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Some people consider fish to be merely a choice on the menu at any given restaurant. But for more than 1 billion people in the world, oceans are the main source of sustenance.
The average person consumes more than 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) of seafood annually. This food source is in danger of exhaustion as overfishing and poor management are causing rapid depletion of resources.
Illicit activities undermine attempts to rationally and responsibly manage fish stocks for global sustainability. More than 30 percent of fishery catches are illegal, unreported and unregulated. Increased transparency of global fishing fleets could help to reduce the negative environmental and economic impacts of black market fishing. A global record of fishing is necessary to shed light on an otherwise clandestine operation. It is impossible to manage and regulate what cannot be seen.
Although there has been a United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) ship identification mechanism, currently administered by IHS Maritime & Trade, in place for the past 27 years, the system has major shortcomings. Until 2014, only merchant vessels weighing 100 gross tons and above were required to have an identification number while fishing vessels remained exempt.
Only 22,000 vessels of 100 gross tons and above have voluntarily acquired an IMO number. Industry estimates peg the quantity of fishing vessels of that size at approximately 185,000, with possibly three times as many smaller ones.

These ships can deploy lines up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) in length at depths of more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). Trawlers track the fish by sonar and capture collateral deep-sea species with no commercial market. An estimated 87 percent of the world's marine stocks are fully exploited, over exploited, or depleted. Populations of some species including swordfish and tuna may never recover.
The lack of real-time data on fleets and the capability of vessels to change names, company owners and flag states make fishing difficult to manage. The lack of transparency contributes to document fraud in licensing and fishing rights, which leads to overfishing.
The first step to ameliorating the problem is the comprehensive adoption of IMO identification numbers by all fishing vessels sailing on the high seas. It would standardize identification of vessels regardless of the name, registration country and owner and enable transparent tracking of fishing activity. Adoption of the proven system would facilitate coordination among regulatory approaches and enable concerted action to curb illegal fishing.
Alex Gray is senior project manager for IHS Maritime & Trade
Posted December 5, 2014

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