Vessels Agents and Port State Measures by Francisco Blaha

As I commented here, port agents have a busy life in some ports in the Pacific. They are the nexus in between the land and most of the necessities of the fishing vessel and the fish, from engine parts to certificates for the fish, from helicopter fuel to the observer accommodation while waiting for the vessel.

 Business is always good for the agent

Business is always good for the agent

But critically, they are the ones that let authorities know the vessel is coming to port and often provided all of the information required to the fisheries administration, should any be required at all.

These processes and a lack of real time reporting during the trip provide opportunities for vessels to hide offending. Ideally the vessel should request entry via e-reporting tool. This would give the fisheries administration key advantages as it would oblige the vessels to use e-reporting tools of their choice, provided it was compatible with the administrations system, otherwise they cannot notify their arrival and request entry to port as required by Ports State Measures and subsequently they would not be able to unload.

If vessels were to request port entry via an App, inspectors in port would be able to use this time for advance notification to interrogate the logsheets in advance of arrival. They could analyse volumes, positions, days of unusual fishing and this would allow verification and the development of intelligence through the use of other tools such as VMS, AIS and e-observer (if they have it).

The "advance notice for port entry element in the Apps" has been talked about, but for now, as a whole, most regions in the world depends on the agents, and very little information is captured on these Agents, on the whole, especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product.

Despite there being little knowledge held on these agents, there is currently no past or future study in the Pacific that has assessed and considered agents as a unique and vital player in the industry.

Value to PSM

In principle there is no role assigned to agents in law. However in practice they are the nexus in between the arriving vessel and the fisheries administrations and therefore vital for PSM and CDS. Yet a more fundamental issue is whether some of the services provided by agents are in fact needed for PSM?  The role of agents has become so valuable partly because of the deficiencies of national fishing authorities port management structures. 

Should the national authorities be able to organise and communicate with vessel themselves? Why is it that agents are used to transmit and sometimes collect data from fishing vessels? 

If the argument for the use of agents is based on the view that working with opaque and bureaucratic governments is too complicated and time-consuming for the industry, the answer lies in improving government services, not in establishing a lucrative business sector for well-connected, but ultimately unaccountable intermediaries.

Ideal Structures to Close the Gaps Around Vessel Agents

Operationally, this gives us two options: either their formalisation or the removal of the use of vessel agents for as a reporting intermediary.


There should also be a public registry of agents, a minimum amount of information to be provided and responsibilities to be assumed under an established way to communicate with the fisheries administrations. Port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields than the App plus all the compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc) but the vessels agent would impute the data and upload the required information

No involvement

For this concept to work on a e-based system, it should be a port entry function (yet to be built) on the ER Apps for licenced vessels (foreign and domestic) to request port entry to the central fisheries authority of the port state and from then to the identified port of entry. 

As vessels using the App are licensed, hence port access (as requested by WCPFC CMM PSM) is granted, by the simple fact that they are using the tool and reporting catch.

Under the present ER App all important details from PSM are covered (i.e. VMS, local and regional licence, volumes on board, port of last call, etc.), so the vessel request is sent to the intended port of call for the vessel screening and authorization (or denial) of port use, including the need of full or targeted arrival inspections. This information could also be shared with the port authority, other line agencies and notify coastal and flag States as appropriate.

In the case of vessels not using ER (such as some longliners) and carriers, port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields as the previously discussed application plus all the required compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc). In these cases the vessels agent would be required to input the data and upload the required information on behalf of the vessel. If the vessel is on an IUU list port entry will be denied and enforcement and other State agencies advised.

For vessels that have been approved entry, the screening of the vessels would take place incorporating all available data streams and a decision is made on the requirement for more detailed vessel inspection, or not, prior authorising port use. 

For the region

As noted earlier, very little information is captured on Vessel Agents, on the whole, across the Pacific and especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product. In some situations, MCS staff from fisheries administrations are dependent on vessel agents for facilitating access (both literally in terms of getting to the vessel and operationally in terms of timings) to vessels for inspection, thereby removing the independence and autonomy of the administration and their regulation of the industry.

Agents across the region vary in their backgrounds and associations with the vessels, some are independent, others relate to the traders, some to vessel operators or business conglomerates on shore. Most agents are foreign nationals and not Pacific Islanders, but this is not the rule.

In some cases, agents are actually quite close and familiar to the fisheries administrators, since they interact with them on a constant basis. Yet they can be quite opaque in their accessibility, even if they have fundamental information that can be of benefit for the authorities and fisheries economists.

Currently in the Pacific these vessel agents fill a need, but it is a self-perpetuating need and more work needs to be done to formalise the role through licensing, or remove these agents from the vessel reporting requirements that are so pivotal to CDS and PSM. 

And as I said many times, this is an area I love to investigate… so feel free to contact me if it is something you keen to research and have funds available.

Disclaimer: This text is a small part of a bigger job I did with my colleague Damian Johnson

Why do we have so many transhipments in Majuro? by Francisco Blaha

I have been working on transhipments controls and Port State Measures for a while, I think this year in between all my jobs I’ll be doing over 100 boarding in total. Most of them, of course, took place here in Majuro.s

 There are no coincidences here, this is the place

There are no coincidences here, this is the place

Last week we had at some stage 14 carriers and 28 Purse Seiners, and in general we hit over 420 a year quite consistently, but what makes Majuro such a desirable transhipment port, over other regional alternatives, such as Tarawa, Funafuti or Pohnpei?

I have been making my self this question for a while and besides trying to answer as a fisherman, I been talking to observers, captains and company reps… and, as in anything else in fisheries, there is not a straightforward answer, but rather a series of natural and operational advantages that combined nicely.

Obviously, this is my take on this, and I will be stunned if I did not forget to consider other factors… as Oscar Wilde said “I’m not young enough to know everything.”

 My long thin home 100 days a year

My long thin home 100 days a year

Good anchorage: As you can see in the map above, the Majuro lagoon is very protected but what you don't see is that it has very good anchorage grounds: good deep sand. Most operators I talked never had issues with dragging on high winds, and that corner of the lagoon is remarkably stable to groundswell, only wind chop sometimes. This may not come up in any economic type analysis… but is incredibly important. Honestly, you don't want to have someone continually triangulating position to see if you anchor is dragging. And this is particularly important for carriers that often have two Purse Seiners transhipping (one on port and one on starboard) and all depending on the carriers anchor.

Easy port access: to come to Majuro there is a deep well-marked channel without shifting sandbanks or exposed coral heads

Town Access: the lagoon has access to downtown via the Uliga wharf, you can be in any vessel in the lagoon in 10 -15 minutes from there. The crew can go down, and stuff can come up. Supermarkets, entertainment, phone cards, pharmacy, etc. all nearby. On top of that an easily accessible airport with flights to the US, Australia and Fiji via Nauru and soon PNG, which is good for Observers… and all with connections to Asia which is good for companies and crew.

 there is two of us now.

there is two of us now.

Services access: A Purse Seiner and carrier are floating little cities… imagine everything you need on your daily life, well is the same there, you need shit loads of stuff. And there is an incredible amount of machinery from propulsion, to make electricity, to run hydraulics, to make water, to refrigerate 900 tons of fish, to maintain the electronics, to cook, etc., etc., etc. Most things can be repaired here or can be sent to repair in Hawaii 5 hrs away.

Big Wharf Access: There are two big wharves to load or unload heavy gear, and one of them has a net repair shed with a Net Master based there… A Purse Seiner net is a marvel of craft and design that weight tons… The dimensions of these nets can reach a length of 2,000 m and 300 m in depth. The measures vary depending on the characteristics and the power of the boat yet each part of the net (aft and fore strut; aft cutter; central body, vertical panels; horizontal panels; bag mouth and bag) have their own intricacies and twines. Then you have to include the floatline, floats, leadline, bridle line, sein rings, purse line, and so on… it never stops… a net master has to have all this in his head and also understand the characteristics of the vessel and gear as to make changes and adapt each or some of the parts. The Panamanian net master here is indeed a master.

Helicopters: While the role of helicopters is lingering as they compete now with drones and by the fact that most fish are caught on FADs with sonar buoys… they still an important element of the industry. The tuna helicopter world is a subculture inside a subculture… the helicopter doesn't belong to the boat, but are subcontracted by the boat owners from specialised companies, that provide the helicopter, the mechanic (mostly Philippinos) and the pilots… once the niche of NZ and Australians, now is they have been replaced by much cheaper out of work former military Nicaraguan, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Panamanian, Venezuelan and Colombian pilots. Helicopters need lot of maintenance, their own fuel, and their own “set up”usually not going beyond 40 nm from the vessel they are used to spot fish schools… Majuro has an airport that is 5 minutes flight from any PS and a local base for Hansen one of the key helicopter service providers worldwide. Meaning that if a helicopter is broken beyond onboard repair, just come to the wharf (see above) crane down the helicopter and there is another one in the airport ready to fly to your boat, and you can go no fishing.

 Tatiana check the plot against her notes from analysing the vessel trip so far

Tatiana check the plot against her notes from analysing the vessel trip so far

Ubication and distance from where to the fish is: When in “normal” conditions (what ever-shifting meaning this has these days) the fish tends to be on the western side of the Pacific, so vessels have the options in PNG of Rabaul or Vidar (near Madang) but this is mostly for Philippine vessels or associated with PNG based companies (and in the case of Vidar it belongs to RD). Or the other option is Honiara (very exposed harbour when the fish is south or Pohnpei in FSM, which is a good harbour, but the access to the vessels is more complicated (bigger distances) and the available wharf is closely related to a fishing company. But the reality is that the fish is moving to the central Pacific particularly in Nauru, Kiribati, eastern PNG, and the high seas in between Kiribati’s EEZs, then the options are Funafuti (almost no services), Tarawa (quite exposed anchorage and minimal services) or Majuro with all the advantages. Also if you plot it, is quite an easy navigation to Bangkok. Now on la Niña years… then stuff changes and Kiritimati becomes the hub… even is the anchorage is not protected… but thankfully does not happen a lot.

Agents: Agent plays a key role in the pacific tuna world, and is a role I love to study in depth as I mention here (any of my powerful NGO readers: here is a hot topic no one is touching, so an opportunity to contribute and I’m available). In any case there six Agents (3 Taiwanese, 1 Chinese, 1 local and 1 Korean) that kind of got it all sorted and can arrange for most things while providing translation since the bulk of the fleet speaks some form of Chinese. They lease in between vessels owners, captains, traders ( FCF, Trimarine, Itochu), carriers, and the line agencies (see below)

Regulatory requirements and costs: While I would love more integration and efficiency among all the line agencies (Customs, Quarantine, Immigration, Environmental Protection Authority, Port authority, Maritime Police, and of course Fisheries) everyone is there to do their job and is a quite straight affair with the boarding parties, and other than request for fish (something I oppose and thankfully fisheries boarding officers don't do) I have not seen backhanders.

A big part of my job has been to align our MIMRA processes with PSM best practices and be more investigative and streamlined on the operations and controls we do, but as well provide incentives to industry to comply. Furthermore, the PSM controls we do as to approve transhipments we are on the process to share them with Thailand’s Dept of Fisheries under a MoU… but that is a topic for another blog.

 Riin (Fisheries Observer from Kiribati) chats to Melvin (RMI Boarding Officer) in the trip she just did

Riin (Fisheries Observer from Kiribati) chats to Melvin (RMI Boarding Officer) in the trip she just did

Vision and leadership: last but not least, MIMRA’s management has been stable and clear on their vision of becoming a transhipment and (hopefully, shortly a landing, sorting and containerisation) hub and they have a rare virtue in the fishing administration world: foresight. Needless to say, this is partly why I like working here and I been very fortunate to have their trust and support to do my job.

The point is, there is no one reason why vessels come here in such numbers but a combination of reasons as well as a vision. I profoundly believe that even if other port was to invest massively in some aspects of the “transhipment hub equation” there are aspects that can’t be changed. And in this combination, part by nature and part by practice, Majuro is and will continue to be the main transhipment port in the Pacific.

What does the consumer really "want" when choosing eco-labelled products? by Francisco Blaha

A big part of the selling point of the ecolabels brands is that the consumer rewards the investment the companies make in paying for the certification with a price plus in their product and that their logo and story is better than the other ecolabels that compete for the same business.

 What to do my fellow friends?… to Ecolabels or not to Ecolabel, that is the question…

What to do my fellow friends?… to Ecolabels or not to Ecolabel, that is the question…

In my experience the price plus hardy eventuates, but is more about positioning in a rich country market where “sustainability” is something seems keen to afford.

Here in Majuro I board everyday tuna vessels that catch the same tuna, under the same management system, in the same part of the world with the same method (and with both FAD associated and free school* sets (see below for additional comment), yet part of the cargo of one vessel has a sustainability logo because they pay for the certification, while the other vessel (doing mostly the same) don’t have it because they didn’t pay for the certification? Seems more than business than a higher motivation for the common good to me… in any case my opinions about Ecolabels are public.

In any case i was interested to read this psychology paper (A Social Norms Intervention Going Wrong: Boomerang Effects from Descriptive Norms Information) that deals with the perceptions by the consumer and how he really react to the logo of an ecolabel and the messages on it.

I paste below the discussion, but as usual read the original!

The results of this research suggest that popular social norms advertisement, like, “More than 75% of the seafood customers in this store bought MSC-labelled seafood”, might not influence supermarket shoppers’ purchasing patterns in the intended way. In fact, rather than promoting a more sustainable diet, they might do the opposite while at the same time leading to increased consumption of seafood (in this case) in general. Messages, including the social norms ones promoting seafood from sustainable origin, seems to be processed in a very shallow way in the busy and message-over-crowded supermarket setting. Shoppers primarily seem to comprehend the overall theme seafood—a product category which then indeed gets primed, increasing the likelihood that they will indeed buy some. At least in the present studies, texts and labels promoting sustainability were apparently not processed sufficiently to produce the intended effect, and instead, consumers relied on their usual choice heuristics for this product group [55].

However, substantial differences were identified between the Norwegian and the German supermarkets. In the former, but not in the latter, an information prompt about the sustainability label alone led to a significant increase in the sustainability labelled share of seafood sales. This may be due to a mixture of factors. First, this is the experimental condition where least text was added, and the text was even simpler and shorter in the Norwegian case, where there was only one label on the sign, while there were two in the German case. The text being simpler may have made it easier to grasp its meaning (i.e., “less is more”). Second, there were on average twice as many sustainability-labelled seafood products in the Norwegian than in the German supermarkets, making sustainability labels more salient in the shopping context in Norway than in Germany. This may have meant that the Norwegian shoppers may have been relatively more exposed to and therefore more familiar with the sustainability label than the German shoppers. Third, the share of sustainability-labelled seafood products sold was also twice as high at baseline in the Norwegian than in the German supermarkets, which may mean that the Norwegian shoppers had more experience with sustainability-labelled seafood and therefore could also process this information on the sign with less effort.

In the Norwegian case, adding social norms information to the sign neutralized the positive effect of labelling information on sales, leading to a significant drop in sales compared with labelling only. In the German case, adding social norms information also led to a significant drop in sales, both compared with the prompt-only condition and compared with baseline. The negative effect in Norway could be due to the increased amount of information confusing shoppers and dragging attention away from the labelling information. However, this cannot explain the findings in the German case. The significant drop in the sustainability share compared with baseline in the German supermarkets suggests that the social norms messages were demotivating shoppers and perceived as something negative about buying sustainability-labelled products. A possible reason is that German shoppers found the social norm messages pressing or manipulating, which led to psychological reactance.

These findings are in line with previous research revealing trait reactance and the importance of autonomous buying behaviour as significant predictors of situational reactance on a sample of German consumers [72]. Psychological reactance is also a possible explanation for the drop in the share of sustainability-labelled seafood when adding social norm messages to the prompt only in Norway.

Hence, it can be concluded that the main effect of messages in the supermarket context aiming to make individuals consume products with specific (sustainability) characteristics within a product category is to promote the consumption of this product category in general, without increasing the share of sustainable produce. This is similar to the finding that telling people not to eat a particular product can have the opposite of the intended effect, due to the message priming the product, as it was found in Study 2.

An important implication for the promotion of sustainable consumption options is to focus on simple messages, avoiding long, fuzzy, and complex messages [73]. For example, instead of promoting “eating less meat”, promoting “plant-based alternatives” would be more effective. Indeed, campaigns promoting the consumption of more fruit and vegetables [35,74] are probably the main reason why meat consumption has decreased in Europe in the most recent decades. However, it also shows that promoting sustainably produced products within categories that are unsustainable can be complicated. The use of labels and symbols to identify sustainable products has shown good results in the past [1]. However, the design and placement of labels and symbols need to be based on a thorough understanding of how consumers make choices in the product category [26,75]. Also, such a label or symbol needs to be promoted in a way that makes the actual logo and its core meaning easily accessible in the consumers’ minds in the moment of decision, preferably more accessible than other product characteristics. Potentially, a general “green” logo on all products following sustainable certification guidelines would be an option. If one logo standing for sustainability could be applied to all product groups, the meaning of this logo will be easy to process and its priming is likely to be effective. In this way, consumers following sustainability goals would more easily identify their preferred products with a symbol standing for sustainability being salient in their minds.

The results of these two studies suggest that the display of pictures or icons is more efficient than the display of text, especially in real-life purchase situations where written information is hardly read or processed carefully. More research is needed on how to make the sustainable logo and its core meaning more salient in consumers’ minds at the moment of decision.

From this research, it is concluded that just adding text with label information and social norms messages is not the way to go to increase the share of sustainable product alternatives. Additional text will often not be processed in the purchase decision situation or the message will be forgotten as soon as other product characteristics come into play. This also illustrates that to reach the desired effects and minimize the risk of side effects, careful evaluation is necessary before communication strategies are implemented.


Is really interesting to be doing vessels inspection inspections during the WCPFC FAD closure (July to September)… even if the concept of closures is not completely black and white. Since the closure applies to all vessels but there are complicated to understand exemptions if you are flagged in Kiribati (even if they are Korean) when fishing in the high seas adjacent to the Kiribati exclusive economic zone and Philippines’ vessels operating in HSP1, and a few more.

In any case, most of the vessels I boarded until during that time had huge trips, long time at sea and very little catch… and by the mood and comments of the masters, they are not doing any money, yet somehow they don't want to tied up the vessels and send everyone home as they do in at IATTC with the fishery closures where there is no fishing during 3 months at all. As a Croatian skipper (I loved working with croats! they run crazy, funny, clean, funny boats with good food) told me yesterday in full fisherman wisdom … “a closure is a closure, or is not closure” don’t f*ck around man!

Yet knowing that in couple of years compartmentalisation will finish and only totally FAD free trips will qualify for MSC certification, I can not stop wondering if the companies will still paying for the certification if they are not making enough money trying to catch without FADs.

So either MSC pull down its pants and extend the transition process under some excuse (surely something associated to the impact of the process on small scale fisheries) or the companies go… nah… you want us more that we need you now, so the power is on our side, drop the standards or we walk away and your earning will suffer…

So yes… interesting times ahead.

More on Social Issues in Fisheries by Francisco Blaha

 Only a fisher (doesn’t matter where is he from) knows this feeling

Only a fisher (doesn’t matter where is he from) knows this feeling

While I have not signed yet, over the next year, on top of all other present obligations, FAO has contacted me to support their efforts to develop a guidance on social sustainability in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fish worker associations. The final outcome of the guidance development process will be presented to COFI-FT in 2019 and COFI in 2020.

Important to understand right from the beginning, is that as usual (as with many other aspect of fisheries) the social component in not just a matter of new legal instruments, but a better implementation of the present ones.

My colleague (and very clever man) Tim Adams from FFA reminded me that  the latest UN General Assembly Resolution on Fisheries - to be agreed in December 2017 in paragraph 172 says: …”(the UN General Assembly) Calls upon flag States to effectively implement their duty under the Convention with respect to labour conditions, taking into account applicable international instruments and national laws, and in this regard encourages States that have not yet done so to consider becoming parties to the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and to implement the Guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections under the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and the Guidelines on flag State inspection of working and living conditions on board fishing vessels”… This paragraph is actually copied from last year's UNGA fisheries resolution paragraph 169 – i.e. this is the existing view of the UN General Assembly. (See my last post for the details on these instruments)

So how come these issues are still a problem?

Well in that aspect, it seems to be not really different to the problems in fisheries (call them IUU, management, international collaboration, etc). Where international commitments are made, but do not eventuate into reality. For a myriad of factors, ranging from geopolitics to pure greed via transparency and subsidies, just to name a couple of them…

But on the labour side there is also a bit of further complexity from the human perspective… we fishers are a unique bunch of people and only a limited body of research has been done in order to understand our “anthropology” and decision making process…

And while I never would even dream to generalise on “one size fits all” casting of the “model” fisher, I remember nodding my head positively many times while reading many years ago  Social Issues in Fisheries - FAO FTP 375 from 1998 and while things have changed a lot since them (hence the book is ready for refresh!) some parts always stayed close to me, like the ones below:

10.3 Attitudes towards institutions and authorities
Peoples attitudes to authority will also play a major role in shaping their responses to efforts to manage their fishing activity. Fishers the world over are renowned for being independent and suspicious of authority. This is as true in modern, industrialised fisheries as in artisanal fisheries in less developed countries.

