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Citizen Inspector training – photos

In April and May 2015 The Black Fish ran its first public Citizen Inspector trainings in Germany and the UK. Over the course of four days trainees would learn about anything from laws on fishing to fish identification, vessel and fishing gear monitoring to first aid and evidence collecting. The Black Fish runs multiple training courses a year. Interested to become a Citizen Inspector yourself? Learn what’s involved and apply!

The following photo report is brought to you by photographers Alan Lodge and Kukka Ranta

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Citizen Inspectors working out their route during a port inspection. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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The Citizen Inspector training curriculum, containing all the knowledge that the trainees absorb during their four day training. Photo by Alan Lodge.

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Matty Mitford of The Black Fish delivers the first aid part of the training. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Trainee inspectors practice CPR on fellow participants. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

Discussing the investigative strategy while on the road. Photo by Alan Lodge.

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Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish runs trainee inspectors through an inspection exercise in a North German fishing port. The all-day exercise typically takes place on the third day of the training course. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Working out the lay of the land around a fishing port. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Citizen Inspectors enjoying lunch in a British fishing port. Photo by Alan Lodge.

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Observing fish landings is all part of the inspection process, keeping an eye on what comes off fishing vessels and on to shore. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Checking nets and their mesh sizes during a port inspection. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Working out where things are is all part of the process, especially when inspecting large, busy fishing ports. Photo by Alan Lodge.

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The Citizen Inspectors cooperate with enforcement agencies and other NGOs during their investigations. The Wildlife Air Service deploys aircraft and voluntary pilots to track fishing activity at sea. Here Wietse van der Werf, co-founder of the air service, talks to trainees about the benefits of aerial surveillance. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

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Trainees sit an exam on the last day of their training, which they have to pass before they can become a Citizen Inspector. Photo by Alan Lodge.

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After passing the exam, Citizen Inspectors graduate and are given their CI qualifications with applause all around. Photo by Alan Lodge.

Unique ocean crowdfunding platform launched

The Black Fish has launched a new dedicated crowdfunding platform for ocean conservation, named the #OceanCrowd. The online platform, on which anyone can create an appeal to crowdfund for the work of The Black Fish, was built to give a boost to The Black Fish’s community fundraising efforts.

“We have developed this platform as a way of empowering ordinary people to fundraise for our work to stop illegal fishing. Being less reliant on traditional grants is all part of The Black Fish’s continued drive towards financial independence and transparency.” says Wietse van der Werf, founder and international director at The Black Fish.

The platform is now online at crowd.theblackfish.org where you can create a profile and get crowdfunding. Questions? Contact us, we’re happy to help!

Citizen Inspectors assist in anchovy confiscations

Over the last three months The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspectors have assisted enforcement officials in Southern Italy with surveillance to seek out illegal trade in juvenile anchovy, which are heavily overfished in the Mediterranean region. Throughout the fishing season, which started in February, Citizen Inspectors have inspected fishing ports and markets in the north eastern region of Sicily, during which a number of illegal catches were observed. Through effective cooperation with the authorities different quantities of illegal fish were confiscated and the traders now face prosecution.

Officers of the Italian Coastguard confiscate an illegal catch of anchovy

Small pelagic fish species inhabit vast areas of the global oceans and form a crucial part of marine ecosystems. In the Mediterranean Sea two important such species are anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardines (Sardina pilchardus), which together constitute more than a third of the total catch of the Italian fishing fleet.



Several purpose-built fishing fleets in the world target anchovy and sardines specifically and catch and process huge quantities of the fish annually. Wietse van der Werf of The Black Fish: “The value for such fisheries isn’t necessarily in the individual fish themselves, it is the sheer industrial size of the vessels that can catch such huge quantities that it becomes profitable. It is this type of mega fishing that is central to driving the continual over-exploitation of our oceans.”



Known as neonata (newborn), juvenile fish are a delicacy in Italy where many regions have their traditional dishes prepared from the larval fish. The small fish are so young they have often hatched less than 24 hours previously. For both anchovy and sardine, which as species have experienced high levels of overfishing in the Mediterranean over recent decades, this form of illegal harvesting of the larval fish is catastrophic for the populations, which have little chance to reproduce.

Local coastguard officials in Southern Italy have been struggling to keep up with the scale of illegal landings of the juvenile fish and have called on the Citizen Inspectors to assist with additional enforcement capacity.



