“Our oceans are being industrialised” – ahead of major UN ocean conference, Greenpeace report lifts the lid on destructive fishing

Greenpeace is in the Northern Indian Ocean to bear witness to the destructive fishing practices of under documented fishing fleets which it is estimated cause the bycatch of 80-100,000 cetaceans per year. by Dina Ni
07/03/2022

London, Monday 7 March – As governments meet at the UN to discuss the fate of the world’s oceans, a new Greenpeace International report lifts the lid on a rapidly growing and largely unregulated squid fishing industry.[1] Squids in the Spotlight uncovers the huge scale of the global squid fishery, which has grown over 10-fold since 1950 to almost 5 million tonnes annually in the last decade and is now jeopardising marine ecosystems around the world. Operating out-of-sight in international waters, the meteoric rise of squid fishing and resulting demand for the species has no historical precedent, with some areas seeing a more than 800% increase in the number of vessels in just the last five years.[2] In some instances, armadas of over 500 vessels have descended on the borders of national waters to plunder the ocean, with their collective lights being visible from space.[3] Campaigners are calling for a strong Global Ocean Treaty, which could have prevented this situation and which will be crucial in stopping future fisheries expanding without restrictions.

“I’ve seen some of these squid fleets out on the open ocean – at night the vessels are lit up like football stadiums and it looks like the sea is a mass of industry,” said Will McCallum, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign.[4] “Our oceans are being industrialised: beyond national waters it’s often a free-for-all. The lack of control over the huge and growing squid fisheries worldwide is a glaring example of why the current rules to protect the oceans are failing. It’s a disturbing sight and one I’m never going to forget. But just because this is happening out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

“This ocean conference is too important to be a talking shop: we need urgent action to protect the biggest ecosystem on Earth. We all rely on the oceans whether we know it or not: to help tackle climate change, ensure healthy ecosystems and to ensure food security and livelihoods for millions around the world. We urgently need a strong Global Ocean Treaty that allows us to create a network of ocean sanctuaries around the world and put the brakes on the expanding industrialisation of our global commons.” 

Oceans - Greenpeace - Squid are landed on a squid boat, Jeju Island, 08th March 2011, South Korea. Ocean Defenders Tour. Photo: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace
Squid are landed on a squid boat, Jeju Island, 08th March 2011, South Korea. Ocean Defenders Tour. Photo: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace

Squid are a vital species. As both predator and prey, they sustain entire food webs, meaning declining populations would have catastrophic consequences for ocean wildlife and the coastal communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods and food security. But with most squid fisheries remaining almost entirely unregulated, fishing vessels can operate with barely any scrutiny or monitoring of their catch. There are currently no specific regulatory and monitoring systems in place to monitor the global trade of squid. In 2019, just three fishing nations were responsible for almost 60% of the global squid catch.

Governments are meeting from today to negotiate towards a Global Ocean Treaty for international waters, which cover almost half of the planet (43%). Almost 5 million people have backed Greenpeace’s campaign for a treaty, and for the creation of a network of ocean sanctuaries – areas free from harmful human activity – across at least a third of the world’s oceans by 2030. 

[1] Governments meet from Monday 7 March – Friday 18 March at the UN to discuss the so-called Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). Scientists and campaigners are calling for a historic agreement to protect international waters: a Global Ocean Treaty. If done properly, this would create the legal framework for the creation of highly or fully protected Marine Protected Areas (or ocean sanctuaries) across at least a third of the planet by 2030 (30×30) – something scientists say is essential to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and protect vulnerable species. Over 100 governments and 5 million people worldwide have backed the 30×30 vision.

The importance of cephalopods in sustaining marine ecosystems cannot be overstated. Worldwide, they are a key component of food webs, providing a major prey source for coveted fish species like tunas and salmon, cetaceans like dolphins, sea lions and whales, and a variety of seabirds. 

Squids in the Spotlight uncovers the huge scale of the global squid fishery, which has grown over 10-fold since 1950 to almost 5 million tonnes annually in the last decade and is now jeopardising marine ecosystems around the world. Operating out-of-sight in international waters, the meteoric rise of squid fishing and resulting demand for the species has no historical precedent, with some areas seeing a more than 800% increase in the number of vessels in just the last five years.

The cumulative impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and overfishing of vital species like squid make it startlingly evident that humankind is modifying marine ecosystems at a scale never before seen in history.

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