In order to gauge what responses to different types of fisheries intervention might be, managers need to look at the history of management and assess how stakeholder communities have reacted to these interventions and also assess current opinions and attitudes towards authorities concerned with fisheries.

These attitudes towards the institutions responsible for fisheries can have a major influence on the extent to which future fisheries interventions will be observed. If a particular institution is commonly perceived by fishers as being either untrustworthy or dominated by particular sets of interests which are not necessarily sympathetic to the needs of fishers, co-operation is likely to be reduced. On occasions, the same set of fisheries interventions might succeed or fail simply depending on who it is that is seen to be enforcing them.

10.4 Levels of education
The long-term ability of fishers to adapt to changes in the fishery as a result of development or management will also depend on the skills and education which they command. In many parts of the developing world, fishing communities are consistently among the people with the lowest levels of education. What is more, their skills are extremely specific to the fishing profession. This can make movement out of fishing very difficult.

From assessment of educational levels and skills within stakeholder communities affected by changes in fisheries, managers and decision-makers can determine what forms of education or training might be required as part of development packages.

I heard once that “organising fisher is like herding cats” yet on the other side when is see the countries that have ratified ILO Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) my believe is that the common factor for some of them is a strong labour union and syndicates.

From my personal experience in Argentina (which was the 1st country to sign it in 2011!) we always had the Sindicato de Obreros Marítimos Unidos (SOMU) and Sindicato Marítimo de Pescadores (SiMaPe), both work close to each other and have a tradition of being very hard core and combative while quite dodgy on their directive ranks (corruption, embezzlement, etc.) Yet reality is that I would have not being able to start and to finish my university studies without the concessions they had for students (even if most them where for high school)e and the established contracts they had (while keeping a % of my income).

I did not expected to have anything like that while fishing in the Pacific Islands, but it did totally surprised me when I came to NZ. I just started working… no standard contract, no membership, etc. There would be 3 or 4 of us in vessel that in Argentina would have at least a crew of 6 or 7, of course the 4 of us made more money that if we were 7, yet something important was lost in my opinion. I could not have done my 2nd MSc at Auckland Uni, if I had to survive by fishing only for example

In fact even if at the time I was working a lot land bases for NZ biggest fishing company, they didn't accepted my proposal to work part time so I could do my thesis on a topic of their interest, that was part of the reason I took on consulting. Anyway point is that once you loose (or your never had) some rights and good contract conditions (even if at the cost of financial gains or “efficiency”) there are gone for good.

Yet this “union” protection model work when the flag, port and coastal state are the same and the nationality of the crew relates to them.

Reality today in many fisheries is totally different; for example half the US Purse seine fleet is Taiwanese owned and there is only a token American captain on board… that is it. Everyone else is from either the beneficial ownership country (TW) of one of the crewing countries (Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.)

Yet at least there is a link to America via the captain, but while the vessel is an extension of the US floating in the pacific, their labour rules don’t apply, no one on board will have a US working permit, if you try to enter US territory without a visa you get deported, yet on a FV rules don't apply.  

Of course it gets worst, most Vanuatu flag fishing vessel have absolutely no linkage to Vanuatu or they labour or migration system, and so on… I just have chose those two yet it could be dozens more countries.

The crew recruitment process typically occurs through recruitment agencies or brokers that may range from legally-regulated job placement agencies to very informal arrangements (sometimes associated with people- smuggling and trafficking). Sometimes brokers charge a fee to be paid against future earnings, which could become a basis for debt bondage.

Crew may also be transferred from one broker to another, or sometimes brokers source fishers for recruitment agencies or fishing vessels directly. Many fishers may come from non-fishing countries (Nepal, Laos) and not aware that they will be working on fishing vessels and what are the conditions until they find themselves in the harbour.

The process can start with:
1- the fishers signing the agreement with home state agents  
2- then then proceed across a border to other agents- who take the fishers to a vessel in country X
4- which is owned in country Y - while being flagged in country Z

So which rules apply? In principle Flag state… but if they don't play game…. How do you push the agenda? 

Of course from the port state (as in fisheries) can have a role… but why should RMI for example  a developing country who has one good port, take on controlling Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean and other much richer countries vessels… furthermore even if they where to do that, nothing stops those vessels top go to another port or a different 300 mile south, where no one ask questions? Is big ask to for small countries without even their won labour systems to take on that role.

But also there is also scope for nations to act on their own as coastal States, New Zealand, for example, applies its social and labour laws to all fishers operating within its Exclusive Economic Zone. (We had Korean flagged vessels fishing under joint ventures in NZ waters, their ill treatment and forced labour conditions of their Indonesian crews made the media, yet was little that could legally be done at the time. This brought into law the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, requiring labour conditions similar to those expected for NZ nationals were imposed. As a result, many vessels didn't come back)

So as you see is VERY complex and there are no easy answers.

Furthermore, and from own experience when you have nothing... anything is a lot, you’ll eat shit if you have to. I had only 70 USD to start a new live when I came to NZ in 1994, I would have accepted anything that gave some hope… and is only by good luck that I got an opportunity given by quite decent people.

And here is perhaps a key element to big part of this, poverty and desperation… Adam Smith in 1776 nothed in “An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”  that  “...(fishers) are all very poor people who follow as a trade what other people pursue as a pastime.” 

Of course today is not the same when we talk about commercial fisheries (while to a point not much has changed for subsistence and small scale ones), but looks like the system is always rigged to predate on the desperate.


The complexities around decent work conditions and safety at sea on fishing boats by Francisco Blaha

 the undervalued key people of our industry

the undervalued key people of our industry

Further from my last post where I talked about my own experience working at sea, partly motivated by the fact that I may be involved in the Vigo Dialogue process and a personal interest (sparked by some outrageous events like this one) as to gain a more profound understanding of the labour and safety realities in fisheries.

Coming from pure commercial fisheries and then compliance background this a broadening step in my career even if it overlaps (to a point) issues of IUU fishing. This “extra step” wasn't one I was sure to take, yet, as usual, a conversation with my kids has been illuminating… “Papa, you always say that you don't work with fish, your work with the people that work with fish… so this is it”… and they are right, I always say that and I need to live up to my word.

So, I’m here just telling my take on VERY complex issue, so if you spot a conceptual mistake, please let me know! As Oscar Wilde said: “I’m not young enough to know everything”

An important element to understand is that there are various legal frameworks on crewing that are mixed on board, partly because they are hard to separate, but yet they are very different. One is around forced labour, slavery, abuses, non-payments, etc. and the other is the safety component. Because as I said many times, fishing is the most dangerous job in the world, by far.

Despite more awareness and improved safety practices, more people are fishing now than ever before, and this worldwide increase (in many cases involving people not from fishing nations – i.e. many Nepalese work in fishing vessels) has contributed to a rise in the number of fishers' deaths. Exact figures are hard to come by since reporting is not always consistent.

Preliminary, conservative estimates of fatalities in fishing are now over 32 000 people annually.  The number of fishers injured or suffering from work-related illnesses is much higher. The fatalities and accidents have major impacts on fishers' families, fishing crews and fishing communities.

Yet how does being safe from accidents, links to getting paid on time or not being in forced labour? Well… there is not an easy answer unfortunately.

As in fisheries, there are plenty of international agreements and voluntary standards that vary in their scope and adoption). Let's start with the ones at the global level: 

The ILO International Labour Organization and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have established a number of binding legal instruments to improve fishers’ safety and working conditions; the IMO’s Torremolinos Protocol and the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) which entered into force in March 2013, as well as non-binding recommendations and codes, some of which were developed jointly between the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IMO.

The ILO has started this process through the adoption of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188). This seeks to ensure decent standards for all fishers regarding conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, as well as medical care and social security. The Convention came into force in November las year when the 10th country ratified it. The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199)  as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.

Yet the slow pace of ratification of conventions inhibits effective control of safety and labour standards in the fisheries sector, and undermines important opportunities to prevent and detect instances of abuse on board.

 And then there is the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA),adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and provide a level playing field for industry. 

The CTA updates, amends, and replaces the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993, relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977. Neither the Torremolinos convention nor the protocol will enter into force themselves, but the CTA reflects provisions contains on those.

Once in force, the CTA will set minimum requirements on the design, construction, equipment, and inspection of fishing vessels 24 meters or longer that operate on the high seas. Its entry into force would empower port States to carry out safety inspections that could be aligned with fisheries and labor agencies, to ensure transparency of fishing and crew activities. The treaty consists of minimum safety measures for fishing vessels that mirror the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—an internationally binding treaty on safety for merchant vessels that entered into force in 1980. It also calls for the harmonised fisheries, labor, and safety inspections.

The CTA will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 states with an aggregate 3,600 (China alone gets to this number!!) fishing vessels of at least 24 meters in length operating on the high seas have expressed their consent to be bound by it. To date, 10 countries have ratified the agreement, so we still have a way to go.

Until the CTA enters into force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels.


My friends at PEW published recently an excellent explanation on the CTA and its linkages to the IUU side (which is another different topic!). A lot of emphases is being given into linking this safety at sea instruments with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which is an area I work a lot, since vessels at some stage need to come to port, and there they can be inspected. 

Still, you can be in a very safe boat and being in forced labour while fishing illegally, or fishing illegally, while being paid well, in a safe or unsafe boat… or all the combinations you want around this.

Yet in general, terms, when you are dodgy… you pretty much dodgy all across the board.

International investigations have shown that some migrant workers seeking employment overseas have been tricked with false promises of jobs on land, but end up toiling in quite terrible working conditions on board unsafe fishing vessels and most probably involved in IUU activities in the high seas

And while not a rule, we all increasingly recognise that in most IUU listed fishing vessels bad working conditions, forced labour, poor safety standards are pretty much the standard. 

Operators who under-report catch or fish illegally are less likely to provide their crews with adequate labour conditions, training, or safety equipment, and more likely to fish in hazardous weather. To minimise upfront costs, their vessels might have  inadequate equipment or inappropriate modifications and might operate for extended periods without undergoing inspections or safety certifications. 

So the ILO, the IMO and FAO promote the synchronised implementation of these three instruments The PSMA’s aim is to ensure that catch to unload is legal, the C188’s to make sure that the working conditions for crews are good, and they can leave if unhappy and the CTA to make sure the vessel is safe to working out there. 

The safety side of a vessel may not be seen as an issue related to working conditions, but believe me is a key issue… you need to be alive to be paid.

To ensure that vessels are safe, their design, construction, and equipment must be inspected and surveyed. This may be carried out by a flag State agency, or by a delegated authority such as a surveyor or classification society. The CTA states that a vessel’s lifesaving appliances, radio installations, structure, machinery, and equipment must be inspected before it is put into service and at intervals not exceeding five years. Details of the surveys will be made available in an International Fishing Vessel Safety Certificate. If a vessel has been exempted, its operator must complete an exemption certificate and make it available on board for examination at all times. 

The Agreement has a “no more favourable treatment” clause (Article 4[7]). This means that all vessels entering a port of a State that is a party to the Agreement would be subject to the same inspection standards—even if their flag State hasn’t ratified or acceded to it. This allows States to control all vessels entering their ports, raising global safety standards. 

But this latest is obviously part of the problem, you as a country need to got it sorted before you start looking into others, and not many have, or more importantly… not many want to. 

Yet at the end of the day, it comes ideally to flag state living up to the expected standards, after all, under international law a vessel is a territorial extension of the state that flagged it and all rules should apply on board, from safety or the vessels to labour conditions (and fishing legally). And that does not happen… so we need to find alternatives

Either from the port state (as in fisheries), but also there is also scope for nations to act on their own as coastal States, New Zealand, for example, applies its social and labour laws to all fishers operating within its Exclusive Economic Zone. (We had Korean flagged vessels fishing under joint ventures in NZ waters, their ill treatment and forced labour conditions of their Indonesian crews made the media, yet was little that could legally be done at the time. This brought into law the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, requiring labour conditions similar to those expected for NZ nationals were imposed. As a result, many vessels didn't come back)

My approach to this would be to thinking that work it from two parallel angles: a) On one side regulatory frameworks, international agreements under flag, coastal, and port state jurisdiction, and b) on the other private sector/ due diligence, since at the end of the day Consumers in key rich market states are would not be keen to buy if there are doubts on the human cost of their fish. So the importers have the chance to influence the international supply chains on raising vessel safety standards and labour conditions (and hopefully support that with price difference) 

Yet as I said before, and I say it again my guiding principle is that "we need to shift the basis of the discourse and screening from attempting to prove or to disprove forced labour conditions in supply chains toward establishing system fundamentals for human rights due diligence"

Labour conditions in fishing vessels by Francisco Blaha

The issues of fishers welfare, decent work conditions and forced labour have been at the forefront of the news these days, and for various good reasons. So much so, that FAO is getting involved through the Vigo dialogue (a process I may be involved with), and surely RFMOs will start extending their view over it. As in other complex areas in fisheries, there are already legal frameworks that cover the issues at hand, yet they are incomplete, or just not adhered to.

 Ocean Breeze, Purse Seiner, South Pacific, 2001. I’m with a Peruvian, Madeira and Philippinos on board

Ocean Breeze, Purse Seiner, South Pacific, 2001. I’m with a Peruvian, Madeira and Philippinos on board

Over the next few posts, I’m going to dive into the labour conditions issue, as well as the present agreements. As I may get involved more in-depth into the topic, I thought I write about my personal take on this based on my experience. This way I may look back on this post in the future and see if my views changed through the experience of working on this complex yet necessary area.

In my experience, where you stand and what you are used to, makes a big difference in this area. So where is the line that separates what is acceptable from what is not? I cringe a bit at the “developed country saviour” stereotype that I perceive in some initiatives in this area.

Here is an example: Recently I listen to an expose on conditions on board a Taiwanese vessel and people were working 18 hrs (I get back to this later), but also how there where cockroaches in the galley, in principle that should not happen, yet it does constantly… I remember spending time Bulgarian and Russian trawlers during the 80’s (South Atlantic), using mosquito nets in the bunk as to avoid them crawling on your body, and squashing them when you sleep (not a nice feeling when you wake up believe me), and finding them in your clothes, books and cooked in your food and bread made on board. Yes, surely wasn’t nice, but you get used to it, and I still here.

Yet, as the other side of the coin and in a huge contrast, they were the only vessels I been in my life, where 2 or 3 times a week, after dinner a string sextet (a cello, 2 violas and 3 violins) made of crew members (guys from the deck and engineers) will play traditional folk songs and light classics directed by the 2nd mate, with some excellent operatic singing… other nights we played chess or read classics from the captains’ library, he had little cards and would recommend books based on your past choices. The disparity in between the filth we lived in (I never been in any Asian boat as bad in terms of filth at those ones) and what I always perceived as a high civilised culture, was unique… I never forgot that paradox.

Yes, there are conditions, (particular regarding space and general hygiene) that I find difficult to deal with Asian vessels, but I find this also in Asian cities. But then, I’m a 196cm (6’5’) ex-rower and swimmer, that grow up in places with a lot of space… I would not try to impose my view of what is “right”, even if it feels “wrong” to me

Anyway, is also really important to understand that fishing is not like any other job in any other area I’m aware of (yet my experience is only in fisheries, farming, academia and UN bodies) for various reasons (I explain some below), therefore there is no way that "one size fits all" will ever work.

Furthermore, there are massive differences between countries and sometimes between fisheries in the same country.

The first element of everyday reality that you notice disappears when you work on fishing boats (unless you are an officer doing logsheets) is dates and times. They don't really make a lot of sense anymore after a week at sea... if it Tuesday 6.15 am or Sunday 3 pm doesn't really make a difference, so your really forget about that... In Argentina (by some reason) is a tradition to eat pizza on Saturdays... so we will know that a week has gone because there was pizza for dinner.

There are many fisheries where your income is based on a fix "fee" and catch shares that vary by your position. In many boats actually, the captain and chief engineer earn only based on catch shares and not salaries.

Critically, ‘when the fish is there, the fish is there" and that is the only time to catch it. For example: I'm able to think of many occasions where if the captain would have tried to apply ILO’s C188: Work in Fishing Convention; “10 hours of rest per day may be reduced to no less than six consecutive hours during active fish catching and fish processing" I would have been pissed off because that meant less money in my pocket at the end of the trip...

"however the fisher shall receive compensatory periods of rest as soon as practicable." Well, that kind of happens anyway... you spend time looking for fish, and in that time crew work on vessel and gear maintenance, but is not "fishing" also you have shift work on deck, bridge or engine room so the 10 or 6 hr may not be consecutive.

You'll know if someone has been a fisherman by his/her ability to fell asleep at any time or any position under any weather even if it is only for 15' minutes. When I get on a flight in the Pacific with fishing crew... we are the only ones sleeping in 5 minutes of sitting in the plane. Sleeping short but repetitively is just part of what you do.

Fleet wise, that variability of practices is massive, and I merely talk about my experience:

Purse Seiners would set pre-sunrise for FAD sets, but then any time of day for free school sets. Hence the nights usually are resting time (unless you had a big problem on the net, and then is all hands on deck overnight for repairs)

Trawlers will depend on what are they targeting and if they are using bottom or midwater gear... at which latitude you are, etc. I have done 18 hrs days during the summer in the southern seas, and that was given. If you are in a factory vessel, then your work in 6x6hr shifts or 8x6hr... but you get less than 6 hrs sleep literally, because you will like to have some food and a shower, so that will already be out

Longliners tend to set pre-sunrise and sunset, but then sometimes during the day... and depending the number of sets the boat has out you will be hauling the times you are not setting... pretty much 24 hrs... so the ILO rule will not really work... but then you have plenty of time to sleep when you are getting to or off the fishing grounds.

Also as a skipper, at the end of the day not your interest to have an exhausted crew, when people are there is when they make mistakes and get hurt, an injured guy on board is a real problem you need to get back to port, and if crew is with low moral, efficiency goes down, and accidents tends to happen. And even if you were to be the worst possible human being, tired people break stuff as well as getting hurt, broken gear means less fishing, and no one wants that on board.

In principle, a key aspect of the master’s responsibility (that was drill into me both at navy and fishing school) is to look after the safety and welfare of crew and make money for everyone involved. If the crew is exhausted, shit happens, and no one wins, if I see someone on deck not being really into it, I sent him to the bunk... not only because he will get hurt, but mostly because the other crew will get hurt too, and as I said, stuff will break.

How can you control this issues on board?
Well... you could have logs (like truck drivers) and add that to the already huge paper-work already on board. The logical way would be via EM (cameras on board) and have then a labour inspector sitting with the observer scanning the footage (but then that will imply quite a lot of labour inspectors being trained in fishing, and that ain’t gonna happen, labour departments struggle to get enough people as ist is already).

But my biggest issue is that, while I’m all for crew rights due to the well-known cases of slavery and abuses, trying to be too authoritative on hours and days worked, and the having labour inspectors checking is the wrong approach since you are barking at the wrong tree.

Most of the slavery and crew rights abuses seem to take place in vessel flagged in countries that don’t really give a shit about any rules, much less those that will apply to the 10 countries that have signed the ILO convention... and even if they were to sign it, what credibility will they have in controlling it?. I don't think anyone in Taiwan, Vanuatu or China has any idea of where all their vessels are and who is on board... much less how the crew get treated.

So we have to be aware that the weight-of compliance, (as usual) will fall on the countries that are already pretty responsible operators... and that are barely competing with the other countries that don't give a shit.

And while potentially the consumer could reward the responsible states with their choice (the ecolabels semi myth), reality is that the people who care, are the well-intended and conscious middle-class buyers of developed countries… which are not the primary market of most fishery products

Fishing is about flexibility... and if you have to stop fishing because the crew would only be able to sleep 5 hr instead of 6, because otherwise, you'll have to spend time explaining why you took that decision to some bureaucrat that does not know the difference in between stern and bow even less the works of a Purse Seiner, then you're pushing them to hide things... and no one really wins when that happens.

The people that the rules are trying to protect are still being abused and the responsible operators’ countries are getting constrained by rules that do not reflect reality sometimes.

There is limited evidence of abuses in well-regulated fisheries, and the reasons are because there is a system to control them... in the WCPFC area the biggest issue is unreported (specifically underreporting), illegal fishing or unregulated are non-issues.

From my present experience, my feeling is that in the WCPFC PS tuna fishery the key issues would be about fair payment, but not slavery and being kept on board against their will.

For the LongLiners the process gets a bit murkier because we have a lot of vessels that fish in the High seas and do not come to port or have coastal state licenses... so you must trust the flag-state conditions. But then while China and Korea are ILO members, they are not 188 signatories - and mostly employ other countries crew (Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, etc). Taiwan is not even member of ILO, nor is Vanuatu that has hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese owned vessels under its legislation!

Japan tho, is interesting since because of its labour unions, does employ a lot of Japanese crew, at Japanese salaries, and still (allegedly) makes money.

