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Rapid and lasting gains from solving illegal fishing


Perhaps the greatest challenge facing global fisheries is that recovery often requires substantial short-term reductions in fishing effort, catches and profits. These costs can be onerous and are borne in the present; thus, many countries are unwilling to undertake such socially and politically unpopular actions. We argue that many nations can recover their fisheries while avoiding these short-term costs by sharply addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This can spur fishery recovery, often at little or no cost to local economies or food provision. Indonesia recently implemented aggressive policies to curtail the high levels of IUU fishing it experiences from foreign-flagged vessels. We show that Indonesia’s policies have reduced total fishing effort by at least 25%, illustrating with empirical evidence the possibility of achieving fishery reform without short-term losses to the local fishery economy. Compared with using typical management reforms that would require a 15% reduction in catch and 16% reduction in profit, the approach of curtailing IUU has the potential to generate a 14% increase in catch and a 12% increase in profit. Applying this model globally, we find that addressing IUU fishing could facilitate similar rapid, long-lasting fisheries gains in many regions of the world.

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Fig. 1: Global network of distant-water fishing.
Fig. 2: Top 95 most fished EEZs in 2013 and the evolution of their rankings through time.
Fig. 3: Fishing effort before and after the implementation of Indonesia’s IUU policies.
Fig. 4: Benefits of addressing IUU fishing in Indonesia.
Fig. 5: Distant-water fishing in The Gambia.
Fig. 6: Potential benefits of addressing IUU fishing.

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R.B.C., J.M., M.C., J.L., S.D.G. and C.C. acknowledge financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Waitt Foundation. S.K., U.M., D.N., Z.A., M., A.G. and N.Z. acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia. J.M. acknowledges the support of E. Sala and the Pristine Seas team.

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All authors contributed to research design. Analysis was undertaken by R.B.C., J.M., J.L. and C.C. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Reniel B. Cabral or Christopher Costello.

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Cabral, R.B., Mayorga, J., Clemence, M. et al. Rapid and lasting gains from solving illegal fishing. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 650–658 (2018).

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