Calling on Iridium Satellite UK Ltd to stop
profiting from overfishing
LONDON, 29 January 2024 – Environmentalists and broadcasters Chris Packham, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Amanda Holden today called on a UK satellite company to stop providing GPS data to fisheries that puts vulnerable ocean species at risk of extinction. Seven senior lawmakers including Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb and Martyn Day MP have also signed a letter drawn up by more than 100 marine conservation groups, scientists, and global lawmakers calling on Iridium Satellite UK Ltd to stop profiting from the overfishing of tuna.
The letter points out that unsustainable industrial-scale tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean is being made possible by satellite companies that provide crucial GPS communications to European fishing companies. Iridium Satellite UK Limited provides sales, marketing, and technical support to customers in regions surrounding the Indian Ocean where yellowfin tuna populations are crashing towards collapse. It has supplied tens of thousands of GPS-tracked short-burst data devices that commercial fisheries use to monitor fish across vast swathes of ocean – allowing them to overfish juvenile yellowfish tuna and other threatened species. The devices also cause widespread marine plastics litter and e-waste pollution when they break apart at sea and wash up on beaches and coral reefs or sink to the seabed.
For the full text of the letter, please click here or the file below:
The letter calls on Iridium to halt the provision of real-time tracking through its short-burst data services to the tuna fishing industry in the Indian Ocean.
Chris Packham, Wildlife TV Presenter, Conservationist and Campaigner, said: "There is something both sad and sinister about the invention and deployment of these dystopian devices. Sad because they seriously exacerbate the rate of decline of increasingly rare fish populations, and sinister because they drift unseen in distant seas on the pretext of offering shelter and respite to marine life. In fact, they are insidious traps set by a greedy unsustainable industry hell bent on maximizing profits over any protection of these ecosystems. Bobbing out there, the quiet slop of waves on the buoy, adrift in a vast blue ocean but connected by a clever but dangerous burst of technology which sets in place a slaughter. It's all very Skynet, in both the Sci-Fi and real sense. And ironic that it's facilitated by a company that prides itself on saving and protecting lives. Iridium doesn’t need this, the oceans don’t need this, and tuna, sharks, dolphins and turtles don’t need it either."
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Broadcaster and Campaigner, said: “I was shocked to learn that Iridium, via its ‘low-earth-orbit’ satellite network, is supporting unsustainable commercial fishing activities in the Indian Ocean by providing GPS communications to industrial fishing boats engaged in massive overfishing of tuna stocks. This, I'm told, is leading to the decimation of endangered shark, turtle, whale, and dolphin populations. Iridium's electronic devices should not be in the ocean in the first place as they are contributing to toxic electronic waste and plastics pollution which devastates thousands of miles of coral reefs, seagrass meadows and beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline. Furthermore, these industrial fishing operations are stealing fish from impoverished African communities, so Iridium is complicit in that too. Please, Iridium, just abide by your own commendable environmental commitments as posted on your website, rather than making a completely hypocritical mockery of your professed concern for the future of our oceans."
Martyn Day, Scottish National Party MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, said: "Iridium has been found to be acting irresponsibly and of being an enabler of unsustainable overfishing and dirty plastics pollution in the Indian Ocean, despite the high-minded environmental claims on its website. What is also shockingly apparent is that low-orbit space is a lawless free-for-all zone where anything goes, and where satellite companies can shirk their corporate, environmental, and social responsibilities. The UK government should step in to regulate Iridium's unsustainable actions which are causing endangered species like sharks, whales, and turtles to be wiped out on an unimaginable scale by greedy industrial fisheries that rely on Iridium's GPS data. Industrial fisheries will stop at nothing to provide UK supermarkets with cheap tuna at rock bottom prices, but the real cost of cheap tuna is plastics pollution and the depletion of our ocean biodiversity. Iridium is complicit in that."
U.K. House of Lords Peer, Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb said: “The more we abuse this planet and the less care we give it, then the less we get back in return.
Spanish and French tuna fishing vessels have for years been plundering the Indian Ocean for cheap tuna, much of which ends up on supermarket shelves in the UK. Several endangered species are being pushed to the brink of extinction in the process, including sharks, whales, and turtles.
Alarm is also rising in the science community who say the satellite industry is complicit in the slaughter and that Iridium must take responsibility for its role.
Twelve prominent scientists, including fisheries conservation biologist Professor Callum Roberts of Exeter University, and the Maldives Space Research Organization have also signed the letter.
Dr April Burt, Consulting Scientist at the Seychelles Islands Foundation, and an Environmental Researcher at the University of Oxford, said: “The implications of Iridium's satellite devices reach far beyond the immediate wholesale destruction of a species and impact the livelihoods and welfare of millions of people in the Indian Ocean region who are dependent on small-scale fisheries. Then there are the ever-cascading effects of Iridium-enabled plastic satellite buoys that clog up turtle nesting beaches and break down into smaller and smaller particles that wreak havoc on marine ecosystems, fish biology and ultimately human health.”
Marine Conservation Professor Callum Roberts, of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: “In only a few decades, the use of satellite tracked fish aggregating devices has massively accelerated the plunder of open ocean fish, inflicting immense collateral damage on wildlife and habitats. If comparable destructive exploitation was happening on land, in plain sight, there would be an immediate clamour for the practice to be banned.”
Dr Rashid Sumaila, Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries in Canada said: “Technology, satellite technology in particular, should be used to ensure that aquatic ecosystems and the life they sustain are conserved and sustainably managed for the benefits of all generations. Unfortunately, they are currently mostly used to delete fish populations while harming the ecosystem.”
Alex Hofford, a marine wildlife campaigner with UK charity Shark Guardian, said: "Iridium’s behaviour in the Indian Ocean is an affront to decency. They have turned a blind eye to unsustainable overfishing for too long, reaping vast profits as fragile ecosystems are destroyed and endangered shark, ray, turtle, and cetacean populations are decimated by European tuna boats that rely on their satellite data services for their plunder.”
The letter, sent on 26 January 2024, contrasts progressive environmental and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statements on Iridium's website with the reality of its partnership with harmful industrial fishing companies.
For the full text of the letter, please click here or the file below:
Media Contact Alex Hofford - Marine Wildlife Campaigner Shark & Marine Conservation Worldwide e: email@example.com t: (+44) 07366200761