What I would do?
As in any other fisheries compliance are, explore incentives for people to do the right thing, instead of only having a system to punish them when found doing the wrong thing. But that will take time (but i’m working on it)

In the meantime, as an ex-fisher I can think about 4 initial ideas:

  1. Actually trust fisherman to know what is better for them and create the avenues for them to be able to log complains if they feel they have been abused, not paid, or made work in conditions beyond reasonable.

  2. Provide independent avenues for crew to have the opportunity to complain and take action via arrangement with flag, coastal or port states... one idea... have 3 randomly selected crew members to come with their passports to the ILO rep office/labour dept/fishers union or similar at the key ports in the Pacific (60% of the skipjack in the world comes from there)

  3. Pull the pressure on the crewing agencies and crewing related legislation in the countries of origins of the crew - not just flag states.

  4. Since a lot of the reported abuses seems to happen in the HS Long Line fishery, we need to increase the pressure to stop at sea transhipments (as we did with PS), hence they have the chance to disembark if needed.

I’m sure many will disagree with my take or find my take a bit strange, but then, that is what happens when you talk about your views… and I (even as a consultant) never take any paternalistic (listen to me, I know better!) attitude towards anything in regards fisheries.0, this is just what I know, think and see.

Any solutions in the labour arena will have to come from a consensus view of all the elements that pay into the topic, and not only from a well-intended side of it. I'm just getting into this topic, and I'm entirely open to change my views be understanding more and be proven in a different light.

So far the best take in this topic I have seen comes from this paper I blogged about recently:

We need to shift the basis of screening from attempting to prove or to disprove forced labour conditions in supply chains toward establishing system fundamentals for human rights due diligence.

Images from past days, and yes it was a different time, unions existed, and I was able to use my earnings to study, and not just to survive or maintain a family.

On being at WCPFC TCC and the decision making process at RFMOs by Francisco Blaha

The WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) is over, a massive "shout out" of nothing more than pure respect to EVERYONE in MIMRA that worked non-stop to make TCC be the success it was.

 Sometimes a sensory depravation chamber, sometimes the front line of geopolitics.

Sometimes a sensory depravation chamber, sometimes the front line of geopolitics.

I have to admit that being part of it was a confronting experience sometimes, yet somehow illuminating… I never been to one before, but I totally understand how people get hooked on them and become RFMO “junkies”. Yet I don't think that there is something I could do.

I’m a total believer of being totally aware of your limitations and know where your strengths are, and meeting rooms is definitively an area where I don't really contribute, particularly when it comes to language discussion and endless correction to a text. Yet I totally understand why it has to be done, as words becomes the “lawyers” job in the delegations fighting ground, when shit hits the fan.

The level of geopolitics, influencing, positioning, country egoisms, plain misplaced righteousness, coalitions, back room deals and in many cases full hypocrisy (as in the case of CN,TW, KR and TW in regards transhipments at sea) could be a sociologist/international relationships specialist wet dream.

The dynamics of decision making among countries as despair as China and Tokelau are unique to RFOMS and the presence of member institutions such as FFA, SPC and PNA are unique to the WCPFC in particular, so during my time there I wonder how the situation would be in other RFMOs in regards decision making and if what I see there is the best we can do? 

But no more, academia came to the rescue and a recent paper by Antonia Leroy and Michel Morin “Innovation in the decision-making process of the RFMOs”.

Is an interesting read, and I recommend you go to the original. In the meantime, I quote the abstract and some parts that I stuck to my little brain. 

Throughout the last several decades, the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) have become essential bodies for the management of the fisheries resources. However, the state of fish stocks that are fished in the high seas seem even more critical for some species. That situation put into question the functioning of the RFMOs where decisions adopted have not been stringent enough to tackle the overexploitation of many fish stocks.

When states are establishing RFMOs’ conventions they have to fulfil their duty to co-operate while applying the principle of consent, a basic principle in international law. This has led states to setting up various decision-making processes within RFMOs. The paper shows that a better tailored decision-making process for RFMOs is needed so as to bring changes in them to comply with the objectives set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, i.e. maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. 

With that aim, the analysis defines three principles to evaluate the effectiveness of the decision-making procedure in RFMOs; 1) blocking or opting-out behaviours constrained, 2) transparency in the objection procedure, 3) conservation and management measures, including the related dispute resolution process, adopted in a timely manner. In line with these three principles, after considering the example of 12 main RFMOs, the study concludes that among them, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) has developed the most advanced and innovative decision-making mechanism.

Despite the duty for states to cooperate in the management of fisheries resources, they remain cautious about the establishment of transparent and timely efficient decision-making mechanisms, certainly as a fear of renouncing some of their prerogatives. RFMOs decision-making procedures have evolved. In the last few decades, several RFMOs have evaluated and modified their Convention provisions such as the NAFO, the NEAFC, the IATTC and the GFCM.

However, there is a lack of a true evolution on the objection and dispute settlement procedures. Recent adopted or amended conventions remain far below the recognised best practice (see Fig. 1 below for a summary of RFMOs’ performance in terms of decision-making process). For instance, with one of the last organizations created, the SIOFA, while the convention text is rather innovative in including the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach to fisheries, the lack of which is seen as a weakness in performance assessments of other RFMOs, the decision-making procedure does not correspond to best practice; in this case, each decision must be made by consensus without the possibility to object to a CMM. 

The ICCAT convention has been under revision since 2013 and a new one should be adopted soon; debates on the objection procedure and its follow-up are one of the issues that remain to be solved. Up to now, only the NAFO and the SPRFMO conventions have set out provisions which oblige the members of the RFMO concerned to take into account the positions of the others when one of them decides to present an objection and might be considered as implementing best practice. 

These two examples show that it is possible to bring progress in core provisions of these conventions without ignoring the principle of consent. But these are the only two examples, that is not enough. States, which are members of the other RFMOs, should really push for the adoption of conventions giving a better framework for the adoption of strong CMMs in order to tackle the issue of the poor state of many fish stocks.

The international community is far from having defined the appropriate procedural rules in order to adopt the necessary measures for the optimal management of fishery resources. The possibility of not accepting a measure or of objecting to it is still too frequent. 

For this reason, the procedure developed by the SPRFMO is promising in that it obliges the parties to resolve the dispute quickly and within the organization itself. This way of resolving the conflict is certainly preferable to treating it outside of the organization as shown by the CCSBT case in 1999–2000. This is so far one of the newest and the most innovative decision-making mechanisms.

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Overview of Tuna Fisheries in the WCPO, including Economic Conditions, for 2017 by Francisco Blaha

What do 2,539,959 Tons of tuna look like?

One thing that never ceases to amaze me from working in the WCPF tuna fisheries, is the vastness and sometimes “incommensurability” of the numbers we work with. Just forgets for the moment we have 17 PS and 9 Carriers in the lagoon… that is a lot in Pacific terms, but not much for other fisheries. But the volumes of fish we (via SPC) estimate is being caught is just mind-blowing.

 Definitivelly not the guys gettingUS$3.40 billion

Definitivelly not the guys gettingUS$3.40 billion

Among the many papers we have in TCC, I just quote below the abstract of a paper by my friend and colleague Peter Williams from SPC (one of the people I respect the most in the tuna world) and Chris Reid from FFA. “Overview of Tuna Fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean,including Economic Conditions 2017”, as usual: read the original.

This paper provides a broad description of the major fisheries in the WCPFC Statistical Area (WCP-CA) highlighting activities during the most recent calendar year (2017) and covering the most recent summary of catch estimates by gear and species. 

The provisional total WCP–CA tuna catch for 2017 was estimated at 2,539,950 mt, the lowest catch for six years, and around 340,000 mt below the record catch in 2014 (2,883,204 mt). The WCP–CA tuna catch (2,539,950 mt) for 2017 represented 78% of the total Pacific Ocean catch of 3,239,704 mt, and 54% of the global tuna catch (the provisional estimate for 2017 is 4,715,836 mt, at this stage, the fourth highest on record). 

The 2017 WCP–CA catch of skipjack (1,624,162 mt – 64% of the total catch) was the lowest since 2011, at nearly 375,000 mt less than the record in 2014 (2,000,608 mt). 

The WCP–CA yellowfin catch for 2017 (670,890 mt – 26%) was the highest recorded (more than 35,000 mt higher than the previous record catch of 2016), mainly due to increased catches in the purse seine fishery. 

The WCP–CA bigeye catch for 2017 (126,929 mt – 5%) was the lowest since 2016 and mainly due to continued low longline catches. 

The 2017 WCP–CA albacore catch (117,969 mt – 5%) was slightly lower than the average over the past decade and around 50,000 mt lower than the record catch in 2002 at 147,793 mt. 

The south Pacific albacore catch in 2017 (92,291 mt) was a record catch, primarily due to a record in the longline fishery (89,388 mt.); the 2017 catch was around 4,000-5,000 mt. more than the previous record catch in 2010 of 88,147 mt. 

The provisional 2017 purse-seine catch of 1,812,474 mt was slightly less than the most recent five-year average, and nearly 250,000 less than the record in 2014 (2,059,008 mt). While the total purse seine catch in 2017 was similar to the 2016 catch level, the species composition was clearly different.

The 2017 purse-seine skipjack catch (1,280,311 mt; 71% of total catch) was the lowest since 2011 and nearly 350,000 mt lower than the record in 2014.

In contrast, the 2017 purse-seine catch estimate for yellowfin tuna (472,279 mt; 26%) was the highest on record at nearly 50,000 mt higher than the previous record (423,788 mt in 2008); this record was mainly due to good catches of large yellowfin from unassociated-school set types in the west and central tropical WCP-CA areas (see Figure 3.4.8–right).

The provisional catch estimate for bigeye tuna for 2017 (56,194 mt) was a decrease on the catch in 2016 and lower than the most recent five-year average. 

The provisional 2017 pole-and-line catch (151,232 mt) was the lowest annual catch since the mid-1960s, with reduced catches in both the Japanese and the Indonesian fisheries. 

The provisional WCP–CA longline catch (240,387 mt) for 2017 was lower than the average for the past five years. The WCP–CA albacore longline catch (96,280 mt – 40%) for 2017 was higher than the average catch over the past decade, and only 5,000 mt lower than the record of 101,816 mt attained in 2010.

The provisional bigeye catch (58,164 mt – 25%) for 2017 was the lowest since 1996, presumably mainly due to continued reduction in effort in the main bigeye tuna fishery.

The yellowfin catch for 2017 (83,399 mt – 35%) was lower than the average for the past decade and more than 20,000 mt less that the record for this fishery. 

The 2017 South Pacific troll albacore catch (2,508 mt) was similar to catch levels experienced over the past four years. The New Zealand troll fleet (111 vessels catching 1,952 mt in 2017) and the United States troll fleet (13 vessels catching 556 mt in 2017) accounted for all of the 2017 albacore troll catch. 

Market prices in 2017 generally improved with significant increases in prices for purse seine caught skipjack and yellowfin, pole and line caught skipjack and longline caught yellowfin, swordfish and striped marlin while longline caught albacore prices remained steady and longline caught bigeye prices were either steady or declined.

The total estimated delivered value of catch in the WCP-CA increased by 12% to US$5.84 billion during 2017

The value of the purse seine catch (US$3.40 billion) accounted for 58% of the value of the catch, the fishery’s 2nd highest contribution to total catch value. 

The value of the longline fisheryin 2017 (US$1.46 billion) was the lowest since 2007 and accounted for 25% of the value of the catch, its 2nd lowest contribution to total catch value. 

The 2017 values of the pole and line, and other catch were US$348 and US$631 million respectively. 

The value of the 2017 WCP–CA skipjack catch(US$2.98 billion) was the equal to the third highest recorded and 13% higher than 2016. 

The 2017 value of the WCP–CA yellowfin catch(US$1.9 billion) was the second highest recorded and 17% higher than 2016. 

The value of the WCP–CA bigeye catch in 2017 (US$0.65 billion) was at its lowest level since 2005. 

The 2017 value of the WCP–CA albacore catch (US$0.34 billion) was around that averaged over the past 10 years. 

Economic conditions in the purse seine, tropical longline and southern longline fisheries of the WCP-CA showed mixed results. The southern longline fishery saw a further improvement in catch rates which drove the FFA economic conditions index to its highest level since 2009. 

Conversely, the tropical longline fishery index, which moved above its long term average in 2016 for the first time since 2010, fell back to below the long term average. 

In the purse seine fishery, despite significant falls in purse seine catch rates, higher prices resulted in the continuation of the good economic conditions in 2017, with the FFA purse seine fishery economic conditions index increasing marginally from 2016 to be at its third highest level since 1999.

A Review of High Seas Transshipment occurring within the WCPFC by Francisco Blaha

I has been a busy few days at this TCC, I’m doing my day job and working on PSM with the barding officers, and then when finished coming over the TCC meeting. Is a very interesting dynamics going on there, none than I’m either used too or really like.

 Wealth transfer

Wealth transfer

The bit shocked me the most is that all the observers (NGOs and even FAO) get kicked out of the plenary before the reports of not compliance  gets discussed, as if it was to be said there is not known. Most of the non-compliance relate to the DWFN and the ones of the PIC flag state are overwhelmingly focuses on those vessels have beneficiary ownership on those DWFN. I don't really get it, but then is not my job to get it. Yet for me, transparency is transparency… end of story.

Anyway, the process itself is a bit frustrating for me, people seems to argue more about words than outcomes (I always struggle with that, and I think is biassed against those that not have English as a first language). In any case I’m learning a lot while in the room. Decisions being made here, are the ones that then front line compliance people and those advisers like me, have to put in place.

By doing boardings in the mornings and assisting to the discussion on the afternoons, the contrast could not be starker.

In any case, there is a lot to read… and among the plethora of interesting things to read, there are a few that caught my attention, but among them this one is quite illuminating: A Review of Management and Reporting Trends Related to Transhipment Occurring within the WCPFC Submitted by Pew Charitable Trusts WCPFC-TCC14-2018-OP03. 

I quote here some of the most interesting aspects (at least for me) of the paper, the link above if for the intranet, but I been assured by Pew Staff that is open and available. 

As indicated through the WCPFC Secretariat Annual Report on Transshipping, the number of reported high seas transshipment events has increased by 97 percent between 2014 (552 events) and 2017 (1,089 events). The number of transshipping vessels has also increased; in 2018, 55 percent of fishing vessels on the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV) were authorized to transship on the high seas, a significant increase from the 40.5 percent seen just three years ago in 2015. A robust analysis of transshipment data, however, is difficult because information regarding transshipment is diffuse, spread out between multiple reports, and tends to be inconsistent between reporting sources.

 The data and trends clearly illustrate the need for additional management rules on transshipment in the WCPFC Convention Area to ensure full and effective control and monitoring of these activities and to reduce the opportunities for illegal fishing and the introduction of illegal caught fish into the seafood supply chain. Several specific recommendations are included at the end of the paper.

Key Issues

1. The Size of Carrier Fleets and Number of High Seas Transshipment Events is Increasing

By August 2018, Panama’s active authorized carrier vessel fleet on the RFV grew to 114 vessels, followed by Korea (33 vessels), Liberia (25 vessels) and Chinese Taipei (20 vessels). Between 2014 and 2017 the number of Panamanian flagged carriers reported to have “Fished” in the Convention Area increased by 56% (55 vessels to 86 vessels). Between 2016 and 2017, Chinese Taipei flagged vessels increased the number of their reported high seas transshipment events by 82 percent for offloading vessels (290 to 529 events) and by 80 percent for receiving vessels (113 to 204 events). During that same period, Korean flagged carriers also increased receiving vessel reporting of transshipments by 112 percent (94 to 200 events).

Table 1 below summarizes the number of carrier vessels reported by each CCM to have “Fished” in the Convention Area in 2017 and the number of carriers that reported high seas transshipping events as per the 2018 WCPFC TCC Annual Report on Transshipment (RP03). The difference between the number of carriers that operated in the Convention Area in 2017 (139 carriers) as opposed to the number of carriers that reported high seas transshipping events (27) should be noted. There is very little transparency or reporting on the regional level of the operation of the remaining 112 carriers, which represent over 80 percent of the entire carrier fleet, that were reported to have “Fished” in the Convention Area in 2017 by their flag State CCM but did not report high seas transshipment events. In order to provide a full accounting of all the activities of carriers that operate in the Convention Area, carrier vessels should be required to provide all transshipment reports and declarations to the Secretariat regardless of where the transshipping event occurs (high seas, EEZ, or in port).

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2. There is Insufficient Sharing of Data Regarding WCPFC, IATTC, and NPFC Transshipment Operations 

Due to the lack of an agreement between the WCPFC and the IATTC carrier observer service provider on transshipment observation, nearly 11% of transshipments that were reported to have occurred in the WCPFC Convention Area on carriers carrying an IATTC observer were not observed in 2017, despite the presence of an IATTC observer. The sole reason for this appears to be because a vessel captain is allowed to have the discretion whether an event is observed or not. These unobserved events, totaling 50 separate events with an average weight of transshipment of 56.03 metric tons, potentially represents over 2,800 metric tons of WCPFC product that went unreported by weight and species in 2017 3. To ensure that all transshipping events occurring in the WCPFC Convention Area be observed, documented, and reported directly to the WCPFC Secretariat, and to prevent the delegation of decision-making on transshipment monitoring to vessel masters in the future, the current data-sharing agreement between WCPFC and IATTC should be extended to cover MRAG Americas, the IATTC carrier observer service provider.

Additionally, it appears there is no specific mention of the 413 events WCPFC transshipment events that were observed by IATTC observers in 2017 included within the 2018 WCPFC TCC Annual Report on Transshipment (RP03). As such, it is unknown if the WCPFC Secretariat has received information from IATTC on these events and whether this information was included in the Annual Report. If these transshipments have not been included, the Secretariat should be tasked with updating RP03 to include this information, including a clear delineation of the additional number and flag of offloading and receiving vessels involved in transshipping in the WCPFC Convention Area and the amount of product transshipped.

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3. Carrier Observer Reports Are Not Being Submitted to the Secretariat 

The 2018 WCPFC TCC Annual Report on Transshipment (RP03)1 does not include any information about reports received by the Secretariat from observers, despite the fact that CMMs have indicated full observer coverage of all 1,089 reported transshipment events*. In 2017, the Secretariat reported at TCC13 (paragraph 203 of the TCC14 Meeting Summary Report)4that they had received only one observer report for the 956 high seas transshipping events that were reported to have occurred in the Convention Area in 2016. To allow for independent verification of transshipment related data received from carrier vessel transshipment declarations, TCC14 should recommend that the Commission revise the WCPFC Regional  Observer Programme (ROP) Standards and Guidelines document to mandate that observers document all transshipment events occurring on the high seas in the WCPFC Convention Area and submit these observer reports directly to the Secretariat. 

4. Discrepancies Existing in the Number of Transfers Reported by Offloading and Receiving Vessels 

The 2018 WCPFC TCC Annual Report on Transshipment (RP03)1 reveals discrepancies in notifications and declarations received from offloading and receiving vessels. For instance, the report indicates that Panamanian carriers were involved in 280 high seas transshipment events in 2017, yet only 210 notifications and 202 declarations were received from the carriers1. Small inconsistences occur with three other flag States. These inconsistencies are also found in the information provided by CCMs on transshipment within their Annual Report Part I submissions5. For example, Panama’s 2018 Annual Report Part I indicated only 15 high seas transshipment events occurred in 2017 (as compared to the 280 high seas events reported in RP03). Liberia reported 243 events in their Annual Report Part I (without a breakdown of where the events occurred – high seas, EEZ, or outside the Convention Area - although they reported the events occurred in all these locations). Korea reported 168 high seas events (as opposed to 200 high seas events in RP03). Vanuatu reported 270 high-seas transshipping events without a breakdown of how many involved offloading or receiving vessels. China reported one carrier to have conducted high seas transshipment (as opposed to two carrier vessels in RP03). Chinese Taipei provided no information in their Annual Report Part I regarding transshipping events involving their carrier vessels.

Table 3 summarizes data outlined within CCMs Annual Report Part I, the number of carrier vessels that conducted transshipments in 2017 as well as the location where these transshipment events took place (high seas, EEZ, in port). Four out of these six flag States did not provide the number of carrier vessels that conducted transshipment in 2017. In addition, four of the six did not specify the location of their transshipment events. One did not provide any information at all about carrier vessels and only reported on “offloading” vessels.

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Without infringing upon the national laws of any coastal State, the Commission should mandate consistent transshipment reporting requirements for all transshipping events within the Convention Area, regardless of where the event occurs, including those that take place in port and within EEZs. This would allow the Secretariat to have a clear overall picture of all transshipping events occurring within WCPFC waters during a specific calendar year. 

