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One country may singlehandedly plunge rare fish population into extinction: 'Every fish is going to be fished'

"Russia has, for a number of years, simply not been willing to accept the best available scientific advice."

A stubborn Russian fishing industry targeting the beaked redfish threatens to eliminate the unique creature from the waters near Greenland and Iceland, where it thrives. 

What happened?

According to a report by the Guardian, Russia ranks second on a 2021 illegal fishing index that includes 152 countries. Scientists have been monitoring redfish populations in the Irminger Sea and, in 2020, found that populations of the fish, which can live up to 60 years, may only have years to exist due to illegal fishing.

The fish, which can grow to about 1.5 feet long, is known for its large eyes and orange color. 

"Russia has, for a number of years, simply not been willing to accept the best available scientific advice [on redfish]," Stefan Asmundsson, the Iceland foreign minister representative to the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, told the Guardian. 

In response, Russian officials said they have done their own research about redfish populations and will continue to harvest the fish. Russia remains the lone country to continue fishing the species in international waters.

Why is illegal fishing dangerous? 

Scientists don't know a lot about how the species arrives in the Irminger Sea. They show up in April and leave in June.

The redfish also matures slowly, needing up to 15 years to reach reproductive age. Their slow development cycle makes excess fishing an extreme hazard, according to Kristjan Kristinsson, a biologist at the Icelandic Marine and Freshwater Research Institute who was interviewed by the Guardian. 

"Every fish is going to be fished eventually," he said about the redfish. 

Simulations show that populations will not recover in the next decade, despite other countries halting harvests. 

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, about three billion people worldwide rely on fish as a main source of protein. Without sustainable fishing practices worldwide, fisheries could collapse. 

What's being done about overfishing? 

Part of the solution includes international support for the species, experts say

The European Union has already condemned the fishing. Officials are considering banning vessels with redfish on them from ports, the Guardian reports. 

Unfortunately, Russia's redfish exploitation isn't the only problem in the seas. Overfishing worldwide is hitting many species hard, including pollack and red king crab

An organized effort from countries that support the industry is likely needed to report on the impact of overfishing in the seas. Leaders will need to confront countries, including Russia, that continue to exploit at-risk species.

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