Ocean Organization Spotlight: The Black Fish

Written by on February 12, 2014 in Other News, Policy & Ocean Law, Spotlight

Editor’s Note — This piece continues with our Ocean Organization Spotlight series, which features all kinds of foundations and organizations working to protect the oceans and its inhabitants around the globe.

The head of an endangered bluefin tuna, floating along with plastic pollution in a Mediterranean port.

The head of an endangered bluefin tuna, floating along with plastic pollution in a Mediterranean port. Photo credit: Chris Grodotzki / The Black Fish.

Did you know that we have lost 90% of all large fish in the oceans over the last 50 years? The introduction of industrial fishing techniques has made it easier to catch more fish, but it comes at a cost. Bottom trawling causes so much damage that the impact can actually be seen from space. Longlines and drift nets catch and kill all kinds of unwanted species. Purse seines catch entire schools, regardless of size or age. If these methods continue unchecked, we could find ourselves with an empty ocean in only a few decades. Luckily for us, The Black Fish won’t let that happen.

The Black Fish is an international marine conservation movement working to end industrial and illegal overfishing of our oceans.

It’s called a movement, not an organization, because The Black Fish’s goals are different from many conservation groups. Through educational programs, training programs, and grassroots campaigns, The Black Fish is creating a growing community of people who are working to not only protect the oceans, but change the attitudes towards them.

Wietse van der Werf patrols an area of the Mediterranean Sea in search of illegal driftnets.

Wietse van der Werf patrols an area of the Mediterranean Sea in search of illegal driftnets. Photo credit: Chris Grodotzki / The Black Fish.

MST recently spoke with Wietse van der Werf, Founder and International Director of The Black Fish to learn a little more about their growing movement.

Wietse explains that “the time is right for this kind of movement…to say ‘we’ve had enough of this plundering of our oceans.'” Between the rise of industrial fishing, widespread corruption and organized crime, and the lack of enforcement in the open ocean, we are rapidly destroying the ocean’s biodiversity. That’s why The Black Fish believe the only way to counter it is with a “passionate community of organized citizens that are saying ‘no, we’ve had enough.'”

To help those impassioned citizens make a difference, The Black Fish train them to become ‘citizen inspectors’. These inspectors go directly to the fish markets and document what they see. They gather evidence to help The Black Fish “get a better picture of what’s going on.”

“The information is then used to work with law enforcement organizations to affect actual prosecution of those breaking the law,” Wietse says. “Especially in regards to illegal fishing the enforcement often lacks and this is where The Black Fish steps in.”

A 'legal' type of driftnet being sorted by a fishermen in the Sicilian port of Sant' agata di Militello.

A ‘legal’ type of driftnet being sorted by a fishermen in the Sicilian port of Sant’ agata di Militello. Photo credit: Chris Grodotzki / The Black Fish.

The lack of a big picture is part of the problem. Overfishing is an incredibly complex issue because not only is the industry invisible to us at sea, but it involves so many different species, different fishing techniques and seasons, different countries and different policies.

That’s why The Black Fish not only aims to inspire people, but to train them to understand this complex issue.

“We’re building a truly social movement.” Wietse says — essentially “planting the seeds for a broader movement of people to get active outside of our organization.”

In addition to training citizen inspectors, The Black Fish recently launched a Marine Activism Training Program, where individuals can gain “specialists skills” for conservation work, and they will soon launch an activist fund. Groups and individuals who are motivated to make a difference on their own can apply for money to fund specific projects. It’s all part of The Black Fish’s attitude that we need to get as many people involved in this issue as possible. It’s about providing people with the skills and resources they need to do good things — to get the fishing industry to play by the rules.

Crew memebers of The Black Fish patrolling areas around the Aeolian Islands in search of illegal driftnets. Photo courtesy of The Black Fish.

Crew memebers of The Black Fish patrolling areas around the Aeolian Islands in search of illegal driftnets. Photo credit: Chris Grodotzki / The Black Fish.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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