Carlo Giannetto, one of the inspectors working for The Black Fish in the region explains: “This catching of baby fish is a really important issue for the entire balance of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem, which is why this issue of juvenile fishing is one of the priorities for The Black Fish’s work here. I have carried out many inspections now with fellow Citizen Inspectors and we keep uncovering illegal catches all the time.”



The Black Fish’s direct collaboration with the Italian Coastguard puts it in a very powerful position to train ordinary people in assisting in observation of fishing practices and assisting in obtaining effective enforcement results including confiscations and prosecutions where illegal activity is found.

The Black Fish will step up its civilian enforcement effort across Southern Italy over the coming months.

 Please contribute to our #OceanAppeal and help make our work possible.

Waitt Foundation boosts #OceanAppeal

The California based Waitt Foundation has given the #OceanAppeal a major boost, with a contribution that brings the tally beyond the 50% mark. The appeal, which was launched by The Black Fish in March, raises funds for urgent investigations into illegal fishing operations in the Mediterranean and Northern European seas. It helps establish the world’s largest independent fisheries monitoring network.

The Waitt Foundation has supported The Black Fish since 2013, when it funded a series of investigations into illegal driftnet use in Tunisia and Albania. “We are very grateful for the continued support, which enables us to train additional Citizen Inspectors and run much needed investigations into illegal fishing practices.” said Wietse van der Werf, founder of The Black Fish.

Support the appeal today and select your perk

The Black Fish moves focus on crime with new UN report

Earlier this week The Black Fish presented a groundbreaking new report on fishing crime at the UN Crime Congress in Doha, Qatar. Bringing together case studies from around the world, the publication makes the case that illegal fishing constitutes a form of organized crime and should be officially recognised and dealth with as such. With the move The Black Fish is steering away from its traditional conservation agenda, putting stronger focus on the criminal aspects of illegal fishing.

“The fact is that the global conservation effort is struggling. Most of the oceans remain underprotected and illegal overfishing is a bigger problem than ever before. As conservationists we need to rethink our approach and find ways to get ahead of the game” said Wietse van der Werf, founder of The Black Fish and co-author of the report.

While The Black Fish will continue to work for the protection of endangered species, the focus will increasingly be on mobilising civil society to tackle organized crime and corruption in the fishing industry. Van der Werf: “Half the fish sold in Europe is illegal and 800 kilos of illegal fish is taken from our oceans ever second. The situation is extremely dire and it is about time we treated illegal fishing for what it really is: crime.”

Samantha Hooks, coordinator of The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspector Network: “Criminal organisations currently have free reign and the problems surrounding fisheries crime are not dealt with head-on. It is our hope that with more attention given to the organised crime elements in the seafood sector and the corruption which drives it, we can involve more of the international enforcement and anti-corruption agencies to assist in bringing the dark corners of this industry to justice”.

Over the coming months The Black Fish is busy training new Citizen Inspectors, which are to aid struggling enforcement officials in countries where they are unable to keep up with the scale of illegal fishing. Assisting with monitoring and evidence collection, The Black Fish helps to direct such enforcers more efficiently, making the best possible use of limited resources. Interested to be involved? See how you can become a Citizen Inspector yourself!

UN urged to act on organized crime in global fishing industry

Today at the global UN Crime Congress in Doha, Qatar, The Black Fish has called on policy makers to urgently act on organized crime in the global fishing industry. Presenting a new report, commissioned by The Black Fish, in partnership with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, strong evidence was put forward that many types of illegal fishing, previously considered only a regulatory issue, in reality constitute a dangerous form of transnational organized crime.

Fishermen load tuna in Dakar, Senegal, bound for the European market. Image by Kukka Ranta

Illegal practices employed in the fishing industry can be considered forms of transnational crime and are increasingly associated with other criminal, violent and destructive practices. Illegal fishing is known to be connected to human trafficking, slave labour and drug smuggling.

Dr. Teale N. Phelps Bondaroff, lead author of the report and researcher with The Black Fish: “Illegal fishers launch multi-vessel fleets on lengthy voyages to all the corners of the globe. They employ sophisticated and coordinated strategies to launder money and fish, and evade taxes. Along the way they enable their activities through the violation of labour and environmental standards, corruption, bribery, violence and murder.”


The report calls on governments and international policy organisations to strengthen global regulations and create new domestic legislation to tackle organized fishing crime. Dramatic increases in punishments of offenders and significant enhancement of monitoring and enforcement are additional recommendations.