5. Additional Sources of Information Are Needed to Effectively Verify Reported Transshipment Operations 

According to the 2018 WCPFC TCC Annual Report on Transshipment (RP03)1, the Secretariat undertook an analysis of VMS data to attempt to detect potential transshipment events, specifying that an incident would be counted as an event when “…the reported WCPFC VMS positions related to two fishing vessels, are estimated to be within a distance of 250 meters, over a time period of at least 4 hours…”. Despite only 23% of the over 1600 transshipment events that were reported to the Secretariat during that period being detected, the Secretariat should be applauded for this initiative. In order to improve the accuracy of the tool, the Secretariat should consider data from the ICCAT and IOTC carrier observer programmes, which indicate that the vast majority of transshipment events at sea in those regions are completed in less than three hours. Observer report analysis and stakeholder input are key resources the Secretariat can utilize to improve the effectiveness of the WCPFC Transshipment Analysis Tool and increase the overall detection rate. Another valuable tool is the use and analysis of Automated Identification System (AIS) data. Given that the VMS polling rate for longliners is once every four hours, AIS could be used to gain a better understanding of the length of time a transshipment at sea takes place within the WCPFC Convention Area that VMS cannot do due to the length of time between polling. TCC14 should recommend that the Secretariat consider modifying its detection criteria and be allowed to conduct a demonstration on the usefulness of AIS as a supplement to VMS and other reporting data over the next year, especially as it relates to transshipment reporting. 

In order to standardize the data submitted by CCMs on transshipment operations, the Secretariat has created the template in Annex 3 of RP031 for use by all applicable CCMs when submitting their Annual Report Part I. TCC14 should approve this template with the addition of data fields that clearly outline the number of offloading and receiving vessels involved in transshipping in the Convention Area as well as the number of events for each by location (high seas, EEZ, in port).


This analysis clearly demonstrates the need for management reform of transshipment in the WCPFC Convention Area. The Pew Charitable Trusts has developed best practices related to transshipment management aimed towards maximizing transparency and minimizing the potential for IUU fish to be laundered into the market. Oversight of transshipment can be improved in WCPFC by implementing these best practices in three main areas: 

  • Reporting - The current WCPFC transshipment measure (CMM 2009-06) should be strengthened to include consistent transshipment reporting requirements to all areas within the Convention Area, including all transshipments that occur in port and within EEZs. This will allow the Secretariat to receive a complete picture of transshipment activity that occurs within the WCPFC Convention area. 

  • Monitoring –The template provided by the Secretariat in Annex 3 of RP03 should be expanded to include additional data fields on number of offloading and receiving vessels involved in transshipping and locations of where transshipping events occurred (high seas, EEZs, in port). This will allow cross-verification of vessel transshipment reporting. In addition, the ROP Standards and Guidelines document should be revised to mandate the submission of observer reports to the Secretariat for all high seas transshipments occurring within the WCPFC Convention Area to facilitate the ability for the Secretariat to review, cross-verify and validate transshipment information. 

  • Data sharing – The Commission should establish formal transshipping data-sharing procedures with the North Pacific Fisheries Commission and expand the current data-sharing agreement with IATTC to include the ability for the IATTC carrier observer service provider (MRAG Americas) to share information directly with WCPFC for any transshipment taking place on the high seas in the WCPFC Convention Area involving a carrier vessel with an embarked IATTC observer. 


1. Annual Report on WCPFC Transshipment Reporting with an Emphasis on High Seas Activities (WCPFC-TCC14-2018-RP03)

2. WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels History as of 24 August 2018

Corporate Dynamics in the Shelf-stable Tuna Industry by Francisco Blaha

If you want to understand the tuna industry, don’t look at the harvesting side only, since it will give you only a small view of a much bigger picture. The tuna industry is very particular, since does not only has the usual “States” (flag, coastal, port, market), the “new” one (processing state), but then two unique “supra states”: the traders (FCF, Trimarine and Itochu) and the main Brands, and their influence goes down the value chain “big time”.

 this crew in the solomons, is actually the only one I know that best benefit from their product

this crew in the solomons, is actually the only one I know that best benefit from their product

This latest FFA report by my colleagues Elizabeth Havice and Liam Campling, gives us a very detailed view on the main brads, that “far end” aspect of the tuna world, to people like me at the 1st steps in the value chain. 

As all of their work I’ve read, this one is good stuff. I quote here the executive summary. but as usual read the original!

This report provides FFA members with industry and market intelligence on the current status of the shelf-stable (e.g. canned) tuna processing industry. It offers a global overview of processing capacity (providing data on volume and value of activities), new developments and key issues shaping the sector. It then conducts a focussed analysis of five case-study firms (three ‘major’ and two ‘minor’) to demonstrate the range of industry dynamics currently in play in the sector and to draw out implications for Pacific Island countries.

The case study firms are: Thai Union, Dongwon Industries and Dongwon F&B, Bolton Foods, Princes, and Bumble Bee. Primarily through desk-based research, the analysis details operations, ownership and management structures, vertical integration such as brand ownership, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), major markets, financial performance, sustainability and labour initiatives, recent changes and future developments, WCPO business interests and links with Pacific Island countries. 

Global Overview and Key Developments 

Between 2008 and 2017, global tuna processing capacity (whole round and cooked loins) increased 12-13%. Over the same period, the total number of processing plants increased from 144 to at least 215. Whole round fish represents around 85% of raw material throughput and frozen cooked loins account for around 15%. Loins are mostly used by processors in the US mainland, Spain and Italy. Estimated global canned tuna processing capacity is around 13,700mt/day, requiring around 3 million mt of whole round fish (skipjack, yellowfin and albacore). In 2017, the top five canned tuna processing countries by volume were: 1) Thailand (3,490 mt/day); 2) Ecuador (1,635mt/day); 3) Spain (1,275 mt/ day); 4) Mexico (725 mt/day); and, 5) Philippines (510 mt/day). 

Thailand remains the world’s largest canned tuna processor, accounting for around 15% of production. Thailand does not have a significant tuna fishing fleet and so relies heavily on raw material imports, mainly from the WCPO, which exposes Thailand-based processors to risk during periods of high tuna prices. 

The European Union is the world’s largest market for canned tuna. The market is supplied by producers inside the EU, mainly Spain (67%) and Italy (21%), and by imports, especially from countries with duty free access. The top three foreign suppliers are Ecuador, Seychelles and Mauritius. Import volumes from the Philippines and from Papua New Guinea have increase by 48% between 2013-2017. PNG and Solomon Islands loin imports accounted for, respectively, 9% (12,093mt) and 5% (6,477mt) of the EU’s total loin imports; volumes sourced from Solomon Islands, largely for Italy, grew 64% between 2013- 2017. Given that the UK is Europe’s largest imported canned tuna market, there is concern that Brexit might have a negative impact for exporters accessing that market. 

The United States remains the second largest shelf-stable tuna market. The market is supplied by two canning-only plants (i.e. that import frozen loins) in the mainland and from the US territory American Samoa, where whole round is also processed, and by finished goods imports from around 35 countries. The top three foreign suppliers are Thailand, Ecuador and Vietnam. Frozen cooked loin import volumes have declined since 2013, with Fiji as a significant supplier of albacore loins in the range of 11,000-12,000mt/year. 

Canned tuna processors continue to intersect with several long-standing concerns. The industry continues to struggle with overcapacity, with a majority of plants continuing to operate below full capacity, while new plant investments and expansions continue. Cyclical, short-term raw material price volatility continues to place pressure on processors in periods of higher prices, especially those that are not backward integrated into trading or fishing. Efforts to strengthen tuna fisheries management across all four ocean basins have not yet yielded long-term tightening of raw material supplies and associated long-term fish price increases. Canned tuna processors continue to face increased costs of key production inputs such as cans and ingredients such as olive oil; such costs are largely absorbed by processors because of the difficulty of passing cost increases on to consumers. The global canned tuna industry has continued to consolidate through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), which have taken place within the tuna and other seafood sectors and for both shelf-stable and frozen products. The rate of M&As is expected to slow as the most attractive deals have been completed or blocked by anti-trust regulation. Supermarkets continue to dominate retailed canned tuna sales globally, with private label brands providing strong price competition to national brands

A number of countries with significant canned tuna and frozen cooked loin processing capacity that compete with Pacific Island processors in the EU market have concluded or are in negotiations for preferential trade agreements with the EU. The Philippines and Ecuador have gained duty free access to the EU and Vietnam has secured a quota for canned tuna and gradual liberalization of loins. Negotiations between the EU and Thailand, ASEAN countries and Indonesia are in various stages. The EU continues to issue IUU yellow cards as warnings that lack of compliance with the terms of the IUU regulation could lead to suspended market access. In the Pacific, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, PNG and Tuvalu have been issued yellow cards and subsequently had them lifted when compliance was demonstrated. 

Several developments have emerged in recent years. Initiatives related to sustainable fisheries, supply chain transparency, and ethical labour are now permanent fixtures in the industry, though each initiative varies in scope and aims. Processors and brand owners are developing innovative and value-added product lines that use less tuna raw material to combat high raw material prices and meet changing consumer preferences. Some processors are diversifying into high-quality pet food production to expand into new market segments and improve profitability. Firms are diversifying packaging materials and marketing channels (e.g. online platforms) to improve returns and reach new markets. 

Case Study Firms 

Thai Union is the largest tuna company in the world. Its business is focussed on three seafood divisions: shelf-stable seafood; frozen and chilled seafood and related products; and, pet care and other ‘value added’ products. Thai Union’s business model is highly dependent on tuna and ensuring stability of tuna supply is critical for the firm. It is not backward integrated into fishing, so to stabilize supply it maintains a large raw material inventory in cold storage and has recently developed a Global Procurement Team to centralize its purchasing power. 

Thai Union’s core business is the manufacture of seafood for its own brands and as a private label processor for clients. It owns extensive processing operations in Thailand that contribute to a total of 17 production facilities in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Over the last 20 years, one of Thai Union’s key corporate strategies has been to forward integrate into brand ownership, notably with the purchase of Chicken of the Sea (1997) and MW Brands (2010). Forward integration has enabled Thai Union to capture a greater proportion of value through brand rents. Thai Union’s major markets are the US, Europe, Thailand and Japan, with 15% of total sales made in emerging markets. Thai Union is expected to look to organic growth, selective M&As, and product diversification to boost sales and growth. Thai Union is emerging as a leader in environmental and social responsibility, internalizing environmental and labour commitments and procedures and investing significant financial and human resources into monitoring and compliance. 

Thai Union’s principal relationship to the WCPO is in its ongoing dependence on the region for tuna raw material supply, which is facilitated through Thai Union’s long-term relationship with the FCF trading company. Thai Union has increased its processing of co-branded Pacifical canned tuna for Northern European markets and the US market and is well positioned to supply growing demand for ‘sustainable’ canned tuna. Thai Union is a partner in Majestic Seafood Corporation in Lae, PNG, an investment that provides raw material supply to Thai Union, but that has not operated at full capacity. 

The Dongwon Group is a sprawling South Korean industrial conglomerate. Through the inter-connected set of companies that make up Dongwon, the firm has comprehensive backward and forward linkages in the processing value chain and has the capacity to raise money to purchase supporting companies. Two of its subsidiaries are central players in the tuna processing industry. 

Dongwon Industries Co., Ltd. is Korea’s largest deep-sea fishery company, owning 19 purse seine vessels. The firm has focussed on expanding vessel capacity and profitability, building seven new purse seine vessels since 2006, with two additional large vessels scheduled to join the fleet in 2018. These new vessels enhance annual per-vessel catch and are equipped with rapid cooling technologies and facilities to manage sashimi-grade handing and freezing. The vessels supply plants in Bangkok and sister company, Dongwon F&B’s processing plants. Dongwon Industries’ ULT longline fleet primarily supplies Japan for sashimi grade product. Dongwon Industries vertically integrated into brand ownership by purchasing Starkist (2008), the market leader in the in the US, and also owns processing facilities in American Samoa, Senegal and Ecuador. Starkist is also the leader in the higher profit pouch segment of the US market and is expanding into niche marketing and value-added products. Dongwon F&B Co. Ltd is a branded manufacturer that controls 75-80% of the Korean canned tuna market through ownership of over 16 brands and three processing plants. Dongwon F&B has high exposure to raw material price increases; the firm is presently working to expand further into the domestic market and broaden its reach to international markets and develop value-added products, emphasizing the health and convenience of its products. 

The broader Dongwon conglomerate exhibits a high degree of vertical integration, accomplished in part through M&As, where Dongwon’s affiliates integrate with each other and create opportunities for the Group as a whole to expand market and product reach. Strategic M&As that support the Group’s tuna processing business include mergers with or acquisitions of firms that specialize in tin can production for shelf-stable products, logistics, online retailing of ready-made meals, tuna processing and diversified seafood products. Reversing a long resistance to eco-certifications, Dongwon Industries has made several moves into the MSC certification market. Starkist has initiated the MSC process for US flagged longline vessels out of American Samoa, and Dongwon Industries has initiated MSC assessments for its purse seiners in the WCPO (which make a high proportion of sets on free schools) and longline operations in the WCPO and Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). 

Dongwon has several important connections to the WCPO. Both Dongwon Industries and F&B are heavily dependent on the WCPO, particularly waters of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), for raw material supply, and Starkist has a large processing plant in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Dongwon Industries has announced a collaboration to build a small tuna processing plant in Kiribati in an aim to secure access for highly competitive fishing days and market access to the EU (if rules of origin are met). It has also engaged in ongoing negotiations to build processing plants in exchange for access in PNG and Solomon Islands, though there has been no recent progress on these proposals.

Bolton Foods is part of Bolton Group – a large privately-owned company offering a wide range of consumer goods under five business units. Bolton Foods focuses on premium branded shelf-stable tuna products and has developed high quality product specifications. It wholly owns three canned tuna brands, holds shares in several other important brands and distributes tuna product to over 60 countries. 

Since 1999, it has made several acquisitions to become more vertically integrateddiversified its portfolio of brands and processing operations geographically from Italy into other markets within and outside of Europe; and further secured access to raw material. Bolton’s purchase of the Saupiquet brand (1999) cemented its standing as the EU canned tuna market leader and integrated the firm into fishing with four large tuna purse seiners operating in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Supply from those vessels feeds non-branded processing plants in West Africa, Spain and Latin America that handle loins and finished goods production for Bolton. More recently, it purchased Calvo, acquiring Spain’s leading canned tuna brand and processing plants in Spain, El Salvador and Brazil, and a fleet of seven purse seine vessels. In 2013, it acquired a share in US global tuna trading company, Tri Marine, which strengthened its links to the WCPO and gave it access to supply, processing capacity, a niche brand in the US market and fishing vessels. Its 2015 it acquired Conservas Garavilla and its two brands, with presence in Spain, across the Americas and in North Africa, as well as processing plants in Spain, Ecuador and Morocco and four purse seine vessels. 

Bolton also has processing capacity in Italy which relies on imported frozen loins. To retain competitiveness for processing facilities in Europe, Bolton pioneered the import of pre-cooked loins, and has continued to innovate mechanized canning facilities that require minimal labour. Bolton also sources some branded finished goods from processors in Spain, Thailand, Ecuador, Ivory Coast and Mauritius. It is presently focussed on growing its presence in international markets, expanding into online and convenience sales platforms. It continues to differentiate its products through premium quality and ingredients as well by developing value-added products. It has launched its ‘Responsible Quality’ programme, through which it undertakes a range of corporate social responsibility initiatives related to environment, health and labour. Partnerships with advocacy organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) focus on sustainability and traceability. 

Like other firms, Bolton is linked to the WCPO through its use of raw material from the region. It has direct links through its shareholding in Tri Marine, which owns a Solomon Islands’ flagged fleet of seven purse seiners and four pole and line vessels. Tri Marine is the majority shareholder of the Soltuna processing plant in the Solomon Islands, whose primary business is to process loins for Bolton. Tri Marine also owns six US-flagged purse seine vessels operating in the WCPO and Samoa Tuna Processors in American Samoa, which is presently not operating but leasing cold storage to Starkist. 

Princes Group focuses on the import, manufacture and distribution of food and drink products to the grocery trade. It is a private company headquartered in the UK and owned by Mitsubishi Corporation; being a part of one of the world’s largest trading companies means that Princes has access to financial resources that enable it to act on M&A opportunities. It holds a wide portfolio of over 350 Princes’ own brand products, including Princes canned tuna, and also provides private label canned tuna for EU supermarkets. Over 70% of all sales take place in the UK, where Princes holds around 25% share of the canned tuna market, chasing Thai Union’s 35% market share with its John West brand. To improve profitability, Princes has reduced can size, and developed value-added products. Princes has high exposure to a concentrated number of buyers and is actively seeking new markets.

Princes is vertically integrated from canned tuna brand ownership into processing, with a major factory complex in Mauritius, making it a competitor to Pacific Island processors because of its duty-free access to the EU market. It complements supply with contract processing arrangements with firms in Ecuador, Thailand and the Philippines. 

Princes is not planning any major changes and is remaining focussed on its existing core businesses. It is developing sales of value-added tuna products but remains constrained by price and promotional offers in the UK market in particular. Following poor performance on Greenpeace rankings, Princes committed to sourcing 100% of its supply from either pole and line fishing or purse seine fishing on free schools. Princes now sources MSC ‘wherever possible’ and is procuring fish from several MSC fisheries and several fisheries under Fishery Improvement Projects (FIP). Princes does not own boats, which makes it sensitive to raw material price fluctuations. It has no direct investments in the WCPO, but it is a leading partner with Pacifical and was the first UK brand to sell tuna from the MSC certified PNA fishery. 

Bumble Bee is a manufacturer and brander of seafood products with a focus on tuna, ready to eat meals and a range of other shelf-stable and frozen seafood and protein products in the US and Canada. It is owned by Lion Capital, a private equity firm focussed on the fast-moving consumer goods sector. In the US, the firm markets products under the Bumble Bee and Wild Selections brands and is the US leader in canned albacore, which has higher value than light meat product. It sells canned tuna, as well as a wide range of shelf-stable seafood and chicken products. In overall tuna product offerings, Bumble Bee is number two in the US market, accounting for 25% of the category in value sales. Connor Bros. is the Canadian marketing arm of Bumble Bee. It owns the Clover Leaf brand, Canada’s market leader in canned tuna, as well as Brunswick, Sweet Sue, and several other brands that sell tuna, other shelf-stable seafood and protein products. 

Bumble Bee is not backward integrated into vessel ownership. Rather, to secure supply it has developed a global sourcing and production strategy that focuses on white meat product. Bumble Bee sources white meat loins from Fiji (PAFCO – Bumble Bee managed plant) and Mauritius and light meat loins from Thailand and Ecuador (and very small amounts from SSTC in Papua New Guinea), for its Santa Fe Springs plant on the west coast of the US. In addition to processing for its own brand, the Santa Fe Springs plant co-packs for Chicken of the Sea; while Chicken of the Sea’s plant located on the east coast of the US co-packs for Bumble Bee. Bumble Bee also has a strong historical relationship with trading company FCF. Bumble Bee has pursued and been the object of several M&As in recent years. It has been pursued by private equity funds seeking to increase the value of the brand before selling it for a profit. Thai Union attempted to acquire Bumble Bee, an effort that terminated in 2015 as antitrust clearance procedures stalled and opened the door to unfolding price fixing revelationsamong the US ‘big three’ canned tuna brands. In the wake of the US price fixing scandal, Lion Capital is unlikely to sell Bumble Bee in the near term. 

Future developments focus on sustainability, traceability and product diversification, and on jump-starting the North American market after a prolonged decline. It has recently launched a catch-to-can, consumer-friendly tracking programme. In its effort to boost the stagnating US market, Bumble Bee has emphasised the health and quality attributes of its products, differentiated its products from lower quality competitors, and developed value-added product lines, including a move into the freezer aisle facilitated by its purchase of Anova Foods. 

Bumble Bee has several direct links to the WCPO. It manages the majority government-owned PAFCO plant in Levuka, Fiji, which supplies its mainland US plant with albacore loins. In recent years, it has offered PAFCO loans for cold storage and infrastructure upgrades, though high operating costs and supply concerns are ongoing. It has also purchased small volumes of loins from SSTC in PNG. Its 2013 purchase of Anova Foods deepened links to the Pacific as the firm sources from the Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, in addition to Indonesia. Anova has initiated sustainability initiatives in those locations. Bumble Bee has also announced a deal to bring Pacifical products to the US. Several exploratory initiatives, including for a loining plant in Samoa and for processing in Vanuatu, are yet to come to fruition. 

Implications for Pacific Island Countries 

Collectively, the five case study firms reveal a diversified set of strategies in the shelf-stable tuna sector. While all of the firms use M&As to expand the scope of their business portfolio, they do so in different ways and for different reasons. In some cases, this has deepened horizontal integration, expanding a firms’ traditional strength by, for example, purchasing processing plants in strategic locations, or acquiring brands that offer access to new markets. In others, they have enabled vertical integration outward from the processing node of the canned tuna value chain into direct marketing, branding, trading and/or fishing. Each firm has employed these strategies in distinct ways and to various extents. 

The cases studies offer evidence of growing consolidation among leading firms with core competencies in processing and branding, though the pace of consolidation is likely to slow with many large mergers now complete or blocked by anti-trust regulation. There is a high degree of vertical integration between processing and branding, with some, but not all firms, also backward integrating into trading and/ or vessel ownership to secure supply. The large investments that several firms are making into brands offers evidence of brand rent in shelf-stable markets. This has relevance for efforts from Pacific Island countries, like Pacifical, to develop links into branding to improve returns in the region. 

