Measuring the global impact of destructive and illegal fishing on maritime piracy: A spatial analysis

Sierra Leonean security forces supervise the crew on board the Marampa 803, a vessel apprehended for alleged illegal fishing activities, that has been moored off the West African country's capital Freetown January 21, 2012. West Africa, recognized as one of the world's richest fisheries grounds teeming with snapper, grouper, sardines, mackerel and shrimp, loses up to $1.5 billion worth of fish each year to vessels fishing in protected zones or without proper equipment or licenses. Widespread corruption and a continuing lack of resources for enforcement mean huge foreign trawlers often venture into areas near the coast that are reserved exclusively for artisanal fishermen, allowing them to drag off tonnes of catch and putting at risk the livelihoods of millions of local people. Picture taken January 21, 2012. To match Feature WESTAFRICA-FISHING/   REUTERS/Simon Akam (SIERRA LEONE - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT FOOD ANIMALS)
Editor's note:

This paper was originally published by PLOS ONE.


Maritime piracy constitutes a major threat to global shipping and international trade. We argue that fishers turn to piracy to smooth expected income losses and to deter illegal foreign fishing fleets.

Previous investigations have generally focused on cross-national determinants of the incidence of piracy in territorial waters. These investigations neglect piracy in international waters and ignore its spatial dependence, whereby pirate attacks cluster in certain locations due to neighborhood and spillover effects.

We conduct a geographically disaggregated analysis using geo-referenced data of piracy and its covariates between 2005 and 2014. We demonstrate that the incidence of piracy in a particular location is associated with higher catch volumes from high-bycatch and habitat-destroying fishing, even when controlling for conditions in proximate coastal areas. We find, additionally, that illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing exerts an especially pronounced effect on piracy.

These findings highlight the need for anti-piracy solutions beyond enforcement to include the policing of fishing practices that are illegal or are perceived by local fishers in vulnerable coastal areas to be harmful to small-scale fishing economies.

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