Dr. Teale N. Phelps Bondaroff: “Rather than fishers accidentally violating some regulations, we see systematic and highly coordinated efforts around the globe to violate fishing laws and regulations, putting the stability of marine ecosystems in serious jeopardy. Illegal fishing has become the new, lucrative type of transnational organized crime.”

More than 90% of the world’s fisheries are currently fully or over-exploited. Urgent and multilateral action is to be initiated to halt the growing multi-billion dollar illegal fish market.

The full report is available for download here

Looking back on rowing 2048 km

Remember Frank? This very active member of The Black Fish committed 2014 to something extraordinary; rowing 2048 kilometers for the oceans on a rowing machine at home. Did he make it? Rowing 2048 kilometers is a serious business, which consisted of an impressive 178 work outs, 11.5 kilometers each in not even a years’ time. And needless to add: it hasn’t always been easy.

“Until June 2014 I was feeling fine and rowing was ‘easy’, it became part of my daily routine. But in July I started to get back problems which seemed to increase each day. I had to stop rowing for some time and went to a few therapists. Nothing really helped until I saw a Reiki specialist and two days after that I started rowing again. I made up for the time lost and was back on track before the end of the year.”

On the 28th of December Frank got ready for the final sprint of rowing a non-stop marathon (42.195 meters). With the support of one of his good friends, lots of energy drinks and some of The Black Fish T-shirts, Frank completed this task in 3 hours and 20 minutes. We are just as proud as Frank himself!

Franks’ 2014 rowing adventure not only made him fitter and stronger; Frank also collected over €500 for The Black Fish. We can’t thank him enough for his amazing support!

Note for his biggest fans: Frank will continue with ‘Rowing for the Oceans’ in 2015, he is now training to fulfill a non-stop 100km work-out at the end of this year. You can support him via Twitter and Facebook.

Illegal fishing observed in ‘sustainable’ Swedish fishery

This week a lobster fishery operating off the west coast of Sweden was granted a sustainable fishing label through the Marine Stewardship Council. However, only four months ago Citizen Inspectors of The Black Fish observed illegal fishing activities in the exact same fishery.

The fishery operates in the Kattegat, the area of sea between northern Denmark and Sweden and targets Norwegian lobster (also known as nephrops) with trawlers. The Kattegat is home to a number of important spawning areas for cod, which has been heavily overfished in the area over recent decades.

Cod is traditionally caught alongside lobster in some of the Kattegat trawl fisheries, continuing the negative impacts on the troubled species. To mitigate this impact, the Swedish authorities imposed new rules, forcing fishers to fit special grids in their trawl nets, allowing for the release of adult cod fish swimming into the net, while catching lobsters.

As part of its ongoing investigations into illegal fishing in European seas, the Citizen Inspector Network of The Black Fish carried out over 100 inspections in Swedish fishing ports last August and found multiple illegally modified trawl nets, which enable fishers to illegally catch cod fish.

One of the inspectors explains: “During the inspections we found multiple steel grids which weren’t properly attached to the trawl nets, allowing for an opening to be created underneath the grid, so cod could be caught. One net even used chains as weights to open up the net further, making the fitted grid totally useless.”

“On another occasion we observed fishers re-attaching their nets upon return to the port, presumably for the net to meet the requirements during a possible inspection by fisheries officials.”

Products from the nephrops fishery will now bear the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label for ‘sustainable fisheries’. The Black Fish notified the MSC about its findings but learned that the assessment period for the fisheries had already passed. Annual surveillance audits are carried out by the certification body but The Black Fish fears these will yield little result in uncovering illegal activities, in part because they are publicly announced before they take place.

Wietse van der Werf, International Director of The Black Fish: “Sustainability labels mean very little if certifiers are not digging deeper to find out what is really happening in fisheries. Surprise inspections and undercover investigators would be a good start.”

Van der Werf says The Black Fish is determined to get to the facts: “We will continue to build on our findings as with more evidence we stand a stronger case.” The photographic and video evidence collected by Citizen Inspectors will not be made public, pending its use in possible legal action.

The Black Fish appeals to anyone who might have further information about illegal activities in the Swedish nephrop fishery to come forward. Our legal team can be contacted at legal@theblackfish.org

New research queries illegal fishing as organised crime

Is illegal fishing a form of organised crime? In which circumstances should it be treated as such? What approaches are necessary to tackle it? These are some of the main questions driving new research carried out by The Black Fish in partnership with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, investigating the links between illegal fishing and organised crime.

