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May 5, 2006

Pirates Among Us

Remember those high seas, adventure stories you were told as a child? Think Treasure Island and the like. In them, pirates roamed the seas, boarding ships in search of gold and searching for lost treasure on remote tropical islands. They stole what they could, until tracked down and confronted by the law.

Well, these aren’t just kids’ stories. Unfortunately, pirates are still at sea, except instead of gold doubloons, they are often plundering our ocean wildlife and fishery resources.
Among the seafood treasures are the Patagonian toothfish and Antarctic toothfish, marketed as the more attractive-sounding “Chilean Seabass.” In recent years, this flavorful sea delicacy increased in popularity throughout the world, which led to even more fishing. But Chilean Seabass is a long-lived species (up to 40 years) that is slow to grow and slow to breed. The combination of excessive fishing and their natural lifecycle means that populations are near collapse and are now protected by international law. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop some commercial fishermen. Oceana has been active in urging governments to take action to enforce the law.

Just last month, the United States arrested a Spanish national for allegedly engaging in illegal fishing – or, more colloquially, pirate fishing. Antonio Vidal Pego, a Spanish national, was charged by a federal grand jury, along with Uruguayan corporation Fadilur, S.A., with importing and conspiring to sell illegally 53,000 pounds (26.5 tons) of Chilean Seabass from Singapore for $314,397.30. They were also charged with false labeling and obstructing justice. Vidal will be tried in federal district court in Miami. If convicted, Vidal could be sentenced to a maximum of 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to the Department of Justice.

Oceana will continue to monitor the trial of Vidal and Fadilur, S.A. because enforcement against illegal over-fishing is critical for protecting fish populations the world over that are already over-exploited. Our laws to restore our oceans should be vigorously enforced with the goal of ending fishing piracy everywhere.

Our guest blogger Bruce Knecht’s new book, Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish, takes a closer look at the illegal fishing of Patagonian toothfish and a pursuit involving one of Vidal’s ships. Keep reading for more information on the issue.