Above the Surface: From Ocean Health to Human Prosperity

June 8, 2017 By Allison Taylor

All across the world’s oceans— from the islands of the Raja Ampat archipelago, to the coasts of Nova Scotia, and off the shores of West Africa—the unfortunate practice of illegal fishing costs the world an estimated $10-$24 billion every year.

Developing countries are most at risk of exploitation, as illegal fisheries avoid regulation and competition, often skewing market prices and forcing legitimate fishing operations out of business. The result is countless sea-reliant communities struggling, not just economically, but socially and culturally as well.

Take, for example, Somalia, where local fishermen have found their small businesses at odds with the influx of illegal fisheries from foreign countries. With limited economic opportunities, and their livelihoods threatened, the fishermen have come to resent their local government for failing to correct the problem. Illegal fishing has been cited as one of the main factors driving piracy in Somalia. And globally, illegal fishing networks can be linked to drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

But the crime and economic implications of illegal fisheries are not the only problem. These illegal operations disregard environmental precautions as well. Beneath the surface of the water, marine biodiversity deteriorates, sharks, whales, and dolphins are threatened, and the colorful coral landscape that reflects the vibrant health of our planet slowly bleaches away and dies.

But there is good news.

Since 2015, more than 40 private companies, NGOs, and government agencies have partnered together to solve this multi-faceted challenge as part of the State Department’s Safe Ocean Network. The goal: share resources and provide support in order to combat illegal fishing and its detrimental effects.

A major contributor to the network is Vulcan, Inc.—a Seattle-based company using its expertise in data and technology to improve ocean health both in the U.S. and abroad.

At the 2016 Ocean Conference, representing the Safe Ocean Network, Vulcan pledged to invest $3.7 million in a project that would analyze satellite image data to successfully identify illegal fishing activity worldwide. In addition, their international partnership with an initiative called Sea Around Us is making global ocean and fishing data freely available for anyone to use. Their efforts to empower under-resourced countries are allowing seafaring communities to better regulate their fish markets, combat illegal activity, and protect the health of the marine environment.

As we consider all the ways in which we rely on Earth’s oceans this World Oceans Day, its theme, Our Ocean, Our Future, is particularly timely for the growing environmental, social, and economic impacts of illegal fishing. But if you’re wondering how you can help combat this global issue, Paul G. Allen, founder of Vulcan Inc., has a simple suggestion: “Make informed choices about the seafood we buy: what type, where it’s from, and how it was caught.”

Photo Source: Flickr / CC