Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Overharvest From Illegal Fishing Threatens Crab Populations

A new study released by the World Wildlife Fund says that crab populations in the Russian Far East are at risk of collapse because of overharvest from illegal fishing.

The ten-year study of trade and customs data identified major discrepancies between the amount of crab reportedly harvested in Russian waters and the amount imported into other countries.

The study concluded that two-to-four times the legal harvest limit had entered the global marketplace. The magnitude of illegal crab fishing puts the entire Bering Sea marine ecosystem at risk, the report said. The waters where the crab was taken are shared by Russia and Alaska and produce almost 200 million pounds of legally caught crab each year.

Michele Kuruc, WWF vice president of marine policy, said the US is likely importing large quantities of crab and other seafood which may have been illegally caught. The problem, said Kuruc, is the US is unable to say how much is illegal. “We need a way to obtain and assess this information if we want to address this global illegal fishing problem,” he said.

Konstantin Zgurovsky, who heads the WWF-Russia marine program, called for better port control and a transparent, international monitoring system of fishing activity and seafood trade.

The report notes that Russia has in recent years worked to shrink the illegal crab problem by developing bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea, developing a national plan of action to address illegal fisheries, and continued enforcement at-sea. Yet the problem is multilateral and it demands a multilateral solution, the report said.

Official customs data from South Korea, Japan, China and the US indicate that in 2013 these four countries imported 1.69 times as much live and frozen crab from Russia as official Russian harvest levels.

The report also noted that foreign-flagged vessels harvest crab illegally in Russian waters, and some Russian-flagged vessels either overharvest or harvest crab illegally. Misdeclaring product quantities, off-loading undeclared product onto a transport vessel at sea, or delivering undeclared drab, or declared using fake documentation, directly to a foreign port are known techniques to launder crab.

The report, Illegal Russian Crab: an Investigation of Trade Flow, is online at

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