Benefits of a moratorium on transshipment on the high seas / by Francisco Blaha

Transhipments is a complicated issue I boarded (pun intended) before. While there are valid logistical and economic reasons for their existence, they remind a problematic issue and all efforts to control them seem to fail short. To the recent study on likely transhipments I posted a week ago, this new paper on Marine Policy adds more salt to a already known injury, and makes a good case for a total ban on transshipment at-sea across all RFMOs.

Yellow: ORION S (reefer), Blue: AMERICAN EAGLE   (purse seiner), both Colombian flagged, transhipping in the High seas between   Ecuador and Galapagos Islands.    2015-04-09. Image source Global Fishing Watch

Yellow: ORION S (reefer), Blue: AMERICAN EAGLE (purse seiner), both Colombian flagged, transhipping in the High seas between Ecuador and Galapagos Islands.  2015-04-09. Image source Global Fishing Watch

The six authors of this paper come from a mixture of academia and NGOs, wich is good to see as (in my opinion) some NGOs tend to be weak on the factual analysis side, while academics (in principle) go trough a more rigorous process on their publications. The paper does not tell "unknown" truths to the people in the IUU field, but grounds those truths on a solid methodological review of the rules at RFMOs and from those, they draw some robust conclusions that go beyond fisheries.

I paste below the abstract and conclusions, but as usual, go to to the original for the full picture.

One way that illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fish catch is laundered into the seafood market is through transshipments at-sea. This practice, which often occurs on the high seas (the areas of ocean beyond national jurisdiction), allows vessels fishing illegally to evade most monitoring and enforcement measures, offload their cargo, and resume fishing without returning to port. At the same time, transshipment at-sea can facilitate trafficking and exploitation of workers who are trapped and abused on fishing vessels.

This study gives an overview of high seas transshipment as well as evaluates transshipment at-sea regulations across 17 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), which are responsible for regulating fisheries on the high seas. Transshipment at-sea regulations have become increasingly strict in most RFMOs since the late 1990s. However, only five RFMOs have mandated a partial ban, and only a single RFMO, the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organization (SEAFO), has mandated a total ban on transshipment at-sea.

A total ban on transshipment at-sea across all RFMOs would support the ability of oversight and enforcement agencies to detect and prevent IUU fishing and also likely reduce human trafficking and forced labor on the high seas.

The RFMOs around the world are in a unique position with respect to transshipment, and are likely to come under increasing pressure to address this activity for both ecological and sociological reasons. Given the increased overexploitation of high seas fish, sizable economic losses to illegal fishing globally, documented IUU fishing associated with transshipments on the high seas, and ever-increasing concerns about forced labor, it would be prudent to invoke the precautionary principle and instate a moratorium on transshipment at-sea across all RFMOs.

While most RFMOs have improved transshipment at-sea regulations over the last two decades, a moratorium on transshipment at-sea would provide the best ecological and social outcome for high seas fisheries. A total ban on transshipment at-sea is a primary way to ensure that human trafficking can be combated alongside preventing the laundering of IUU catch.

The socioeconomic effects of an RFMO-wide moratorium would likely be fairly immediate, as vessels would be routed into EEZs and return to port more frequently, which would likely increase the costs of fishing but also improve trafficked fishers’ opportunities of notifying authorities of human rights abuses. Ecological effects, however, would likely only become apparent over time, if the moratorium on transshipment reduced overfishing and IUU fishing.

Reduced fishing pressure on the high seas could also offset economic losses of a ban on transshipment at-sea if fishing within EEZs subsequently becomes more productive. RFMOs might adopt a precautionary approach similar to SEAFO's, which included an interim prohibition on transshipment at-sea before implementing a permanent ban.

The issue of IUU fishing and human rights abuses on the high seas deserve urgent attention, and a moratorium on transshipment on the high seas is one way to address both issues.