By Valeska Diemel.
FishAct is an international organisation that works to end illegal overfishing. Our approach brings together people and the benefits of modern technology to protect the oceans through enforcement of environmental regulations.
FishAct was founded in Amsterdam in 2010 by a group of young conservationists who set out to build a grassroots marine activism community with a focus on exposing and challenging illegal and destructive fishing practices in European waters. The organization is entirely run by volunteers, who coordinate fundraising, train new Citizen Inspectors, keep the administration in order and guide the international volunteer network. Approximately 100 active volunteers represent the organisation at events all around Europe and initiate community crowdfunding actions to raise much needed funds our work.
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Our focus lays on overfishing and especially illegal fishing. The overfishing of our oceans has been an issue of the environmental movement since the 80’s, but it hasn’t changed for the better since then. This means, that the problem is not, that people are not aware or that they don’t care, but that the issue has been too big or abstract for people to really feel connected to it. So what we have to do now is to split this enormous and frightening issue into smaller issues, so that people actually feel that their actions can make a difference. FishAct therefore focuses entirely on the issue of illegal fishing in European waters. We are focusing on Europe, because (1) our network is only active in European countries and we want to avoid frequent long distance travels by plane and (2) we all feel that it’s important to work towards change in front of your own doorstep. To tackle illegal activities is something very powerful, because crime is something that most people don’t accept.
Our most important project is the “Citizen Inspector Network”, where we train ordinary people from all walks of life to become undercover fishing inspectors. We teach them how to identify species, fishing gear and vessels, to then take them out to a port or fish market of interest to document illegal activities. Over the last years, FishAct has run various investigations into illegal fishing activities in both the Baltic and Mediterranean.
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The operations in the Mediterranean have included monitoring of illegal bluefin tuna fishing in Croatia, tracking of illegal driftnet use in the Tyrrhenian Sea, documenting dynamite fishing off Tunisia, gathering evidence on deep sea shark fishing and finning in Morocco and the landing and trade of juvenile fish in Sicily. In the Baltic Sea, we investigated illegal cod fishing in a nephrops fishery in Sweden, poaching of cockles and razor clams along UK beaches, and the illegal landing of Baltic cod in the recreational fishing community in Germany.
Aside from our work in the field, FishAct has had a strong focus on education. The organization published the book The Bluefin Bonanza documenting the lucrative illegal tuna trade in 2012. In 2013, a team of 32 internationally acclaimed animators produced the short film Losing Nemo, which was released on World Oceans Day and has since won various film prizes and viewed online by 200.000+ people. In 2015 we published a report, The Illegal Fishing and Organized Crime Nexus: Illegal Fishing as Organized Crime, which was presented at the 13th United Nations Crime Congress in Doha. In 2017 the booklet Deserted Ocean, filled with colourful info graphics on the ocean, overfishing and aquaculture, was published. Public speaking tours across England, Germany and the Baltic region have been held in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016, and these enabled us to rally broad grassroots support for our conservation efforts.
FishAct is also working with policy makers to push for sustainable fisheries in Europe. In Germany (Berlin and Bonn) and in the EU parliament, FishAct is participating in stakeholder meetings with fisheries ministers and other important policymakers to use the experience and evidence gathered from our field investigations to speak up for a future with healthy seas and fish stocks. In January 2018, FishAct was part of a collective of NGOs and artisanal fishermen, who stopped the approval of electric pulse fishing in all european waters.
Our oceans are ruled by a group of animals that rarely comes to mind when we think about ocean wonders. It‘s not the whales, turtles or dolphins that are dominating the big blue – it‘s fish. They have adapted to all kinds of habitats and can be found in every single part of our oceans, from colourful coral reefs to the desert of the open ocean up to the deepest waters in over 8 kilometers depth. Fish do not only come in all shapes and colours, they also have an unbelievable variety of characters and skills. Sadly, most of these astonishing skills and likeable character traits remain unnoticed… Being the most important marine resource on the planet, fish are the target of the most effective killing machinery ever developed by humans: industrial fishing. Everywhere on this planet floating factories are emptying our ocean with huge nets and billions of hooks. Within the last 60 years, our technology has been surpassing every single skill and adaptation fish have developed in the last 500 million years. Industrial fishing can‘t be compared to any other form we‘re exploiting non-human animals today. Nowhere else are so many individuals dying every day unnoticed and unheard. One reason that this can happen is that it takes place completely out of sight, far out on the open ocean where nobody is watching. The other reason is that humans don‘t feel connected to fish like they feel to mammals – and without this connection, compassion is impossible.
There are a lot of different ways to support our work: Sign up as a Citizen Inspector and go out in the field with us! Volunteer with us and help us to raise awareness, organize events, give talks and spread the word! Donate and help us to implement our campaigns and projects! Contact us, tell us what you’re good at and and what it is that you would like to contribute – we need them all: chefs, IT professionals, lawyers, designers, photographers, divers, etc.!
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Copyright of featured image and all images in the text by FishAct.