What you are achieving for our oceans

It’s all happening. With close to 100 trained Citizen Inspectors, increasing amounts of evidence of illegal fishing and a growing community of volunteers across Europe, you are making a difference for the protection of our oceans. You have crowdfunded more donations, attended more events and raised more awareness than ever before. And it is having an impact.

With enforcement authorities increasingly taking note and prosecutions pending, your actions are taking on the powerful companies involved in illegally overfishing our seas. Here is what you in The Black Fish community have achieved for the protection of ocean life this year.

The (voluntary) staff team of The Black Fish. November 2015, Amsterdam.

Together we are building a growing ocean movement

There is strength in numbers. With our volunteer communities growing across Germany, UK, Spain and The Netherlands, we saw our community substantially expand this year. More events were attended than ever before and with more structural volunteer training now in place, you are helping us grow our movement more effectively so together we can make a bigger splash.

You raised over €200,000 this year to fight illegal fishing

2015 was without a doubt the most successful year for The Black Fish, including financially. You raised over €200,000 during online appeals, sporting challenging and community events, as well as contributed in-kind donations with an estimated value of over €1,2 million. We were also able to launch the #OceanCrowd; the first dedicated ocean crowdfunding platform, already with great results for our Citizen Inspectors that use it to crowdfund the necessary contributions to make our investigations possible. Thank you for donating!

We are training a network of civilian fishing inspectors

During two international weekend long training sessions we were able to train up Citizen Inspectors, which are currently out in the field collecting evidence of illegal fishing practices. With close to 100 people now trained up and the ambition for an estimated 120 additional people to be qualified across several countries in 2016, The Black Fish is will soon run the world’s largest fisheries monitoring network. Thanks to your support we are scaling up crucial monitoring capacity over fishing grounds, in ports and markets.

You are helping us expose crime

Our civil enforcement approach rests on the ability to collect evidence in order to initiate unique prosecutions and affect policy changes. On both levels we are seeing promising progress and especially due to growing support we were able to take on two major challenges this year. In April we took our case, for illegal fishing to be officially recognised as a type of organised crime, to the United Nations. Our ground-breaking report and subsequent policy discussions are changing the perceptions on what constitutes wildlife crime and how illegal fishing should be dealt with accordingly.

In July our Citizen Inspectors uncovered a major loophole in EU law which is enabling large scale illegal driftnets to return to European seas. Your support has been crucial to get this issue investigated and with your continued backing we can see to it being resolved.

Our efforts are yielding concrete results on the ground

Less talk more action. With ‘boots on the ground’ we are able to get concrete results for conservation. Early on in the year our inspectors working in Italy cooperated with the Italian Coastguard on a major bust to confiscate illegal catches of juvenile anchovy. Further on in the year we were able to get back to sea to remove illegal Fish Aggregating Devices from killing endangered wildlife in the South Tyrrhenian Sea. Once again your contributions are translating into tangible results in the field.

Authorities are taking note and getting involved

Essentially we are doing a job that governments should be doing but are failing to. We will continue to do whatever is necessary in our fight for the preservation of the world’s oceans but an interesting development is that official authorities are increasingly taking note. Our approach is realising increased enforcement capacity at relatively low cost and achieving more results than some official bodies are able to manage. This year saw a broadening of our cooperation with the Italian Coastguard and we hope to announce new ground-breaking authority partnerships in the new year.

We will soon be backed up by air and sea services

While at The Black Fish we train and deploy Citizen Inspectors in fishing ports and markets, in the new year we will be backed up by air and sea support from the Conservation Services. Working as part of this new strategic conservation partnership, we will soon be able to take on illegal fishing from land, air and sea, as well as through innovative tracking technology and forensic science.

Your involvement makes it all possible

We are a community of ordinary people wishing to see concrete change for our oceans and we can have an impact thanks to your involvement. Your support, feedback, volunteering and spreading the word is what makes our world spin. Thank you. We are lucky to have you onboard our team and look forward to make ambitious things happen together in 2016.