A consultation draft of a new report on the issue was presented at an expert seminar on organised crime and sustainable development, held last week at the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN in New York.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) a major threat to marine life is illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing with annual global catch estimated at $10-30 billion (USD). In 2005 the FAO estimated that 75% of the world’s fish stocks were fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. In Europe, 85% of fish stocks are in trouble and roughly half of fish products traded through Europe is believed to have illegal origins.

“A comprehensive recognition of the various drivers behind illegal fishing is needed in order to find the right tools to stop transnational criminal organisations from destroying our oceans. This research plays a major role in that effort.” said Wietse van der Werf, International Director at The Black Fish.

The upcoming report, which is set to be published in April, will highlight how the highly organised nature of illegal fishing operations justify treating this activity as a form of organized crime. Illegal fishing is also highly transnational in its scope and is supported by a wide range of illicit activity, including money and fish laundering, tax evasion, fraud, corruption, bribary and violence. Furthermore, illegal fishing operations have also been found to be linked to other forms of organised crime, including drug smuggling, human trafficking and forced labour.

Van der Werf: “Our work is uncovering some shocking facts about the dark side of the fishing industry. Case studies focused on different forms of transnational fishing crime have come from all over the world, including Europe and the US.”

Last week’s seminar brought together law enforcement and development specialists to discuss how organised crime obstructs good implementation of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Mark Shaw, one of the founders of the Global Initiative talked about the need for the international community to act fast.

“Lack of cooperation was one of the main reasons to start this debate”, said Shaw on the topic, which was recently highlighted at the UN level. “The real challenge is how to make progress in multiple sectors. The debate is just starting and there is a lot of work to be done.”

New Zealand Navy Confronts Illegal Fishing

Three days ago the New Zealand navy intercepted two ships illegally fishing in the Southern Ocean. These ships, the Songhua and the Kunlun, are flagged out of Equatorial Guinea, but appear to have links to a Spanish organized crime syndicate. Yesterday the New Zealand Herald reported that a third ship, the Yongding, has also been intercepted. All three ships have been documented using banned fishing methods. The ensuing situation proves a strong example of the illegal overfishing crisis currently facing the world’s oceans.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has stated that the three ships claimed they are not a group, but since they have been operating alongside each other it strongly suggests that they are part of an illegal fishing syndicate. The Songhua and the Kunlun have been linked to Spanish-based syndicate Vidal Armadores SA, and are also on an illegal fishing blacklist created by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

New Zealand has contacted Equatorial Guinea for permission to board the ships since they are in international waters, and at the time this is being written are attempting to board. The latest reports indicate that the fishing vessels’ crews are uncooperative and deterring a successful boarding by Navy personnel. While waiting for permission the three ships continued to brazenly and illegally pull Patagonian toothfish out of the ocean under the watch of the New Zealand navy.

“The fact that these vessels aren’t even afraid to cease their poaching activities in front of the presence of navy vessels indicates that penalties are not strong enough; where is the deterrent?” said Wietse van der Werf, International Director of The Black Fish. “The Patagonian toothfish is one of the most valuable fish on the market, without effective law enforcement we will continue to see this kind of poaching, not just in the Southern Ocean but with many species all around the world.”

The vessels are using flags of convenience, the practice of registering a ship in a country other than that of the owners, to avoid regulations or expenses associated with the owner’s country, in this case Spain.

The Black Fish sees a clear responsibility on the government of Spain to act accordingly. “Illegal fishing is by its nature a transnational issue,” added van der Werf. “Countries are going to need to cooperate and step up when they know their countries are involved in fisheries crimes, even if that crime is taking place somewhere on the high seas.”

This incident further demonstrates the links between organized crime and illegal fishing, a link which is often overlooked but which The Black Fish is seeking to bring greater attention to.

In the EU The Black Fish is training volunteers as part of it’s Citizen Inspectors Network which sees ordinary citizens conducting inspections and gathering evidence of illegality in European ports and waters. “This is a role that governments should be playing, but in their absence, citizens are ready to stand up for the oceans.”

The Black Fish commends the Royal New Zealand Navy and in particular the crew members onboard the patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington for their efforts to halt the illegal fishing activities.