These features also relate to the degree in which each firm has exposure to raw material price, that is, the extent to which a firm’s profitability is influenced by fluctuations in canning-grade tuna price movements. Firms that are vertically integrated into fishing have lower exposure and may in fact benefit from raw material price increases. Processing-focussed firms with high exposure to raw material prices have adopted strategies such as investing in cold storage to hedge against such risks. 

Several of the firms reviewed are financialized – that is, intertwined with transactions in which profit making and risk hedging occurs through financial channels, rather than only through trade and commodity production. Access to financial capital enables these firms to make strategic investments, counter hostile take-overs, and weather unexpected costs that might hit competitors with access to fewer resources. 

In addition to these firm-specific dynamics, the analysis reveals several broader dynamics that are impactful industry-wide and have specific implications for Pacific Island countries. 

As a group, branded-processors are able to weather fluctuations in raw material price, with variation among them. This might be explained by a combination of factors including (a) cross-subsidisation (e.g. boat ownership and/ or other business segments); (b) greater focus on cost control and/ or synergies from M&As; and (c) investment in new process technologies and value-added product innovation. There has been relative stability in aggregate branded-processor profit. This may relate to these firms’ market power and related ability to squeeze non-branded suppliers (of which there are many, in sharp competition among one another), capture brand rents, and ad hoc strategies such as the recent US price fixing scandal and the prior role of the Pacific Operating Committee in stabilizing canning-grade albacore price. The firms appear to have factored in, and adapted to, the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, and related WCPO initiatives such as high seas closures and limitations on and charges for FAD fishing. 

Processing firms, as they form various degrees of forward and/or backward integration, continue to develop and rely on and create global procurement and production strategies to secure both raw material supply and market access. These strategies continue to be formulated around trade policy, labour productivity, and resource access. 

Product diversification and development of value-added products is finally becoming more established in many of the major and emerging markets. If value-added products take fuller hold and spur market growth and improvements in profitability, all of those involved in the global value chain – including Pacific Island country resource owners and processing firms – will compete to capture the value added. There is an opportunity to increase yellowfin volumes caught from the WCPO – and/or to direct existing yellowfin that presently gets mixed into ‘light meat’ products – to substitute volumes supplied from the Indian Ocean to high value EU market segments, given the IOTC yellowfin stock is overfished and subject to overfishing, while WCPO stocks remain healthy. 

One of the most significant recent developments in the canned tuna sector is the increasing focus on sustainability, eliminating IUU fish in supply chains, traceability and ethical labour practices. Many such efforts began as a result of external pressure from advocacy organisations and resulting demand from buyers. They have now been internalised within many firms, and/or are being developed through collaborations between firms and advocacy groups. Generally, these movements will present both costs (auditing, management and production changes) and opportunities (reputational gains, market access, potential price premiums) to fishing fleets, processors and branding and retail. It is not yet clear how these will shape raw material prices and related access fees. 

Pacifical stands to be an important supplier of certified product but will also face increasing competition from other MSC certified fisheries as major fishing and trading companies (Tri Marine, FCF, Dongwon) obtain their own certifications for purse seine fishing operations in the WCPO. These competing certifications will likely have a different pricing structure which is more palatable to brand owners (i.e. MSC premiums payable on the cost of raw material (i.e. $/tonne) rather than the Pacifical model where a premium is charged on finished goods (i.e. % of gross sales value)). Competing certifications will not have compulsory labelling requirements, which is a key feature of the Pacifical model. 

PICs needs to continue to conduct careful analysis of proposals from foreign companies expressing interest in investing in onshore processing developments. Companies considering making an onshore processing investment are usually doing so as a means to obtain beneficial access to fishing through guaranteed and/or discounted fishing licences. There are multiple cases of companies expressing interest in processing facilities in various Pacific Island countries which have not yet or are unlikely to come to fruition.

The Impracticability Exemption For Transhipment on the High Seas by Francisco Blaha

Not long I wrote about a paper quantifying transhipment at sea, and some the failures around their management, since while they regulated (and in cases prohibited) by RFMOs, the decision making (and reporting) stays with the flag state. In the WCPFC the key word is the “Impracticability” as an Exemption to the WCPFC’s Prohibition on Transhipment on the High Seas. And to dig deeper on this issue a paper was tabled by the RMI delegation to the present TCC here in Majuro.

 yet it mostly only two

yet it mostly only two

I don't personally know the author Chris Wold from Lewis & Clark Law School, but I know well and respect a lot two colleagues that contributes to the study: Vivian Fernandes and Wez Norris, as well as Bubba Cook from WWF that commission it, and the product is excellent. I only have some small “operational side” criticism to it, which I comment at the end of the blog.

In any case, paper is luminating and put very good facts on issues we kind of know but can be accounted know. Basically the paper show that most of the issues we have are with a handful of Distant Water Fishing Nations, and show that the usual reason to justify the “Impracticability” of not transhipping at sea don't really hold any ground.

I totally recommend you download the paper as it is public and read it. I just will quote some of the key aspects in personal opinion.

The WCPF Convention and the WCPFC have also sought to limit transhipment at sea, but they have established different transhipment rules for purse seine vessels and other fishing vessels. The WCPF Convention expressly prohibits transhipment at sea (on the high seas and in a WCPFC Member’s territorial sea and exclusive economic zone) by purse seine vessels operating within the WCPFC Convention Area.16 For longliners and other vessels, however, the WCPF Convention only requires WCPFC members and cooperating non-parties (collectively known as CCMs) to “encourage their vessels, to the extent practicable, to conduct transshipment in port. ”Through a binding conservation and management measure (CMM)—CMM 2009–06—the WCPFC prohibits longliners and other vessels from transhipping on the high seas except where CCM has determined that “it is impracticable for certain vessels . . . to operate without being able to tranship on the high seas.” 

CMM 2009–06 requires WCPFC Members to make vessel-specific determinations as to impracticability and submit a plan detailing the steps being taken to encourage transhipment in port. However, certain CCMs are not implementing either of these duties and transhipment on the high seas has become the norm rather than the exception.More than 50% of longline and other non-purse vessels are registered to tranship on the high seas and significant amounts of valuable tuna, including 36.9% of bigeye tuna, are transhipped on the highs seas. Clearly, CMM 2009–06 is not effectively reducing transhipment on the high seas.

Moreover, the evidence indicates that transhipment in port is not impracticable. Port infrastructure throughout the region is sufficient to support and supply fishing vessels.The purse seine fleet, which catches a significant amount of fish on the high seas,still manages to transship in port. At least three longline fleets—those of the EU, Japan, and the United States—fish on the high seas hundreds of nautical miles from port yet tranship all (EU and U.S.) or most (Japan) of their high seas catch in port.

A large number of high seas transhipments occur just outside the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of CCMs, suggesting that these vessels are able to travel a much shorter distance than the EU, U.S. and Japanese longliners do to transship in port and that they are moving from waters under national jurisdiction to the high seas in order to avoid monitoring by coastal State CCMs.

In fact, over the last two years, just three CCMs—China, Chinese Taipei, and Vanuatu—accounted for 84% and 89% of those transhipments in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Moreover, costs associated with transhipment in port are insignificant in relation to the costs of operating a tuna vessel. Fuel and labor costs do not fully explain an impracticability of transhipping in port as overcapacity may play a more significant role as evidenced by the profitability of the Japanese fleet.

Given the variables affecting profitability— operational costs, subsidies, over-capitalization—assessing whether transhipment in port causes “significant economic hardship” on a vessel-by-vessel basis is challenging. Even two factors that have been proposed recently for exemptions from a high seas transhipment ban—the lack of ultralow temperature (ULT) freezer capacity at some ports and the need to get fresh fish to market— are questionable.

Thus, this paper proposes replacement of the “impracticability” test with bright line rules. It begins with a presumption against transhipment on the high seas but allows, at least in the short term, exemptions to tranship ULT frozen fish from a fishing vessel to a carrier vessel with ULT freezer capacity and for fresh fish. However, it directs the WCPFC Secretariat to study whether ports have a shortage of ULT freezer capacity and whether carrier vessels can be placed in various ports to accept ULT frozen fish just as they would on the high seas. It also directs the Secretariat to identify the circumstances under which fresh fish needs to be transhipped in order to maintain a high-quality fish product.

In addition, and in sharp contrast to the current regime, the exemptions must be approved by the WCPFC; they cannot be unilaterally established. The abject failure of CCMs to comply with the WCPFC’s information requirements, including the submission of a plan to encourage transhipment in port, indicates that unilateral decision-making should be abandoned.

Moreover, to promote the implementation of a plan to encourage transhipment in port, exemptions may not be granted for more than three years. While a CCM may apply for a new exemption for a vessel at the end of the three years, presumably the WCPFC will want evidence that the CCM is implementing its plan before granting the exemption. 

Transhipment in Practice

Transhipment practice within the WCPFC varies by region and by CCM. Some CCMs, for example, prohibit transhipment at sea by all vessels in all circumstances, including the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).

Other CCMs, however, are availing themselves of the exemption for transhipping at sea at a rate that indicates they are not making vessel-specific impracticability determinations. In 2016, for example, CCMs authorized 2,223 of 4,468 (49.75%) WCPFC-registered vessels to tranship on the high seas, including 58.2% of all longline vessels, 88.2% of all pole-and-line vessels, and 42.8% of carrier and bunker vessels. The percentage of vessels authorized to tranship on the high seas rose to 52% (2,431 out of 4,658 vessels) in 2017, with the majority of these vessels being longline vessels (1,831 vessels).

The number of reported high seas transhipment events has fluctuated from year to year between 2011 to 2016, with a high of 948 in 2016 and a low of 525 in 2012.The number of high seas transhipments, however, appears to be trending upwards. See Table 1 above. One possible reason is the move of some fleets from fishing in EEZs to the high seas due to increasing costs of fishing in the EEZs of some Pacific Island States.

All reported high seas transhipments in 2015 and 2016 were conducted by fishing vessels registered to just 5 CCMs—China, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Vanuatu, and Japan—but the vessels of China, Chinese Taipei, and Vanuatu accounted for 84% and 89% of those transhipments in 2015 and 2016, respectively. See Table 2 above. As 22 of the 24 registered longline vessels flagged by Vanuatu are owned by individuals or companies in China and Chinese Taipei,it may be possible to attribute an even greater portion of high seas transhipments to those two CCMs.

High seas transhipments in 2016 accounted for a large percentage of the catches for certain species, including 25.3% of albacore, 36.9% of bigeye tuna, and 10% of yellowfin tuna. The proportion of high seas catch relative to catch limits appears to be even greater when the small number of vessels transhipping on the high seas is considered: just 352 fishing vessels of the more than 3,100 non-purse seine fishing vessels registered to fish in the WCPFC Convention Area accounted for the catch transhipped on the high seas in 2016.

Yet, according to the annual reports of CCMs, some longline fleets rarely, if ever, transship on the high seas. For example, 23 CCMs reported that vessels they flag fish on the high seas, but just 7 of these CCMs (including carrier vessels from Liberia and Panama) reported that vessels they flag tranship on the high seas. The 157 U.S. and 446 Japanese longline vessels rarely tranship on the high seas. In fact, no U.S. vessels transhipped on the high seas in 2014, 2015, and 2016; Japanese vessels reported just 31, 29, and 28 high seas transhipments in those years.

Significantly, these vessels typically fish far from the ports in which they land their fish. U.S. tuna longline vessels fish up to 1,000 nautical miles from Honolulu, although most trips are within 500 nautical miles, yet land their catch in Honolulu.Japanese longline vessels focus their fishing in tropical waters easily more than 1,000 nautical miles from Japan,yet land their catch back in Japan.


This paper proposes replacement of the “impracticability” test with a presumption against transhipment on the high seas. It allows, however, time-limited exemptions to ensure transhipment of ULT frozen fish from a fishing vessel to a carrier vessel and for fresh fish.

However, it directs the Secretariat to study the circumstances under which these exemptions are needed; the exemptions expire unless these studies conclude that the exemptions are necessary. In addition, and in sharp contrast to the current regime, the exemptions must be approved by the WCPFC; they cannot be unilaterally established.

The process that applies to exemptions for purse seine vessels would be applied to all other vessels. Moreover, to allow the WCPFC to review implementation of such plans to encourage transhipment in port, exemptions may not be granted for more than three years, although CCMs may apply for a new exemption at the end of the three years. Only through such a process can the WCPFC help minimize IUU fishing, prevent human rights abuses, and reduce opportunities for human trafficking and smuggling of guns, drugs, and wildlife. At the same time, it will help Pacific Island States develop their ports and economies.


If I was to criticize something is only from the operational side. I don't think enough differentiations and alignment was made in between transshipping defined as “vessel to vessel” and “landing and containerization”, this latest practice while sometimes referred as transshipment, but is not. Furthermore, as soon as the fish leaves the boat and is landed (even if in a custom bonded wharf) all sorts of market access and trade implications arise.

Furthermore the excuse that ports don't have ULT (Ultra Low Temp -50C for sashimi) capacity should affect transshipment, since if the fish is being “transhipped”, then by definition is not being landed, so what does the port as to do with it… if anything (from my experience) if you will to transship ULT fih in between vessels, is much easier (and more importantly safer) to do it in the protected water of a port, rather in the high seas where you are way more exposed to weather events and rain. 


The WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee here in Majuro by Francisco Blaha

I’m back in Majuro under my work as aOffshore Fisheries Advisor with MIMRA. Normally it is busy time but is just only us…. Yet this time is really busy! Besides having 12 Purse Seiners in the Lagoon (+ 3 arriving over the next few days), and 7 carriers; RMI is hosting the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) of the WCPFC… and everyone and his dog is here. Majuro is booked out!


The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) supports three subsidiary bodies; the Scientific Committee, Technical and Compliance Committee, and the Northern Committee, that each meet once during each year. The meetings of the subsidiary bodies are followed by a full session of the Commission that is in December (this year in Honolulu)

I’ve never been in a commission meeting, since it is normally only for either staff from the members countries, people form the commission, regional organizations and approved observers (mostly NGOs) and while I have worked for pretty much everyone one of those, as an independent consultant (and mostly operationally) I don’t fit in the picture, yet I know a lot of people that are the picture!

Thankfully MIMRA’s boss Mr Glen Joseph  has been a total champion with me, he really support my ideas and ways> I’m totally honoured that he invited me to be part of the RMI delegation, so I will join them for some areas of interest (FADs, PSM and compliance scheme), while we keep working with all the rest of the normal jobs that need to happen for us! Yet for TCC I’m more than happy to helping with: fixing the boarding boat, reading with some policy briefs and picking up people for the airport!

Hence yes, I’m quite exited, even if I was told by everyone that I will find it really slow and frustrating, but that is part of the deal, and something I need to learn about.

Many people says that RFMO are too confidential… yet all the documentation for TCC is available on line, as well as for the 3rd meeting of the WCPFC FAD Management Options IWG, that is the other meeting I will be involved.

So yes, this are my next couple of weeks! If you are one of those that read this and we never meet before come and say hello! I know my way around the place and have the right places and times for a surf, a swim, a yoga session, some healthy food, good sashimi, and even some pizzas with my host family!

Working in Kiritimati Island by Francisco Blaha

I’m a very lucky man in many aspects, and one of them is that I have the opportunity of working in really unique places… and in terms of uniqueness is hard to beat Kiritimati island.

 it was just so good to go back to catch fish with real straight people.

it was just so good to go back to catch fish with real straight people.

I have spent my last week there working under the Towan Waara programme which is a NZ MFAT supported program working the Kiribati’s MFMRD. The programme is aimed to support the good work of MFMRD in various aspects of their responsibilities. My bit has to do with some of the issues that are part of EU market access requirements no only form the IUU CCS side, but also from the sanitary (SPS) side, and area I did a lot of work in the past.

The reason why I had to spend only a week, is because there is 1 flight a week only, so is either 1 or 2 or 3…. If is up to me only, I will spend more than just one. But I had to get to my work in Majuro,where I’m also doing work for NZMFAT.

Kiritimati is on the Line Islands, one of the 3 groups of Kiribati, each of them separated by highs seas patches. The place has an amazing history rich in a bizarre amount of details from early oceanic (allegedly Polynesians) settlement, to be potentially be claimable by Spain! (sic) to have been “owned” by a millionaire French priest that had a huge coconut plantations there, printed his own stamps and named villages as Paris, London, Poland, to British annexation and “sharing” with the US, so both decided to denotate Nuclear weapons in the atmosphere without mobilising the local population, nor the Fijian and NZ troops working there… read and explore the place amazing story from their Wikipedia page and others.

The place is as well a sport fisherman’s destination as the come there from all the world (literally) to do fly-fishing for bonefish (mostly catch and release) in the flats as well as GT in the lagoons. This as sprung a mall industry and most of the accommodation available is based around catering to them.  

Normally I have no issues staying anywhere, I’m really easy going (if it has some electricity for my coffee is good and if it near the ocean is excellent). The most upmarket places cater for the richer people there, but I’m always weary of staying with drunk (most of them drink!) recreational fishers that as soon as they know I work in commercial fisheries management and controls (and even worst that I was a commercial fisherman) start going on and on how I suck at my work and how to do my job better.  Somehow a rich dentist Salt Lake City or a businessman of Brisbane don't see any issues in telling me how to do my job better, but he would be horrified if I start advising him how to do their job.  

Surely in the fisheries world we all have a place and this group definitively help a community that otherwise has not much potential income earners… but the moral superiority is something I resent… I assume that having the money to come all the way there, catching fish and stressing them into a fight for some sort of perhaps sadistic pleasure and a ego picture to then let them go (with arguable limited survival rates), as immediately start again with another one, is definitively not my game… but then that is me… I catch fish to eat it, and I used to catch it as a job, is not enetrtainments or “sport”

Anyway stayed at a low key place called Sunset Horizon... I'm the only guest which suits me fine... only the last day a group of surfers from Fanning island come over and I got even more excited about coming back with my board!

In any case, it has been a while since I spent 16 hrs at sea working with 3 cool guys on fishing, gutting and icing fish in a banana boat (which was great!), but never the day after training fisheries officers on Information Management Systems, PSM and vessels intelligence analysis and even less under the same mission for the same program!

So!! Thanks for the trust NZ MFAT / Towan Waara I don’t think many donors (and managers) will trust a consultant with 2 areas of work, pretty much at both ends of the fishing spectrum.

On the PSM and transhipment side of my work, it was along the line of what I did in Tuvalu and other countries, but with a further twist, Kiritimati is unique transhipment port as it serves not only the WCPFC vessels transhipping to carriers with final destination in Bangkok and Vietnam, but also a number of IATTC (to which Kiribati is full member) vessels, with carriers destined to Manta in Ecuador. No other port in the WCPO is in that position.

IATTC only requires prior information from vessels that intend to participate in transhipments at port. Although the IATTC Resolution and data availability omits some important elements present in the system for WCPFC and PSM best practices. Such as port and date of last port call, type of vessel and VMS information

The IATTC still does not have a port inspection scheme, despite six years of discussions on proposals drafted to adapt to the needs of member States, hence their requirements are less “defined” than those for WCPFC, and there is no regional body that provided the type of compliance evaluation tools that FFA provides, yet the requirements used by Kiribati as a Port State are t be consistent across the board, yet based on available information

Hence the standardization of all these elements are areas we are working with.

On the other side, I went back to my industry days and to my beginnings into the consulting world.  So I worked on a plan to support potential exports of the local processing facility that sources from the locally based small scale fleet, so I worked the value chain from catching (out at 4 am) to the processing of the fish for local market, accessing the regulatory and operational need for potential airfreight exports to the US and Australia/NZ/Asian markets

I loved every minute of it! I wish all missions were as diverse as this one and in places so amazing as Kiritimati… I totally recommended to visit it if you ever have the chance.

Some images of the place, and even better is my birthday today!

Explaining my non fishy friends about High Seas Fisheries and RFMOs by Francisco Blaha


Lots going in the media in regards the negotiations for a treaty on high seas biodiversity beginning this week at the UN in New York, (under Resolution 72/249) for a new international legally binding instrument (ILBI or treaty) under the UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable development of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) also know as High Seas. This is a series of four two-week meetings between now and early 2020. The final treaty will be the third “implementing agreement” under UNCLOS.

I was trying to explain to my non-fisheries friends (and my kids) the issues around fishing in the High Seas, so I decided to dive a bit deeper and understand the whole picture for my self, since I have 6 hrs in an airport on my way to a job in Kiritimati, and here is the result.

Disclaimer: I’m not a legal or institutional fisheries expert, all the opposite! Im the 1st to admit I’m just a fisherman with a laptop, and jsu based my self on lots or reading and some references that are at the end of the post. So if you (reader) find mistakes please let me know.

