In Uruguay, our local partner is calling on the government to help put a stop to illegal fishing practices that threaten the Southwest Atlantic, while also getting youth involved as ‘ocean guardians’. As we celebrate World Oceans Day, find out how OCC-Uruguay are at the frontline of tackling one of the most serious threats facing our oceans – the ‘scourge’ of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The Southwest Atlantic – a modern horror story of overfishing and slave labour

The Southwest Atlantic including Uruguay’s territorial seas are one of our planet’s richest marine environments, and dozens of species depend on its health to survive, from marine mammals, such as dolphins, elephant seals and sperm whales, to sea birds such as penguins and albatrosses, and several species of fish like sharks and toothfish. Uruguay’s coast also forms part of an important migration route for ocean species, such as the Southern Right Whale.

And yet, more than 400 illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels operate off the Uruguayan coast, where there is no management organization to enforce control.

According to Milko Schvartzman, marine biologist and coordinator of Oceanosanos, OCC’s project for ‘healthy oceans’, the lack of a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) body to regulate the exploitation and protect any of the species targeted, attracts fleets from Asia and Europe, primarily Spain. They operate with subsidized fuel and without any requirement for environmental protection, labour conditions, or safety at sea.

Montevideo Port – a magnet for IUU fishing

Global Fishing Watch has named the port of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the 2nd fishing port of the world most visited by reefers after trans-shipment, a practice used to hide IUU catch and human trafficking. Most of the IUU fishing fleet seek squid, but also target hake and patagonian toothfish. Shark and ray finning also occurs.

Every day, about a dozen IUU fishing and reefer vessels dock at the port of Montevideo, totalling more than 1500 landings per year. Many of them have already been denounced or prosecuted because of overfishing and/or Human Rights abuses abroad, some have been sanctioned because of drugs trafficking.

There are regular reports of crewmen jumping overboard trying to escape the terrible living conditions aboard, and many humanitarian aid requests from crew are being reported at the port of Montevideo – not to mention the regular landing of dead bodies (four reported bodies in the last three months) from foreign fishing vessels. Read the Oceanosanos report on Illegal Fishing and Organized Crime.

On World Oceans Day, Oceanosanos is screening Ghost Fleet, a documentary about human slavery on the high seas. The film describes how trafficking networks trick Southeast Asian migrant workers into lives of forced labour aboard ships, and the courageous story of one woman who is committed to rescuing them. Captive men go months, even years, without setting foot on land, trapped in a modern form of slavery and forced to endure horrific and often deadly conditions.

Rising concern over Chinese mega-fisheries installation

OCC-Uruguay and defenders of marine habitats are especially concerned about plans by a Chinese company to build a large-scale fisheries installation in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The investment of U$S 210 million includes a shipyard for repairs and building, large frozen warehouses, a housing complex, office buildings and fuel tanks. According to potential investors, the new ‘infrastructure’ will add capacity to attend 500-1000 more vessels per year, and avoid the ships traveling back to Asia or Europe for repairs. It would mean a significant increase in fishing, with squid, the primary diet for penguins, elephant seals, dolphins and sperm whales, being heavily targeted by these fleets. It is bad news too for Uruguay’s small-scale fishing boats and sustainable fishing practices.

Oceansanos reports that China and Uruguay have signed already an agreement to develop different bilateral accords, “taking advantage of the geographical location that Uruguay offers as a logistic node in the South Atlantic”.

From schools to government – changing hearts and minds

With support from Oceans5, Oceanosanos is working hard to inform about the impact of IUU fishing and the proposed Chinese mega-fishing facility for the Southwest Atlantic. Briefings for government authorities and politicians are aimed at lifting the lid on Uruguay being complicit in IUU fishing, and the real costs for marine biodiversity, local livelihoods and for ocean health.

Inspiring youth to be ocean guardians, through art and play, is equally important. Even though IUU fishing, plastics and global warming are huge problems, Rodrigo García, Director of OCC, believes in starting small, inspiring a love for the oceans, and encouraging children to do what they can.

This week, Oceanosanos launched a new, educational ‘oceans game’ for schools. Designed by Mayra Rovahz of OCC, the kit comes complete with printed screen and stick-ons, so that teachers and students can explore the threats and solutions for healthy oceans.

Join us in celebrating World Oceans Day

This year’s theme for World Oceans Day is gender equality – a chance to recognise remarkable female figures and heroes for ocean conservation, such as legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue, who has commended OCC for its work to create a safe haven for cetaceans, to establish enforceable policies and to educate the public.

“..a wonderful example of people coming together and recognizing what needs to be done to protect the ocean,” Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue

World Oceans Day, celebrated each year on 8th June, is a reminder of the major role oceans have in our everyday life. It is a chance to draw attention to the beauty of the oceans, to call for the right of  oceans to be protected from way in which humans are polluting and mining the seas and causing the loss marine biodiversity.

Love the Oceans? It’s time to stop Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing!

“The ocean’s power of regeneration is remarkable – if we just offer it the chance,” Sir David Attenborough