The Cost of Illegal Fishing in Northeast

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ecoRI.com: We’ve seen a rash of stories recently on illegal fishing in the Northeast, as enforcement officials take action on unreported catch. Some of the numbers are eye-popping.

One bust involved 56,000 pounds of illegally caught and unreported summer flounder, also known as fluke. Another charge alleged 86,000 unreported pounds of the same fish over 3 years.

Research indicates that those figures are no fluke — pardon the pun. In fact, these recent incidents represent only a small fraction of illegal and unreported catch. Studies show that most illegal fishing in the region involves cheating on rules regarding the amount, type or size of fish allowed to be caught, misreporting in dealer reports, or fishing in places set aside to protect fish habitat and spawning areas. Few people realize the extent of illegal fishing, the harm it can do to ocean resources, and the ways in which this cheating undermines efforts to measure and sustainably manage fisheries.

For example, a study published in the journal Marine Policy in 2010 estimated that between 12% and 24% of New England’s total catch of groundfish — bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, flounder and haddock — was taken illegally. How much fish is that? Well, when the authors took the midpoint of that estimate (18%) and applied it to the actual landings from the time the study was conducted, they found that the illegal catch would amount to more than 11 million pounds of fish, worth about $13 million.

Read more about how illegal fishing is hurting marine fisheries.