UNCLOS (1982 UN Convention on the Law Of the Sea)
UNCLOS  defines and establishes the rights and responsibilities of countries related to their use of ocean resources—including environmental impact, management of fisheries, and business practices. Three legal tiers govern the ocean—a territorial approach, a flag state approach, and a port authority approach. (I wrote enough about PSM in the past)

The territorial approach establishes zones that delineate the extent of sovereignty and each country’s jurisdiction over ocean resources. These zones allow countries to exploit, manage, and protect their marine resources. The three essential tiers of ocean zones are: territorial water, contiguous zone, and EEZs.

  • Territorial waters extend out 12 nautical miles and countries have full sovereignty over this area, wherein all national laws and regulations apply.
  • The contiguous zone starts where the territorial zone ends and continues 12 nautical miles further. Countries have the power to enforce certain domestic laws pertaining to customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution.
  • Beyond the territorial waters, and including the contiguous zone, is the EEZ, which extends outward 200 nautical miles. An EEZ assigns control of the economic resources to the coastal country, including rights to fishing, mining, and oil exploration (these last 2 can go to 350 miles)

In response to the limits of the territorial approach, the international community established requirements for vessels to be marked with the flag of its home country. Under these requirements, each flagged vessel is subject to the laws of the country where it is registered, even outside national territory. Moreover, the flag state is responsible for enforcing regulations over such vessels, including both international and national maritime laws.

maritime zones.jpg

In addition to being under the jurisdiction of a flag state, being flagged also provides the vessel with protection from other states. If a stateless vessel is encountered by the authorities of a state, it risks being seized by that state, and the adjudication process varies country to country.

Beyond those waters, the international community has established a governing system of regional fishing bodies, which includes a subset of RFMOs mandated to “adopt conservation and management measures for fishing on the high sea.”

RFMOS (Regional fisheries management organisations)
Amongst UNCLOS requirements are the duty to conserve the living marine resources of the high seas and to cooperate with relevant coastal states and other high seas fishing states in the conservation and management of stocks of fish that occur both within areas of national jurisdiction and on the high seas – primarily straddling and highly migratory fish stocks.

Moreover, UNCLOS contains obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment and requires that flag States exercise effective control over their vessels operating in high seas areas. UNFSA elaborated on the general provisions of UNCLOS and established RFMOs as the institutions charged with managing high seas fisheries. 

RFMOs are assumed to provide a forum through which States will cooperate to achieve and enforce conservation objectives, both on the high seas and in areas under national jurisdiction. Their responsibilities include assessing the status of fish stocks of commercial value within their area of jurisdiction; setting limits on catch quantities and the number of vessels allowed to fish; regulating indirectly via CMMs (Conservations and Management Measures) that apply the types of gear that can be used, to species of interest, to reporting requirements, to interaction with birds, and thousand more issues… this CMMs then need to be incorporated into regulation by the member countries, and implemented by the flag states and slowly now more by coastal and port state when the offences are under their jurisdiction.

RFMOs vary widely in their effectiveness and many suffer from  shortcomings in their governance and management structures, and while criticised sometimes as toothless tigers, that is a bit unfair, since they are member-driven organisations. So if fingers are to be pointed... is to the members and not the just the body.

The regulations adopted by RFMOs only bind those nations that are Parties to the RFMO. Non-parties are free to do as they please, often with minimal repercussions; their catch, if in contravention of the RFMO regulations, would be considered unregulated. While the offending non-Party vessels and countries are often subject to port- and market-access restrictions, fishing on the high seas in the waters managed by an RFMO is not a crime.

Effective RFMO decision-making is often undermined by one or a handful of Parties. Many RFMOs operate on consensus-based decision-making, whether as a formal requirement or as standard practice; thus a conflict of interest, or a lack of political commitment by just one member, can prevent the adoption of meaningful regulations. 

Where RFMOs do not require consensus but can adopt regulations on the basis of a vote by a majority or qualified majority of the members, most also allow members to ‘opt out’ of regulations they don’t wish to accept or be bound by. 

Moreover, many RFMOs lack transparency in important respects, key decisions are often made in closed sessions – without the need for Parties to justify positions or with little accountability to the civil societies back home. 

Most RFMO member States have a direct economic interest in the fisheries managed by that organisation. They are often reluctant to accept new members and allocate them catch allocations. And many of these catch allocations are decided as result of stock assessments, which are in substantial part informed by flag state reporting, which many don't really do or do intentionally wrong, so it becomes a bit a vicious circle.

Also RFMOs tend to focus their management on a single species or handful of species of commercial value, which leaves the impact of fishing on many non-commercial species and the ecosystem effectively unregulated. However, despite being mandated to establish measures with respect to non-target species, associated and dependent species, and species belonging to the same ecosystem on the basis of the precautionary approach and ecosystem approach, RFMOs tend to fail short in consider impacts on the broader ecosystems affected by the fisheries they regulate.

Communication and coordination between adjacent RFMOs are complex, even if many DWFN are members of many, they sometimes have divergent policies for each one. Furthermore, each RFMO operates independently, with its own staff and funding. And there is a great disparity in funding levels and corresponding capacity among them. Roughly US$ 30 million is spent annually on fisheries management in the main 11 RFMOs, with most of it directed to the five main tuna RFMOs. These funding figures have dramatic contrast when compared to the approximately US$ 35 billion spent annually on global fishing subsidies, and even more so considering the consumer end value of the tuna industry (around 8 billion USD) or the estimates of value of IUU fishing (i.e. over 600 million USD in the the area of the WCPFC alone)

Beyond managing shared stocks, RFMOs could benefit from greater communication, to ensure they share lessons and avoid repeating mistakes; some RFMOs are much younger than others and can benefit from their greater experience. There have been important improvements in recent years, for example, the Contracting Parties to the five main tuna RFMOs have established the Kobe process in order to share information on issues of mutual concern and facilitate better coordination amongst themselves. 

In addition, a number of RFMOs (e.g. NAFO and NEAFC; SEAFO and CCAMLR) share information on IUU fishing and IUU vessel blacklists, while the Secretariats of the major RFMOs have held meetings in conjunction with the biennial meetings of the FAO Committee on Fisheries since 1999. 

Is also fair to say that the issues with a lack of coordination extend beyond fisheries. Other regional or global structures often exist in the same ocean space as RFMOs but manage other sectors. For example, UNEP’s Regional Seas Programmes address topics such as marine health and pollution; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) addresses shipping and potential discharges; and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) covers seabed mining. The actions and management decisions of these various groups may affect the marine environment and its fish stocks but coordination across the sectors is largely absent. 

 UN Fish Stock Agreement (UNFSA) 
Arguably the most important of the international fisheries agreements the UNFSA, establishes a range of obligations related to the conservation and management of fisheries on the high seas, which build on the more general provisions of UNCLOS18. Articles 5 and 6 of the UNFSA oblige States to: 

  • assess the impacts of fishing on target stocks and species associated with or dependent upon the target stocks, and prevent overfishing 
  • minimise bycatch, waste and discards, and impacts on non-target species 
  • protect biodiversity in the marine environment 
  • collect and share accurate and timely data on catch and bycatch and areas fished 
  • apply the precautionary approach, particularly where scientific information is poor 
  • protect habitats of special concern. 

The UNFSA obliges States to ensure the compatibility of measures for the management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks adopted by coastal States within EEZs and RFMOs on the high seas. With regard to the duties of flag States fishing on the high seas, the UNFSA establishes a series of obligations in relation to compliance and enforcement (Articles 18–22). 

Amongst these is a requirement that the flag State exercises effective enforcement capabilities over fishing vessels flying its flag, so as to ensure compliance with applicable regional conservation and management measures irrespective of where violations occur. 

The flag State is also required to investigate immediately and fully any alleged violation of sub-regional or regional conservation and management measures and to report promptly on the progress and outcome of the investigation to the State alleging the violation and the relevant sub-regional or regional organisation or arrangement. In addition, the flag State must require any vessel flying its flag to give information to the investigating authority and, where sufficient evidence is available in respect of an alleged violation, refer the case to its authorities with a view to instituting proceedings without delay. 

UNFSA Article 21 establishes a list of ‘serious’ violations requiring enforcement action by the flag State and obligates the flag State to, where appropriate, detain the vessel concerned and ensure that, where it has been established that a vessel has been involved in the commission of a serious violation, the vessel does not engage in fishing operations on the high seas until such time as all outstanding sanctions imposed by the flag State in respect of the violation have been complied with. 

In language similar to UNCLOS Article 217.8, UNFSA Article 19.2 requires the flag State to impose sanctions that are “adequate in severity to be effective in securing compliance and to discourage violations wherever they occur and shall deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from their illegal activities”. There have been numerous cases where vessels identified by an RFMO as having engaged in IUU fishing have reflagged and continued fishing without effective action taken by the flag State concerned to penalise and prevent the vessel from continuing as an IUU fisher on the high seas. 

The UNFSA has been ratified by 83 states and the European Union, which includes most high seas fishing nations; however, important exceptions remain, e.g. China, Chile and Mexico. While several provisions of the UNFSA, primarily the compatibility and high seas boarding and inspection provisions, have been cited by a number of States as a reason for not having ratified the UNFSA, the conservation provisions of the UNFSA (Articles 5 and 6) are not in dispute. 

The relatively low number of ratifications is particularly striking when compared to the 168 ratifications which UNCLOS has (which includes 146 UN Member States, the EU, Cook Islands, Niue and Palestine). An additional three UN member states have signed, but not ratified the agreement)  Many nations have not ratified the UNFSA because they do not want to be bound by its more prescriptive requirements for fisheries management.

Unclos parties.jpg

The development of the Agreement was in recognition of the fact that the regime established by UNCLOS was inadequate to deal with the continued depletion of the world’s fish stocks, particularly straddling and high seas stocks. Importantly, however, the UNFSA does not seek to impose any additional requirements on Parties to UNCLOS, in fact it is first and foremost an agreement for the purpose of implementing the provisions of UNCLOS. While individual countries may consider it deficient, it cannot reach its full potential unless the most important coastal, fishing and flag States are parties to it, and implement it effectively. 

FAO Code of Conduct
The 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is one of the most important soft law instruments. Its purpose is to set international standards and norms for the development, management and utilisation of fisheries and aquaculture resources, in areas beyond and within national jurisdiction. As such it has been described as a “global ethic for the conduct of fisheries”. 

The Code has 10 objectives through which it promotes responsible fisheries by establishing scientifically based management decisions, which take into account all relevant biological, technological, economic, social, environmental and commercial aspects; establishes responsibilities for flag and port States; and recognises the importance of fisheries to food security, nutrition, and ecosystem health. There is a particular emphasis on conservation of living aquatic resources and their environments. It intended to serve as guidance for the development of national legislation. The conservation and management provisions of the UNFSA (Articles 5 and 6) and the FAO Code of Conduct (Articles 6 and 7)are very similar and in many cases contain identical wording. 

The FAO Compliance Agreement forms an integral part of the Code and is referenced in Article 1. The Compliance Agreement elements remain binding but overall the Code is a voluntary agreement. It relies on the goodwill of Parties to enact and abide by its recommendations. Unfortunately, it seems that this does not happen across the board. 

The FAO Code of Conduct reinforces the universality of the conservation provisions in the UNFSA and thus, together with the UNFSA provisions, should serve as the ‘international minimum standard’ for the management of fisheries on the high seas and be fully reflected in the basic convention texts and regulations adopted by RFMOs to manage fisheries on the high seas. 

FAO Compliance Agreement
The purpose of the 1993 FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (Compliance Agreement) is to provide an instrument for countries to take effective action, consistent with international law, to ensure compliance with applicable international conservation and management measures for living marine resources of the high seas. Adopted in 1993 and entering into force in 2003, the Compliance Agreement has been ratified by 48 nations plus the EU.

This instrument was negotiated to address the circumvention of international fisheries regulations by ‘re-flagging’ vessels to the flags of States that are unable or unwilling to enforce such conservation and management measures. The main obligation is for a Party to exercise responsibility over vessels flying its flag, and to provide information to a global record of fishing vessels (which became known as the High Seas Vessels Authorization Record – HSVAR). 

But what about capacity development?

Not all nations possess the same capacity to enforce the international or regional rules and regulations they have adopted. In an FAO survey in the mid-2000s more than one-half of the 64 self-reporting countries said their ability to control the activities of their flagged vessels on the high seas was ineffective or inefficient. 

Developing countries face a huge number of often competing pressures that limit their ability to make progress in fisheries management. Fisheries management requires a robust legal system, political will to develop binding management arrangements, and a justice system capable of successfully prosecuting offenders. There are numerous studies that show a high degree of correlation between weak governance and IUU fishing. 

Despite the millions of dollars that have been provided in direct aid to the fisheries sectors in developing countries and the capacity development funds established under specific treaties, there have not been substantial improvements in the high seas fisheries management. Neither has this funding, by and large, enabled developing countries to take a meaningful place in international management arrangements and a share of high seas resources. 

The 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement was the first international fisheries instrument to address capacity building directly. However, the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement devoted an entire section to capacity development, including the establishment of an assistance fund to address the requirements of developing countries. Known as the Part VII Assistance Fund, it has operated successfully since its inception in 2005. Between 2005 and 2010 the fund amounted to just under US$ 1 million. The assistance fund has facilitated increased participation by developing countries in regional and international meetings and also enabled technical work and capacity development that might have not been undertaken if such activities had been dependent on funding from other sources. 

The FAO has channelled a significant amount of resources to support the implementation of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct across the world. Funding has come from the FAO Regular Programme and non-FAO resources and was managed by a dedicated programme within the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. In 2000 the programme was replaced by the more elaborate, better-funded and more flexible FishCode Programme. A significant amount of FishCode Programme funding has been devoted to helping countries implement programmes to combat IUU fishing, including capacity development for the implementation of port State measures. 

Other international agreements also have provisions for capacity development (e.g. PSMA and the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing [IPOA-IUU]), as do individual RFMOs and individual States. 

The fundamental principles and legal obligations (e.g. the precautionary approach, ecosystem approach, etc.) that could lead to sustainable fisheries management, are already contained in many of the binding and non-binding fisheries agreements, and in the UNFSA in particular. What is needed is an effective and uniform application of these principles and obligations in practice. 

And hopefully, this new negotiation can help there… but that is a big if… 

Personally, I take away my discussions at home with my kids: Is not that the high seas don't belong to anyone so we anyone can go, they belong to everyone, so if anyone wants to go there and fish, it should have everyone’s permission. That is just fair.

Main sources: here, here and here


The key role of Fisheries Information Systems by Francisco Blaha

Following on my post on the Ideal Processing State set up for a CDS, I follow here on the key role Centralised Fisheries Information Systems (FIS), based on what I wrote in our recent FAO book for a CDS and that I adapted a bit for the Pacific context for a report I have done for FFA.

 Before coding there is always planning and paper

Before coding there is always planning and paper

There are numerous advantages in a complete and effective centralised fisheries information system for a regional fishery organization in terms of MCS, science, management, economic intelligence, assets management just to name a few. In the context of PSM in general and CDS in particular, the effectiveness of a FIS is fundamental, yet it has to cater to a specific set of needs, mostly not available in the present systems.

Specific FIS requirements for PSM and CDS

For any regional fisheries organizations, the specific set of needs to be covered refers to traceability and catch accountancy in particular in countries that are port and processing states. 

The FIS should be able to incorporate three basic functions in terms of supporting CDS: 

  1. ensuring that no illegal products enter the territory; 
  2. providing a national traceability system that rapidly identifies fraudulent economic operators by means of detected mass-balance inconsistencies; and 
  3. validating trade certificates covering consignments exported from the territory.

Integrations of Landing controls

Port /processing states have a duty to ensure that no illegal product in any form is imported, whether landed as catch or imported commercially. 

When products are imported into a processing state, it must ensure that data relating to the consignment, products and certificates are recorded in the CDS.

Such systems enable processing states to identify sources of mass-balance inconsistencies detected by CDS through certificates when attempts are made to ship more product out of a country than was imported. In the absence of centralised traceability systems, and depending on the size of the processing industry, identification of fraudulent operators in national supply chains systems could be impossible.

Once products are cleared to enter a port / processing state, the need is to trace: i) buyers of products covered by particular certificates; ii) product distribution and transformation into value-added goods; and iii) the consignments in which they are re-exported. The ultimate aim is to ensure that the transactions tally to account for the entire amount of product.

Six KDEs (Key Data Elements) constitute the core data of a national traceability system:

  1. product source – seller and previous owner of the product;
  2. product destination – buyer and new owner of the product;
  3. species;
  4. volume;
  5. product form; and
  6. certificate number.

Of course, in port states where transshipments are the norm, mass balance is relatively simple as most “fish in” accounts for “fish out” in one or more carriers. If the product is landed for containerization and direct exports only, a similar scenario applies. However, if the unload is separated in different batches according to size, weight, ecolabelling status and from then on different “batches” have very different destinies. The FIS needs to account for these scenarios

A batch of products changing hands may be covered by more than one certificate, but the information to be recorded in the traceability system is certificate-specific. If, for example, a batch containing product from three certificates has been mixed and is being sold, the information to be logged for the transaction must still establish three individual certificate-specific records – not a single new record that would necessitate a new certificate number.

Because people often think in terms of product batches and consignments rather than product volume that may be split or mixed, it is essential to clarify whether the national system traces batches of product through the supply chain and hence ensures their integrity. There are many reasons why batches have an important role in processing.

But because landings under particular certificates may consist of different species and different product sizes, a landed batch may immediately be broken up among several buyers – even though it is covered by the same certificate. And as product moves through the supply chain, “sub-batches” may be further distributed among economic operators. At the other end of the supply chain, semi-processed or processed goods may be mixed with product originating from other certificates, thereby merging several initial batches into a new batch for export certification.

Any traceability system is concerned with:

  1. the volume and form in which a particular species enters the supply chain under a certificate;
  2. the volume and form of that species exiting the supply chain under that certificate; and
  3. knowing every stop through which the different volumes and forms have moved within the supply chain.

Hence traceability systems are programmed to trace the volumes of particular species and products rather than batches that enter supply chains under particular certificate numbers. It can follow these volumes as they are split or merged any number of times, and it can follow changes of form and processing losses affecting the species concerned. Every time a batch moves forward in a supply chain, the transaction, original certificate numbers, species, volume and form are recorded and deducted from the lot of certified products that originally entered the same supply chain stop.

Points in the supply chain where integrated tracing is necessary

Traceability records are created at the beginning and end of any supply chain stop.

Economic operators in national supply chains acquire a batch of product, which may be covered by a single certificate or several, and must record the products, volumes, forms and certificate numbers. This record identifies the source of the products, and must match the exit record logged by the previous economic operator. Such a record may be seen as a “product account” owned by the buying establishment, which can now process and sell or export the products. These will be logged again in the same traceability system at exit.

System attributes

Certain attributes of national traceability systems determine their effectiveness and whether they will be accepted by the industry. They must be:

  • user-friendly, simple and intuitive so that its users quickly learn to operate them effectively; record-keeping may be based on official templates and guidance set out in a user manual; these may be in online formats;
  • results oriented with clear statements of expected results, and all functions should serve these results; this ensures that the system will not become complicated and hence prone to failure;
  • tamper proof, providing a high level of data security, especially in online systems; the fishing industry is particularly sensitive with regard to commercial records, which must remain confidential; and
  • grounded in legislation so that sanctions can be enforced in cases of noncompliance; in the absence of a legal foundation, non-compliance cannot be sanctioned and the system will fail.  

An official online platform in which operators and authorities record their data is always the prefered option. One advantage is that it does not require specific software to be set up at the operator level, so any operator can access the system from a standard computer with an online connection, create a user profile and start using it. Another advantage is that upgrades are greatly facilitated. Electronic platforms largely eliminate the need for paper communications between a competent authority and the private sector because all data can be handled electronically. Such platforms can also serve to issue trade certificates, which is especially useful if the CDS has no electronic system for doing so.

At least two user groups are defined in electronic platforms: i) private-sector operators who input data and submit requests for the validation of certificates; and ii) competent authorities, who exercise oversight, analyse data and validate certificates.

Functions of electronic platforms – user groups

Electronic platforms are more versatile and more powerful than simple record-keeping solutions. They handle data from landing, importation, distribution, ownership and exportation centrally in near-real time, thereby enabling competent authorities to track how much product is entering a country, who acquires it, how much a company holds in its inventory, what is being processed into what and how much is being exported.

