Violation of workers’ rights and forced labor are the main crimes associated with illegal fishing in the Asia-Pacific region, a study revealed on Tuesday. 

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization — Australia’s national science agency — used scientific literature reviews and media reports on illegal fishing for the past five years spanning 21 countries.

“Each year, 26 million tons of fish are illegally caught. That’s equivalent to the weight of 3.7 million elephants! This has catastrophic impacts on sustainable fisheries management and the marine environment,” the study said.

Fisheries provide an estimated 59.6 million people with jobs globally but “more than 30% of global fisheries are overexploited,” it claimed.

Illegal fishing, the agency said, is also associated with other crimes including drugs, human and arms trafficking.

“Labor abuses showed up in 75% of scientific papers and more than half of media reports on illegal fishing. But only 2% of the media reports on illegal fishing included additional associated crimes. Only one article pertained to illegal fishing in Australian waters.”

The investigation argued that illegal fishing, which is incredibly challenging to identify, enforce and prosecute on the high seas, is estimated to cause global annual economic losses between $35 and $68 billion.

“Fishers don’t smuggle on a major scale. Instead, they underpay workers, fish in prohibited areas and conduct other activities closely related to the core business of fishing,” it said.

The researchers said that the study will help protect “those vulnerable to fisheries exploitation.”

“This will enhance livelihoods, social well-being and the sustainability of global fisheries. By disentangling illegal fishing from other crimes, we can better focus on solutions to tackle it.”

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