographic.

The determining number of illegal fish brought to the US was between 20 and 32 percent. The scientists involved in the study said this “pirate fishing” could lead to bigger problems, including a decrease in the ability governments have to battle against overfishing.

Also, the growing concern about where our food comes from will likely be fueled by such findings.

RELATED: Human Trafficking May Have Helped Put That Seafood on Your Table

Pirate fishing is loosely defined as catching fish and failing to report to local authorities, as well as any general ignoring of fishery laws or quotas. The study analyzed the 2011 seafood import totals, while crosschecking government and academic reports, conducting stakeholder interviews and executing fieldwork.

All told, the estimated amount of illegal fish imported to the states is valued at between $1.3 billion and $2.1 billion per year. That accounts for 15 to 26 percent of the total value of all US wild-caught seafood imports.

Tuna caught in Thailand racked up the highest volume of illegally caught and imported fish, totaling 32,000 to 50,000 metric tons. That’s a large portion (25 to 40 percent) of the tuna imports from that country, meaning the incentives to follow laws and report catches is not nearly high enough.

Here’s a rundown of the estimated percentages of illegal and unreported seafood imports to America.


Chart via P. Ganapathiraju, et al., Marine Policy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has acknowledged pirate fishing as a serious global problem, but disagrees with the numbers reported by the study. Newly increased cooperation with foreign governments and law enforcement agencies, as well as more sophisticated electronic tracking of data, are the main elements of the NOAA’s response.

We know the vast oceans are, and will continue to be, close to impossible to completely control. We also know that illegal fishing is already having an impact on wild fish populations.

Bottom line, if you care about the future of seafood in America, and if you care about the future of global fish populations, you’ll likely need to start asking the right questions.

What steps, if any, do you take to ensure your seafood was caught legally? Will this study cause you to adjust those steps? Leave your thoughts below.

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Pirate Fishing: One Out of Every Three Fish Imported to America Was Likely Caught Illegally