For economic operators, the following functions are essential:

  • Login and system overview. A user ID must be required to access the system, at which point an initial page gives an overview of pending submissions and requests and validations by business partners and the competent authority. From here operators can access all functions of the system.
  • Product entry and creation of product accounts. Operators must create product accounts that link product entry to premises with the covering certificates. Supporting documents such as landing or import declarations, catch certificates and invoices must be uploaded: competent authorities will validate these and authorize the creation of the product account. All processing runs and product sales are then deducted from such accounts until depletion. Busy operators will use large numbers of such product accounts.
  • Product exit, subtraction from the product account and certification. Operators can generate products and prepare them for exit from their premises with trade certificates mandated in CDS. Operators can sell products in the same form or in pre-processed form to other economic operators in business-to business transactions in the same territory and market, or they can export processed products, or they can sell the obtained end-products for domestic consumption in the same territory. The details of such processing runs are logged into the system, providing product account number, species, form, volume used and volume resulting. The resulting product is deducted from the product account. These options are detailed below:
    • Business-to-business transactions. Buyers log acquired raw materials in the system, uploading copies of invoices, catch certificates and original product account numbers, which are shown in invoices. Sellers see a request to validate a sale, and the products are deducted from the sellers’ product account; a new product account is created for the buyer. For a transaction of this kind no certificate is generated or validated and there is no need for validation by competent authorities. The platform ensures the integrity of buyer-to-buyer transactions, and accurate debiting and crediting of the respective product accounts.
    • Export transactions. Processing information is logged by operators with reference to the source product accounts for the raw materials. This is based on consignments being prepared for exportation rather than individual processing runs. For every product account operators log volumes, forms and species processed and the amounts of resulting product obtained. The system can then calculate and log processing yields, and signal if a yield anomaly is detected. Supporting documents – bills of lading, export declarations and commercial invoices are uploaded in support of submissions, which result in requests for trade certificate validation by the competent authority. When this is done, operators can pick up a printed, signed and stamped original at a designated office. 
    • Domestic market transactions. The system records sales of products into a domestic market, either directly – which is unusual – or through wholesalers or retailers. This is also logged by consignment and is entered in the same way as a business-to-business transaction: buyers input the data and have them validated on the platform by the seller. These records close the loop at the domestic end-market blind spot, but they require wholesalers and retailers to participate in the system. These transactions require validation by competent authorities and result in “inward trade” certificates issued to domestic buyers. Such certificates are not mandated in CDS, but should be mandated in national CDS-supporting traceability mechanisms to ensuring that all product volumes leaving premises are traceable and reconcilable.
  • Product account balance. The system must automatically compute the remaining balances in product accounts until depletion of individual accounts; a query function should be available (see next).
  • Queries. The system should enable any operator to query all aspects of acquired CDS-covered products. This must cover product in storage or processed at a facility and must include past production runs, shipped consignments and product account balance status by species, form and certificate numbers to provide a full overview.
  • Error correction. The system must enable operators to correct data errors.105 Operators must be able to correct data that are as yet un-validated, and if data have already been validated, operators must be able to correct them with the agreement of the validating counterpart.

For competent authorities, the following functions must be available:

  • Login and system overview. Competent authorities must be able to access the system. An initial screen should show all pending validation requests, their status in case several users are simultaneously accessing the platform, and system-generated alarms. Various options should be available to enable users to navigate to functions relating, for example, to queries and blocking documents.
  • Validation of actions and requests. The first function of the system is to forward validation requests from economic operators to the relevant competent authority. The three groups are: i) validation for product account creations such as buyer product entries covered by CDS certificates; ii) validation of trade certificates; and iii) validation of error correction requests. The platform enables competent authorities to view supporting documents so that verifications can be undertaken before validation is granted.
  • Queries. This powerful function enables competent authorities to view the product accounts, individually or in groups, of individual economic operators, clusters or an entire national sector. Queries must make relevant information accessible to competent authorities so that they can monitor domains of interest and historical data. Interfaces can be designed that enable users to make queries that combine any type of stored data.
  • Document blocking. This important feature enables competent authorities to suspend or block documents such as product accounts or trade certificates submitted for validation. Suspension occurs when an inspection is ordered to ensure that products cannot legally be exported. Blocking occurs when products in a product account or draft trade certificate are denied movement along a supply chain because fraud has been detected. Without such a mechanism competent authorities would be unable to use the traceability platform for law enforcement purposes, and could only rely on for information.

Functions of the electronic platform – calculation routines and alarms

The platform will be designed to execute a number of functions. The most important are:

  • Automated product-flow monitoring. The mandated data-logging routines of economic operators for sequential handling of products along national supply chains feed into the automated product-flow monitoring process. Product is credited to a buyer’s account during an acquisition transaction and is deducted from the same account when it is sold on to the next buyer. Inconsistencies can be detected immediately, just as CDS detect inconsistencies between importation and exportation. The platform monitors the product flows of individual economic operators and detects inconsistencies at this level. The platform does not have to establish the integrity of transactions involving several operators or certificates. If successive domestic transactions relating to a specific certificate are satisfactory, the balance between entry and exit at the country level is also satisfactory.
  • Processing yields. The system must be capable of capturing all processing yields on the basis of volume declarations for product form “in” and product form “out”.  The platform then establishes a database of processing yields based on species, original form, resulting form and yield factor. Statistical analysis then establishes the related mean processing yields/losses. Yield factors will fluctuate around the mean according to product quality, seasonal fluctuations of species condition indexes and the skill of factory workers to produce a normal distribution around the mean. The system can generate an alarm when a production run submitted for certification exceeds the mean by a given number of standard deviations.
  • Automated alarms. The system must trigger alarms when anomalous data are logged into the system. Alarms must primarily alert economic operators: if they try to log a transaction that is inconsistent – more product than available being input for sale, for example – they must be able to rectify the situation. In cases of mass-balance inconsistency, the system must be able to reject the submission and automatically enforce the mass-balance integrity rule.108 In cases of excessive processing yields, users may decide whether they will be justified at a later stage in case of queries by competent authorities. If erroneous data input leads to automated submission denial, the need for intervention by competent authorities is reduced substantially. Operators must ensure that their bookkeeping, inventory management and data submission are accurate.

Where is the sustainable seafood ecolabelling business going? by Francisco Blaha

Any scientific paper that starts with: “The sustainable seafood movement is at a crossroads. Its core strategy, also known as a theory of change, is based on market-oriented initiatives such as third-party certification but does not motivate adequate levels of improved governance and environmental improvements needed in many fisheries, especially in developing countries. Price premiums for certified products are elusive, multiple forms of certification compete in a crowded marketplace and certifiers are increasingly asked to address social as well as ecological goals”, will have my immediate attention.


This paper "Evolution and future of the sustainable seafood market", written by an interesting and mixed bunch of people from the US, Netherlands and Norway, traces how the sustainable seafood movement has evolved over time to address new challenges while success remains limited. We conclude by exploring four alternative potential outcomes for the future theory of change, each with different contributions to creating a more sustainable global seafood supply.

My views on ecolabelling are quite public and normally an area of contention with some of my colleagues in industry, yet my criticism is as always to make them better (at least in my personal opinion) not to make them disappear (even if all ecolabels are finally successful, then there would be no reason to differentiate sustainability, and they will reach a natural death after succeeding)  

In any case, please read the original and reach your own conclusions. I as usual just quote some parts

The global sustainable seafood movement’s original strategy, known as the theory of change, proposed a demand-driven approach to biological and ecological improvements in seafood production systems. This ‘market-based’ approach largely resulted from non-governmental organizations’ (NGO) frustration with the perceived inability of fisheries regulators globally to mitigate overfishing, as evidenced by the collapse of cod in NewEngland, an increasing number of overfished US fish stocks and global declines in highly pelagic species. Although improvements in fishery governance have led to reductions in overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks over the past 20 years, many of the concerns that led to the seafood movement remain unresolved, especially in developing countries, and are now exacerbated by new climate related threats to the world’s ocean resources (for example, acidification and rising ocean temperatures).
The investment made in these NGO led programmes was based on two general assumptions: first, that information is key in driving consumers to select environmentally sustainable sources of seafood, and second, resulting shifts in demand will, when transmitted down the value chain to the production sector, provide an economic incentive for improved fishing practices and fisheries management.
These early initiatives built directly on a theoretical basis of credence product attributes, like sustainability, that are not verifiable through direct consumption and hence create information asymmetries between buyers and sellers at all levels of the supply chain. Sustainability, in the context of seafood, is both complex and imperfectly measurable. The MSC, for example, defines sustainability as seafood sourced from fisheries that leave enough fish in the ocean, respect habitats and ensure people depending upon fishing can maintain their livelihoods15. The ASC defines responsible farming practices as those that address the key environmental impacts of farming, set requirements for workers’ rights and protect communities surrounding certified farms.
Ecolabels and recommendations are created as ‘abstract systems’ of communication, to create trust and security for consumers in production systems that are removed from their daily experience and that are too complex and incomprehensible to communicate in full detail. However, because sustainability is both subject to differences in interpretation and imperfectly measurable, the criteria used by certification standards and recommendation lists are open to broad interpretation, therefore contested between NGOs driving further proliferation of definitions and sustainable seafood programmes.
The proliferation of these claims and ecolabels has now led the sustainable seafood movement to a crossroads. More than 30 seafood guides and certification programmes developed by NGOs, in addition to governmental certification schemes and community supported fisheries, contribute to a crowded ‘seascape’ of consumer- facing advice. A growing body of evidence suggests that this seascape of sustainable seafood programmes available in the global seafood marketplace has brought new challenges to achieving more sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production.
For example, as sustainability criteria are imperfectly measured and open to interpretation, the ability of NGOs to coordinate credible and measurable metrics for improvement is impeded, adding a broad sense of confusion amongst consumers and buyers alike. There is in fact limited empirical evidence that substantial changes in consumer demand for sustainable seafood have occurred. Producers are also directly affected because they incur the costs of complying with different seafood programmes aligned to different importing markets. Incentives for compliance also remain unclear, given there is little evidence that price signals are seen by producers, or that any changes in demand have resulted in substantial environmental improvements.
In addition, the proliferation of sustainable seafood programmes appears to lead to a number of potential challenges that remain less clearly articulated in the literature. The effect depends on the degree of heterogeneity in the labels and the overall objectives of the schemes. For example, a previous study demonstrated that the presence of several standards initially can be beneficial as the scope of an environmental problem is unknown and public recognition is poor, but over time fewer labels are preferable as environmental performance improves. Others have shown that there can be virtuous competition or a ‘race to the top’ between schemes as they refine their claims and methodologies to be the best in class. Conversely, a ‘race to the bottom’ may ensue if schemes seek market  share over performance.
In this paper, we review how the theory of change for sustainable seafood has evolved over the past 20 years. We identify in more detail current challenges sustainable seafood programmes face today, as well as potential future directions to address those challenges. Our review indicates that coordination and signaling failures of the early phases of the movement continue 20 years later, undermining the delivery of durable and global environmental improvements. In doing so we go beyond normative questions of the economic efficiency of seafood ecolabelling programmes and the relative contribution of labels to sustainability.
We instead offer four possible future scenarios: status quo, race to the bottom, state intervention and risk mitigation. The first two scenarios trace possible outcomes of no further evolution in the theory of change and the environmental consequences that may result. The third scenario considers an increased role for governments in the certification marketplace. The final scenario outlines the role of a new actor within the supply chain bearing financial risks associated with assuring the sustainability of seafood in the market.
New routes to sustainable seafood
Creating an incentive to deliver sustainability as a credence product attribute in the global seafood market when regulatory efforts by governments are deemed insufficient to significantly improve fisheries management requires greater coordination than once thought.
Extra-transactional actors like NGOs continue to play a central role in re-aligning practices to mirror or materialize norms and values in sustainability, through efforts to educate seafood consumers and the public about seafood production practices and environmental impacts, and by supporting programmes to assess sustainable seafood. Building on insights from economics, political science and sociology, we show that coordination failures persist over the three iterations of the sustainable seafood movement’s theory of change. The future of the theory of change is one which can either:
  1. be steered to avoid, or at least minimize, coordination failures in supporting producers to deliver credible sustainable seafood, and subsequent continued environmental improvements; or
  2. continue to devolve into a race to the bottom in standards in which environmental improvements are eroded.
Philanthropic foundations and NGOs have recently been focusing on new or improved sustainability programmes and determining if existing certification programmes or guides meet a common benchmark. Instead of continuing such pursuits, our review shows the need for a new form of coordination if the theory of change is to meet its goal of creating substantial, global, positive environmental changes in fisheries and aquaculture production. SSAs (‘sustainable seafood aggregator’) may resolve the coordination problem and reduce transaction costs currently incurred in the supply chain, by more efficiently and reputably providing recommendations of purchase of sustainable seafood from fisheries and aquaculture. SSAs are also flexible enough to adopt new requirements, like the inclusion of indicators for social responsibility. This approach is also applicable to other products sold with credence attributes in the global market including cocoa, coffee and forest products. While not termed SSAs or bearing all the same characteristics of what we propose here, similarly hybrid forms of coordination and NGO partnerships are emerging in other sectors (for example, the cocoa markets in West Africa).
Certifying sustainability for the market is premised by the original and subsequent versions of the theory of change to induce market actors (buyers, retailers and consumers) to choose seafood identified as sustainable. Resulting economic incentives for producers and governments to improve regulatory and environmental performance will remain central to any future theory of change in the sustainable seafood movement. Alternative modes of delivering these incentives for change that both reduce costs and increase the capabilities required to access markets demanding verification of sustainability are needed to facilitate multiple improvement trajectories for producers. This points to a shift in the roles that extra-transactional actors, including both NGOs and governments, play in markets demanding credence attributes.

What are we talking when we talk of the global footprint of fisheries? by Francisco Blaha

Back in February, I blogged about a paper on the tracking the global footprint of fisheries, that was quite illustrative of that fact… but I also blogged later on in regards the controversies this paper was causing.

Obviously much smarter than me people had also issues with the paper and the claim that "vessels are now fishing in 55% of the world’s oceans, which is an area four times larger than occupied by onshore agriculture" and put their brains into it. They just publish a comment on that original paper.

 Fig. 1  Effect of grid resolution on the perception of   fishing   footprint . The areas in dark blue show the trawling footprints estimated for 2016 with ( A  and  C ) an equal-area grid with 0.5° resolution at the equator; ( B  and  D ) an equal-area grid with 0.01° resolution at the equator.

Fig. 1 Effect of grid resolution on the perception of fishing footprint. The areas in dark blue show the trawling footprints estimated for 2016 with (A and C) an equal-area grid with 0.5° resolution at the equator; (B and D) an equal-area grid with 0.01° resolution at the equator.

Their reanalyses of their global (all vessels) and regional (trawling) data at higher resolution reduced footprint estimates by factors of >10 and >5, respectively. The fact that they also illustrated their work with the South Atlantic (where I started fishing) was an extra bonus. 

Based on this analysis, less than 4% of the global ocean is fished, not 55% as reported in the original paper.

Interestingly, the revision of the data is based on the same questioning I had on a paper on the Rise of the DWFN, where the “definition” of the scale of analysis could provide very different data.

Personally, I don't like to imagine this "comments on papers" as discrediting in between scientist, but as a way to get to more accurate results, in a field that is just being developed with every IAS data-based papers, perhaps a tacit agreement of what resolution to use is the way to go. This is science at work! May not be good for egos, but lead to a better understanding and more transparency... and that can only be good!

Anyway…. below I quote parts of the response… but read the original comment.

Kroodsma et al. (1) used automatic identification system (AIS) data to track vessels they classified as “fishing” and estimated that fishing activities occurred in 55% of the world’s oceans in 2016. We show how strongly their results depend on the spatial scale of analysis. Their method gridded the ocean into large cells of 0.5° at the equator (~3100 km2) and counted every cell with any assumed fishing event of any duration in 2016 as fished, thus contributing its total area to fishing footprint.
We accessed the 0.01° grid fishing data made available by Global Fishing Watch (2) and reanalyzed these data at resolutions of ~3100, ~123, and ~1.23 km2 (corresponding to 0.5°, 0.1°, and 0.01° at the equator), giving footprint estimates of 49%, 27%, and 4% of ocean area, respectively. Thus, higher-resolution analyses reduced their global fishing footprint estimates by a factor of >10. Our estimate of footprint at 0.5° (49%) differs from that reported by Kroodsma et al. (55%) because they improved their algorithm to identify fishing by squid jiggers after publication and updated data in the current release. Also, the method we used to reallocate fishing activity to grids differed slightly from that in Kroodsma et al., leading to small differences in absolute footprint estimates, but these do not affect the relative relationships between footprints across spatial scales.
All human activities have diffuse impacts that extend beyond the area of activity. However, for fishing activities, using a spatial grid of an arbitrary low resolution does not provide an appropriate or consistent quantitative assessment of diffuse impact. For example, some diffuse impacts would be assessed more effectively using catch and bycatch data and population or community analyses that account for the diverse movements and life histories of affected populations and species, as well as the different rates of mortality that result from their varied interactions with fishing activities (46).
We also quantified the effects of grid resolution on trawl fishing footprints with the Global Fishing Watch data (2). We focused on trawling because footprint is a consistent and well-defined concept for trawling vessels, which tow a net or nets directly behind the vessel(s) and for which gear dimensions are known or can be estimated more reliably. Further, high-resolution footprints for bottom trawling (although Kroodsma et al. did not distinguish bottom trawls from trawls that do not contact the seabed) have long been used as metrics to assess fishing impacts on seabed habitats [e.g., (79)].
To illustrate the effects of grid resolution on trawling footprints, we considered regions of the north Pacific Ocean and off southern South America. For each region, trawling footprint (as proportion of the ocean area) was calculated using equal-area grids of 0.5° and 0.01° at the equator (Fig. 1). At the higher resolution of analysis, the estimated footprints in these regions fell by factors of 5.3 (48% to 9%) and 5.9 (29.5% to 5%), respectively. Further, if we take as an example a region of the north Pacific Ocean where trawling was banned in 2016 (10) (Fig. 1, A and B), then 100% of this area (59,000 km2 of ocean) was incorrectly classified as trawled at 0.5° resolution. For such reasons, many published analyses of trawling footprints are conducted at higher resolution (1113).
A coarse gridding of the positions of fishing vessels (globally or regionally) that ignores differences in catching power among vessels and gear, or ignores the scale of their direct and diffuse impacts, leads to footprint estimates that are primarily driven by the spatial resolution of analysis. Such analyses are unlikely to be a good proxy for the footprint of fishing or the status of species or ecosystems affected by fishing. The high temporal resolution of AIS data can provide valuable insight into the behavior of individual vessels and allowed Kroodsma et al. to classify different types and patterns of fishing activity. These analyses alone are an interesting achievement, but the footprint estimates and comparisons with agriculture highlighted in their report are misleading.



Open registries and tax heavens, the perfect combo for IUU fishing by Francisco Blaha

There was a lot of coverage on the news last year on the Paradise and Panama papers, as an insight on the intricate ways in which financial secrecy jurisdictions (tax heavens) lead to reduced transparency, and any lack of transparency is of immediate attraction to fiheries operators where transparency is something you don't want.

 Photo serves an illustrative purpose and was not taken in the context of IUU fishing

Photo serves an illustrative purpose and was not taken in the context of IUU fishing

In my experience, if you dodgy… then you are dodgy for most things. This however don't imply that you are a mean person aat the same time. Over the years I meet quite dodgy characters in fisheries that are quite nice and affable people, is just that they don't really play by the rules… while others (the lesser in my personal experience) are real devious characters and make a point to play the system and sink anyone on their way.

But basically, if you re going to be underreporting, or setting on areas not allowed, or finning on the side or other 1000 things you can do in fishing… chances are you go for jurisdictions to flag your vessels that don't really take much responsibility and you do your business in places that not particularly transparent.

As a IUU fisheries operator if your flag state has an open registry and is a tax heaven at the same time, you hit the double bonus!

The correlation in between this two issues, while known, it wasn't studied a lot until this paper came along “Tax havens and global environmental degradation” authored by a group of very clever people loosely related to the Stockholm Resilience Centre (I wrote about them before).  The paper looks to the bigger picture in between fisheries and degradation of the Amazonian forest.

I’ll focus on some of the aspects of fisheries quoting below, but as usual, read the original!