Looking to contribute? Thank you for getting involved or making a donation

Civilian air service patrols for shellfish poachers

A unique new partnership between The Black Fish and the Wildlife Air Service has realised crucial surveillance flights for shellfish poaching off the UK’s North West coast. Monitoring flights were carried out over the coasts of Northern Wales, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria for two weeks in mid-August. Observers from The Black Fish inside a Cessna 172 patrol aircraft have been on the look out for shellfish poachers, believed to be operating in the River Dee estuary and Morecambe Bay during low tide.

Pilot Dan Beeden after an early evening patrol flight. Photo by Paul Wolfgang Webster.

While the initial flights have not yet uncovered the larger poaching operations believed to be taking place in the region, the air crew remain determined. “This is all about having eyes in the sky and ramping up crucial surveillance capacity. We will locate illegal activity soon enough if it is occurring. Otherwise we very much hope to confirm the shellfish populations in this region are safe and well protected.” says Wietse van der Werf, the primary Airborne Inspector onboard; responsible for evidence collection and analysis.

Dan Beeden, pilot and founder of the Wildlife Air Service; “This is the start of a much larger operation we will run along the UK coast over the coming months in order to have eyes in the sky and ensure crime on our coasts can be identified and tackled. The regions we are now patrolling have traditionally experienced problems with shellfish poaching. Our flights help realise much needed additional monitoring capacity to collect evidence, which will be handed over to enforcement agencies.”

The Black Fish’s Citizen Inspectors have carried out coastal patrols on the ground during the same period as the Wildlife Air Service’s patrols in the air. Collected evidence has been shared between the two organisations to ensure investigative efforts into shellfish poaching can be as effective and cooperative as possible. The Black Fish is preparing for a report to be published during the fall, which will be presented to prosecutors and national enforcement agencies.

Learn more about issue of shellfish poaching here. Follow the Wildlife Air Service on Twitter and Facebook.

Deadly driftnet loophole exposed in Italy

Italy’s deadly driftnets are back. The illegal use of the destructive nets, thought to have ended on a larger scale thanks to recent measures taken by the EU and Italy, has again been exposed with fresh evidence emerging of their deployment. Citizen Inspectors of The Black Fish, who are currently on deployment to investigate other forms of illegal fishing in the country, were surprised to find evidence of widespread use of the illegal nets. Fishermen, exploiting a new legal loophole, are now openly setting the nets at sea again.

Dubbed the ‘curtains of death’, driftnet form an impenetrable wall in the ocean and while targeting tuna and swordfish, are instead the cause of thousands of cetacean, turtle and shark deaths annually, in the Mediterranean alone. Outlawed by the United Nations in 1992, the use of the nets are strictly regulated in the EU, yet compliance has been a contentious issue for decades.

Samantha Hook of The Black Fish: “At least ten different laws were introduced in the last decade that prohibit the use of driftnets but to no avail. The deadly nets are back. Throughout the last two weeks, as we have carried out inspections in ports across Southern Italy, it has become painstakingly clear that fishers are exploiting a new legal loophole and are once again causing havoc for marine life across the region. We call on EU policy makers to take urgent action and ensure this new loophole is closed before the start of next year’s fishing season.”

Fishers have added metal rings to their nets, arguing that the illegal driftnets on their vessels are instead surrounding nets, used to catch smaller species. Hook: “The international regulations are vague as to what exactly constitutes a surrounding net and fishers are cleverly exploiting this to their advantage. The mesh sizes of the driftnets are far too large to ever catch any smaller fish as surrounding nets do yet the law is obviously not clear enough on this.”

The Black Fish has presented the fresh evidence to the European Commission and US authorities in a bid to push for further sanctions over Italy’s continued disregards for international law concerning the illegal fishing gear. A publicly available report with the latest evidence will be published once The Black Fish’s field investigations in Italy have ended.

Interested in supporting our work? Please make a donation or get actively involved as a Citizen Inspector or volunteer.

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.

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