The role of tax havens for global fisheries
The fisheries industry is a global business, with owners, fishing companies, customers and other actors in the value chain spread across the world. The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations make the sector particularly susceptible to the use of tax havens in three important ways.
First, the use of these jurisdictions has been proved to support aggressive tax planning and tax evasion. Common strategies to avoid taxes include exporting and re-exporting fisheries products under incorrect article codes via subsidiaries, or selling to the tax haven subsidiary at a highly discounted value and then re-exporting to the real customers at the full value. Unreported sales and recategorization of sales income as agency fees charged by a subsidiary located in a tax haven represent additional ways by which seafood companies have been documented to avoid taxes.
Second, these jurisdictions also facilitate the evasion of regulation designed to address overfishing and fisheries crime by exploiting loopholes created by the fact that many well-known tax havens also qualify as secrecy jurisdictions in other regards, such as flags of convenience (FOC) states. FOCs are countries to which vessel owners flag vessels and from which they can expect limited or no sanctioning mechanisms if they are identified as operating in violation to international law. Recent findings indicate that some of these vessel registries are run by private entities, further reducing transparency and the ability of governments to exercise formal and informal pressure directed at FOC states. By setting up company structures with subsidiaries in jurisdictions that are both FOCs and tax havens, companies can obfuscate profits and beneficiary ownership of subsidiaries and individual vessels.
This has implications for illicit activities, linking to the third point — namely, that the secrecy afforded by combined use of tax havens and FOCs also allows companies to secure the dual identity of a fishing vessel, one of which is used for legal and the other for illegal fishing activities. Historical examples of IUU fishing from the Southern Ocean illustrate the destructive combination of tax evasion, hidden beneficiaries, falsely allocated catches and the resulting depletion (or, in the instance of South African stocks, collapse) of fish stocks, as well as reduction of critically threatened seabird populations.
Our analysis combines multiple datasets on fishing vessels and flag information to specifically highlight the link between IUU fishing and tax haven jurisdictions. While only 4% of all registered fishing vessels are currently flagged in a tax haven jurisdiction, data from regional fisheries management organizations and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL)34 show that 70% of the vessels that have been found to carry out or support IUU fishing and for which flag information is available are, or have been, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction — in particular, Belize and Panama (Fig. 1).
  Fig. 1 |  Fishing vessels and tax havens. Number of registered fishing vessels globally in the FAO Fishing Vessels Finder database ( n  = 257,798)33 compared with the number of vessels that have been found to carry out or support illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities( n  = 209)34. Dark blue wedges show the percentage of vessels flagged in tax havens. The bar plot displays the count of IUU vessels that are, or have been, flagged in the different tax havens, where asterisks indicate overlap between tax haven jurisdictions and flags of convenience (FOC) states

Fig. 1 | Fishing vessels and tax havens. Number of registered fishing vessels globally in the FAO Fishing Vessels Finder database (n = 257,798)33 compared with the number of vessels that have been found to carry out or support illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities(n = 209)34. Dark blue wedges show the percentage of vessels flagged in tax havens. The bar plot displays the count of IUU vessels that are, or have been, flagged in the different tax havens, where asterisks indicate overlap between tax haven jurisdictions and flags of convenience (FOC) states

The use of tax havens — and its associated problems such as loss of tax revenues, reduced transparency and lack of compliance — make tracing of fisheries resource use and allocation of accountability extremely difficult and costly. As such, it represents a major threat to the sustainability of global ocean resources that should be acknowledged and taken seriously. 
Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda
The lack of clearly established causal links between capital flows via tax havens and environmental change should not deter from further investigations. Instead, we hope that our analysis triggers important questions for those interested in the implications of tax havens for global environmental sustainability. For scholars, the questions centre on causality and the importance of legal and illegal capital flows. That is:
  • To what extent does the use of capital channelled through tax haven jurisdictions allow companies to expand their extractive operations in ways that they would not do otherwise? In particular, to what extent does the use of tax havens allow companies to circumvent environmental regulation and accountability?
  • Does the use of tax havens by multinational corporations lead to underreporting of inward FDI into extractive activities affecting important global environmental commons?
  • Are these jurisdictions used to a different extent in different extractive sectors, and if so, why?
  • If losses of tax revenues are substantial over time, do these undermine national and regional monitoring and enforcement capacities that would help safeguard important global environmental commons.
 No Panamanians on board! (Photo serves an illustrative purpose and was not taken in the context of IUU fishing)

No Panamanians on board! (Photo serves an illustrative purpose and was not taken in the context of IUU fishing)

The nexus between illegal fishing and fisheries subsidies by Francisco Blaha


I have not had a "guest" so far in this blog, but I do today. I have known Bradley Soule for a few years now, he is the Chief Fisheries Analyst at OceanMind. I worked with/for him in Thailand, as his group is being pivotal on the advances regarding PSM and general MCS there.

He a good man and very genuine, and as a former US Coast Guard man, he really loves and cares for the ocean. We also share a profound dislike for fisheries subsidies, lack of transparency and unfairness in the application of the rules.

He wrote a recent blog entry on the OceanMind blog that I liked a lot as he touched on subsidies and IUU, (a topic I wrote about here),  hence with his approval, I quote below the full text of his post.

If you read the most recent update to FAO’s Status of World Fisheries & Aquaculture (and if you’re reading this, you probably did), you know that the trend lines for world capture fisheries aren’t great. The total amount of capture harvest has been static for decades but the percentage that is overfished continues to grow and amount of underfished fisheries (think of it as spare capacity) continues to drop. While the majority of world fisheries are still sustainability harvested, the trend lines aren’t great. This makes sense in world with millions more people every day and a larger percentage of those people entering the middle class and demanding access to the same tasty protein that the rich world has enjoyed. As we all know from economics, static supply and increasing demand means that prices will rise, and where prices rise incentives rise for people to break the rules or cheat or for governments to set the bar too low and enable legal overfishing.
OceanMind primarily helps governments and businesses address the first issue by providing intelligence reports on possible non-compliance for investigation or 3rd party validation that everything is fine for businesses. We also work with fisheries authorities to develop and implement regulations that enable sustainable fishing based on vessel activity in their waters.
In previous work with the Coast Guard, I had the opportunity to participate in a very small way in the review and development of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which took about a decade. That gave a good viewpoint into how complicated these issues can be, but that process doesn’t hold a candle to the ongoing WTO deliberations for subsidies which probably have an even greater likely impact on global fisheries sustainability that the PSMA.
I will readily admit that trade issues are not my area of expertise, but I did my best to look through the current working language as it related to IUU fishing and I want to share a few of the key issues I see with my hopes and recommendations for how it all pans out.
First off, the definition of “IUU fishing” is problem number one. There is a clear desire to not provide subsidies to vessel operators engaged in IUU fishing, but how do you decide who has done it? Illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing has a very specific and technical definition under international agreements which is actually quite broad, but in practice it’s been rounded down to a simplistic view that the only IUU vessel is one that is on the IUU list of a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO), one of the international bodies where countries jointly manage highly migratory or fish stocks that are shared across borders. It’s also important to know that these are NOT managing the majority of the worlds fisheries, which are mostly inside national waters. Violations of the rules inside national waters may lead to sanctions or penalties, but very rarely do they lead to designation of an IUU fishing vessel under an RFMO list. Using just these lists would be the lowest common denominator in deciding whose subsidies should be removed or withheld.
However, if we don’t use the IUU vessel lists, what is the best indicator? We are literally talking about taking money away from people. Personally, I think there should be as few subsidies as possible in fisheries, but in the absence of a complete prohibition, any allegation of IUU fishing should lead to subsidies being placed in escrow or withheld pending investigation by national authorities. This will not be as simple as using the IUU vessel lists, but it captures the full range of IUU fishing activity and can lead to actions that really push people where it matters: in their wallets.
It’s also important to make sure that any penalties are targeted at the people and companies profiting from the activity in question. As we like to say in the compliance world: “boats don’t break the rules, people do”. There is a lot of depersonalization of IUU fishing given the focus on vessels where we speak as if a vessel had a brain and knowingly went into a closed area with prohibited gear or fished beyond the end of an expired license. This is obviously ridiculous but it’s how almost every press release in the world reads for fisheries violations. Any meaningful attempt to sanction fishing subsidies based on IUU activity should therefore target the beneficial owner of the vessel, who may have different types of subsidies in play, including subsidies for fuel and tax reliefs that are also currently open to negotiation.
Finally, all of this would be much simpler if national authorities made public their vessel registries, fishing licenses, and lists of subsidy recipients. OceanMind spends quite a bit of time helping governments and businesses research ownership and flag registry information using our extensive databases as well as developing new relationships and sources to overcome the silos of information that discourage cross-border cooperation on fisheries intelligence and enforcement. The compliance community does not do a good job of reminding everyone that the low-hanging fruit of fisheries compliance is in making sure that registries, licenses, and subsidies are publicly available so that other countries, the public, and even government officials within the same government can see how their tax money and common marine resources are being used. Once the information is more freely available, there is still the task of conducting analysis to dig through the data to find out where the problems might be (the real fun stuff), but that’s a discussion for another time.
Thanks again to ICTSD and the WTO for hosting me for this discussion and I look forward to seeing a strong, transparent, and enforceable agreement text in the near future!
Anyone interested in discussing my perspective is welcome to get in touch via


The bigger picture of transhipping in ports by Francisco Blaha

A big part of my work these days goes around the interface of general MSC, PSM best practices and transhipment monitoring in ports. As I wrote before, transhipment is a reality of our industry and transhipment in port should be the norm, since a layer of regulatory and “fish accountancy” oversight can be added. 

 Sellers to the Purse Seiners in Rabaul (PNG)

Sellers to the Purse Seiners in Rabaul (PNG)

 Now the impact of transhipment activities for the ports that host them is an area I been interested. As anything else in fisheries (and in life) everything has advantages and disadvantages, so we can go from fish leakage, impacts on food security, via potential market for local fruits to venereal disease at the other end.

Not much has been done in researching these issues in a systematic way, so I always keep an eye on the topic. And this new paper fits right in, and what is even better is by 3 author I know (and like as peoplePhilip A.S. James from SPC, Alex Tidd (who’s work I already blogged about), and Lotokufaki Paka Kaitub from Tuvalu where I was recently working, and place I like (in fact I was hoping to work on long-term basis there, but I did not got the job).

The paper by my colleagues “The impact of industrial tuna fishing on small-scale fishers and economies in the Pacific” focus on transshipments (I would have added that to the title) in Funafuti lagoon and is good read, tackling the original is always recommended.

Their paper looks to address this gap in the literature with an initial analysis of the impact of transhipping on the willingness of fishers to go fishing in Funafuti, a small but important transhipping port. They go onto use this modelled relationship to estimate potential losses with the artisanal fishery as a result of transhipping activity.

Below I quote the bits I like the most:

The scientific literature indicates that there are some impacts on the availability of oceanic pelagic resources to small-scale fishers as a result of industrial vessels fishing in local waters, particularly when they are close to shore [14,15,24–27]. Leroy et al. [15] commented that ‘industrial purse-seine fisheries may impact upon artisanal and subsistence fishers by reducing local fish availability’, and SPC [26] found that industrial vessels ‘largely catch similar sized fish to the artisanal fleet’, suggesting that the two fisheries fish the same portion of the stock.
However, SPC [26] do not suggest that industrial vessels directly impact the catch of artisanal or subsistence fishers.

I tend to agree with that, based on what you see in the local markets and the gear used for fishing

Anecdotal evidence supports the conclusions from the literature and suggests that many fishers believe that industrial fishing is depleting stocks of coastal recourses (authors’ discussions with a range of Pacific Island communities). In Tuvalu, data collectors, Fisheries Department staff, and fishers have all described the same pattern: the presence of industrial vessels means that fewer artisanal fishers go fishing and catches are reduced. 

Again, I agree… if I can go by the side of the vessel and barter some brine frozen skipjack in a couple of hours, that then I can resell at the market later on albeit at a lower prices than better fish that could have taken me the whole day to catch, I may not do it… unless I have clients that will pay much better money for fresher fish – believe me – brine frozen skipjack isn’t a treat. Now how prevalent that willingness to pay for good fish is in low-income pacific island ports, is something I don't know

Abernethy et al. [17] describes our understanding of small-scale fishers’ behaviour as ‘at best rudimentary’, yet this underpins fishers’ day- to-day decisions, and without a basic understanding of the behavioural dynamics, policy will be inefficiently designed and likely to fail. Muallil et al. [18] also call for a greater understanding of the factors impacting a fisher's willingness to exit a fishery. Developing data-driven evidence and understanding the behavioural drivers of artisanal fishers and the impacts of their behaviour is important, and policy-makers need to fully understand these trade-offs when making decisions.

As an ex-fisherman, I could not agree more to the fact that scientists and policymakers do not usually have a full grasp on fishers behavioural dynamics. many time I been confronted by solutions that will go at the core against the grain of what fisherman will normally behave on the "2nd-degree" decision making (a decision you make while evaluating various levels of options)

The difficulty in quantifying interactions between artisanal and industrial fisheries is largely due to poor artisanal catch data [15]. At the Pacific Community (SPC) Head of Fisheries meeting in 2011 Tuvalu placed a high priority on understanding the potential for interaction between regional tuna fisheries and local artisanal fishing [24]. As a result, SPC provided support for artisanal catch monitoring in Tuvalu in 2013 to address critical data deficiencies and allow improved investigation into the interactions. This dataset provides a unique opportunity to investigate the interactions between artisanal and industrial vessels from a social and biological perspective. We use this and other datasets from Tuvalu to reveal the impact of industrial vessels on the willingness of artisanal fishers to go fishing. This revealed preference technique is a new approach to the problem of interactions between the two important sub-sectors of the tuna fishery.
Broadly, this paper considers three aspects of the interaction between industrial and artisanal fishing: 
  1. Does the presence or absence of industrial fishing vessels in the port of Funafuti affect a fisher's willingness to go fishing? 
  2. If so, what are the impacts on key livelihood indicators such as employment, income and the availability of locally produced fish? 
  3. To fully understand the trade-offs facing decision-makers we estimate the benefits of allowing transhipping in port and compare these to the modelled impacts in the artisanal fishery.
There is no doubt that the presence of a transhipping port brings significant benefits to the economy and people of Tuvalu. Equally, however, the results presented here suggest some very serious negative impacts on the artisanal fishing sector. Fig. 5 presents a summary of the findings. Policy-makers will need to balance the trade-offs associated with the two fishing subsectors to ensure an optimal solution that maximises the benefits and minimises the costs.
The analysis indicated substantial reductions in fresh fish availability, with the loss in the artisanal fishery of more than 150mt in 2015. The fresh fish off-loads represented only 1% of Tuvalu's total estimated demand for fish [6] and where less than 10% of the catch forgone by artisanal fishers. However, it is important to place these figures into context. Total fish production in Funafuti was estimated by Tuvalu's Ministry of Fisheries and Economic Development [40] to be 285mt/year. Therefore, over a period of four years, this analysis suggests that Funafuti lost the equivalent of one year's catch due to the presence of industrial vessels, which discouraged activity by small-scale fishers. This could no doubt have significant impacts on peoples’ diets and access to good proteins. However, Bell et al. [6] provides an assessment of current fish production and its ability to sustain Pacific island populations, they report no current or projected deficit in fish production in Tuvalu. The data suggesting that current production just about meets the expected demand and therefore at an aggregate level
Tuvalu can effectively feed its people. Therefore the impact on fresh fish availability may be less significant than these contrasting figures initially suggest. We do not, however, have any data on food distribution, and it may be that the portion of the population who rely on artisanal fishers for fresh food fish are not those who can access the offloads from the vessels. This would benefit from further research but in the interim, the government needs to consider if redistribution policies maybe needed to ensure that all people have access to sufficient amounts of high quality fresh fish to meet their nutritional requirements.
Excluding fishing access fees, we estimate that the total income to government, individuals and businesses from transhipping was AUD 4.2 million or 12% of Tuvalu's 2016 GDP. This is in line with the extensive investigation of the benefits associated with other transhipping ports undertaken by McCoy [41]. Transhipment fees alone are three to four times higher than the loss of income in the artisanal fishery. However, revenue from fees is captured by the government and not the artisanal fishers and therefore do not directly offset the estimated income loss to artisanal fishers. On the other hand revenue from fees is used by the government to pay local staff salaries and provide public services that benefit all Tuvaluans. Further, fees can provide a valuable source of foreign exchange to the government. So whilst the artisanal fishers may suffer Tuvaluan society as a whole benefits.
About AUD 0.75 million of the AUD 4.2 million income is accrued to local bars and restaurants. (not that there are many there) The equivalent to the loss of income in the artisanal fishery is, therefore, captured by private businesses and individuals outside the fishery sector. This amount of money injected into the local economy from — what is effectively industrial tourism — is likely to have powerful multiplier effects and secondary impacts and, therefore, the total economic benefit is likely to be far larger than the immediate monetary spending of the crews. However, as with the government revenue, it is unlikely that this revenue is captured by theartisanal fishers who actually face a loss of income as a result of industrial vessels in port. Further, governments play a key role in redistributing revenues compared to private enterprises whose revenues are generally spread more narrowly. This can reduce economic disruption from increasing private incomes, especially when businesses are foreign owned [42]. The reduced income of artisanal fishers associated with transshipping is not directly offset by the benefits captured from the vessels. Clearly there is a distributional issue because those in the artisanal fishery are not the ones who capture the gains from transhipping. Therefore, the government could consider a transfer mechanism or support the artisanal fishing industry. Perhaps some hypothecation of transhipping charges could occur to support programmes such as the Tuvalu nearshore fish aggregation device programme, thereby making it easier and potentially more cost-effective for artisanal fishers to catch oceanic species [43,44]. Other programmes to support the artisanal fishing sub-sector could be considered such as providing ice, freezers or safety equipment, which would make easier and safer for fishers to fish for oceanic species and benefit from the government revenues from transhipping. 

Yet, the provision of equipment and infrastructure has been tried in the region (and Tuvalu) and the world many times, and by a variety of reasons, it never seems to work... I believe the key reason is the lack of incentives arising from the ownership of the provided goods

The loss of FTE days in the artisanal fishing sector is offset three times or more by the estimated employment created in the transshipping sector for the Funafuti population. However, as with the changes in fresh fish and income artisanal fishers are unlikely to be the ones employed during transhipping. So whilst leading to an improvement in overall welfare, the improvement is not Pareto efficient. Béné et al. [45] demonstrate that return on investment in a small-scale fishery is more than 100 times greater than that from industrial vessels in terms of cost of each job created. With this in mind, a three-to-one replacement ratio  is far from efficient. When considering appropriate support to each subsector, decision-makers must consider which sector offers the best return on investment for the policy objective that they are pursuing and be aware of associated trade-offs as the harder to observe negative impacts may outweigh the benefits.
Transhipping in port, under the authority of a country government, means that the country can confirm vessels that are fishing legally, cross-check logsheet records with observed transhipments, and ensure that the vessel is in full compliance with all marine and fishery regulations.
These wider benefits have not been quantified in this paper, but nevertheless are likely to be of benefit regionally and thus represent a global or regional public good. McCoy [41] estimated that these benefits range from USD 1000 to USD 8000 (AUD 1200 to AUD 9600) per transhipment, depending on the port, but did not include Funafuti in his analysis.
The social costs associated with industrial fishing are well established, including social cohesion, prostitution, unwanted pregnancy, smuggling, illegal entry, substance abuse and general poor behavior [46–48]. The survey of the local establishments, however, was not as negative as the literature, and only one establishment had banned crews from entering, and only a quarter of the establishments suggested that they had issues with the crews, this was generally as a result of intoxication of the crew. Nevertheless, the social impacts should be important considerations for countries considering developing transshipping ports.
Artisanal fishing vessels have a number of environmental impacts however are generally more fuel-efficient and generate less waste than their industrial counterparts [49]. The environmental costs associated with transhipping include oil and fuel spillages, marine litter and toilet and hold flushes into the Funafuti lagoon [50]. An evaluation of these impacts, however, is extremely complex and has not yet been attempted.
A number of environmental violations have occurred in recent years in Funafuti (Tuvalu Fisheries Department, pers com); therefore, the government must balance the higher environmental risk associated with transhipping compared to artisanal fishing with the benefits that it brings to Tuvalu and its people.
This work provides Tuvalu and other countries that have transshipping ports with information that could allow them to optimise the benefits from being a transhipping port by minimising the losses. Many governments have already attempted to do this by managing bycatch and using some for local food security purposes. As the marginal losses to the artisanal fishery decrease with more vessels being present in port, it is suggested that some coordination of vessels transhipping would be helpful. It would also be advisable to avoid transhipping when artisanal catches are likely to be higher. This could be done by declaring certain times ‘non-port’ days for all transhipping vessels, particularly on peak artisanal fishing days such as Friday. The artisanal data show that landings are generally lower, on average, on the weekend; therefore, Sunday could be a good day to tranship because there is little or no artisanal fishing activity that day. Although each port considering this as an option to limit the impacts of the transhipping fleet on the artisanal fleet would need to carefully investigate the commercial and operational viability of such an option.
This paper confirms, for the first time, the existence of indirect economic interactions between industrial fishing vessels and artisanal fishing vessels. These results are in direct contrast to the requirements under the UN Fish Stocks Agreement to avoid the adverse impacts of industrial fishing on small-scale fishers. The study location, Tuvalu, provided a unique dataset to allow this study. The results should be carefully considered by all country governments that allow, or are planning to allow, transhipping in their ports, particularly those countries with a large artisanal fleet based near or at the main port.The analysis demonstrates that transhipping has a negative impact on Funafuti's artisanal fishers in terms of reduced income, employment and catch rates. The results also show it reduces the availability of locally-produced fish in Funafuti. However, it is also clear that transshipping brings economic benefits to Funafuti and the local people.The analysis contrasted the losses within the artisanal fishery with the benefits of transhipping and found that some of the losses were at least partially offset but only at a societal level. It showed that it was likely that a Pareto loss was present as benefits from transhipping do not fall on those whom face the losses. Policy-makers need to strike a balance between the competing demands of the two sub-sectors to ensure Pacific communities can capture the maximum net benefits from the massive tuna resources present in their exclusive economic zones.

I could bring a different perspective to some of the assumptions and conclusion in the paper, but I totally welcome the approach and methodology it provides. A lot of everyone work is focussed on the fisheries status, policy, management, revenue and MCS. But one of the lines I always use in my work and job interviews is "I don't work with fish, I work with the people that work and depend on fish". Alex, Philip and Loto's work to focus on that, and we should be doing more research in that area.

 Transhipment port blues

Transhipment port blues