The deceptive and coercive practices undertaken within the recruitment process to work on fishing vessels by Francisco Blaha

I blogged a few times on INTERPOL in the past, an lately I been crossing paths in many workshops and conferences with the very clever officers from the Interpol Fisheries Crime Group that is part of the Environmental Crime Unit. I always thought it was only ex policemen, but they are a very heterogenous and clever bunch with a very unique set of skills, and i always learned lot by listen to them.

this blokes where OK and happy top stay on board

this blokes where OK and happy top stay on board

One of the many useful things they do is the issuing of notices, an Interpol notice is an international alert circulated by them to communicate information about crimes, criminals, and threats by police in a member state (or an authorised international entity) to their counterparts around the world. The information disseminated via notices concerns individuals wanted for serious crimes, missing persons, unidentified bodies, possible threats, prison escapes, and criminals' modus operandi. The notices are made either on the organisation's own initiative or are based on requests from National Central Bureaus (NCBs) of member states or authorised international entities such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

There are eight types of notices, seven of which are colour-coded by their function: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Black, Orange, and Purple. 

Notices poster 2017.jpg

Yesterday they published a Purple one that concerns the “modus operandi” on the deceptive and coercive practices undertaken within the recruitment process to work on fishing vessels. Something at the core of many of the issues we find in the Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN) and some quite dodgy countries source their crews to be later exploited.

Crewing is very complex operation, where DWFN source getting crew to agents that then have national networks into many source countries (i.e. Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, etc), and how the system work and where the abuses can take place is complex to understand, if you are not inside that game… this notice does a good job explaining this.

Yet, off course there is also a diplomatic component (that can’t be expressed by Interpol) when Taiwan is involved sourcing from countries that don’t  have diplomatic relations with them, and therefore there is no link or incentive to uphold any form of control.

But basically, the more we know about something, the easy is to deal with it. I’ll quote some aspects of this notice, yet nothing beat reading and spreading the original.

Human Trafficking and Forced Labour: The deceptive and coercive practices undertaken within the recruitment process to work on fishing vessels 

The objective of this notice is to describe in further details the modus operandi used to deceptively and coercively recruit workers by a number of different entities, including agents, recruitment and manning agencies, travel agencies, vessel owners, company owners and other corporate entities. This notice shall allow enhanced and effective identification and prevention of such offences by law enforcement agencies.

For definition purposes, a recruitment or “manning” agency is an organization or individual who acts as an employment intermediary between the fishing entity and the worker. They are contracted by one of the fishing entities and they will be responsible for obtaining and organizing labor for the entity, generally the below deck crew. They will generally also be responsible for contracting arrangements with the employee, including salaries, transport and benefits. 


In analysing various cases, entities, such as recruitment agencies, involved in the recruitment process of workers on board of fishing vessels use some or all of the following methods: 

Brokers: recruitment agencies or fishing entities may use formal and informal brokers (the ones with no legal credentials) to attract potential workers to work on board fishing vessels. These brokers are often of the same nationality or speak the language of the potential workers. They can reside in the same village and are often part of the same community or a network of brokers sharing the same ethnicity. Brokers may be unaware that trafficking is occurring downstream from their activities. Brokers will sometimes be former workers or even formerly trafficked workers who have ongoing contacts within the fishing industry. It may generally be very difficult for a worker to tell the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate broker. The broker will usually be paid a recruitment fee for each worker. 

Deceptive contracts: once recruited, a potential worker will often end up signing multiple contracts to various different parties prior to beginning work. The initial contract that the worker will sign will generally be in terms that were promised by the broker. The worker may then be passed through another party and required to sign another contract often with diminished terms of employment. This may continue until ultimately, when the worker is in a captive bargaining position, they sign the final contract on much reduced conditions. It is possible that workers may sign contracts in languages that they may not understand. The terms of the contract in the language that they do not understand will often have worse conditions and will ultimately be the contract that is held up as correct by the recruitment agencies. 

Aggregation of labour: recruitment agencies, or brokers, may be part of a supply network where workers and their contracts are aggregated then sold to another party. This creates a cascade system where economic value is extracted out of each worker or group of worker by multiple parties at different points of the recruitment process. This may be done via applying more fees onto the worker and creating a situation where victims owe money to multiple parties. This further entraps the worker to the fishing vessel. 

Documentation: recruiters will usually facilitate the attainment of requisite documents for each worker. The passports and visa documentation will generally be legitimately obtained as these are often inexpensive. The cost of the documents will be passed onto the worker in the form of debt. The fraudulent creation of seafarer’s/seaman’s books is known as a technique amongst recruitment agencies. The documentation will remain out of the control of the victim and in the possession of a different perpetrators at various stages. 

Deployment: the recruiter will transport the victims to their workplaces where they may sell the workers contracts to a ship captain for a fee or deploy them to a pre-arranged vessel. There will often be several transit countries and checkpoints which require facilitation prior to arrival at the workplace. There will often be in country agents with links to the recruitment agency that will perform this task. They will also control access to passports and other relevant documents to restrict the workers movements. It is preferable to the recruiter to have the workers in locations where they are reliant on access to this documentation to enable entrapment. 

Debt bondage: an advance or recruitment fee is demanded from the victim and where they cannot pay this the recruiter will provide a debt facility. The objective of the recruiter is to have the worker rapidly obtain unsustainable levels of debt that place them in a position of bondage. The agency may also provide travel, accommodation and food to the worker but these costs will be added to the debt burden. This allows the recruiter to subtract from wages on the premise that the worker is paying off a debt. The threat of the debt being passed onto family, potentially intergenerational, will also be used to coerce a worker into remaining with the vessel rather than escaping. This is the key mechanism for entrapping the worker within the vessel and situation for extended periods of time. 

Bank accounts: the recruitment agency will often open a bank account for the victim if they do not already have one. If there may be payments made into multiple accounts which are followed by quick withdrawal transfers into a single account, this could be indicative of human trafficking. Alternatively the recruiter may have the wages for all their recruits paid into a single account that they control. 

Trickery / deception: victims may be promised by recruiters to work in a different job category or a different destination country. The recruitment agency may directly advertise another maritime position like on a cruise vessel or in a completely different industry like construction. It is only towards the end of the recruitment process, once the worker is entrapped, that the real role will become apparent. Often the destination country or fishing grounds will be deliberately far from where the recruiting took place so that the worker has little scope for restitution or ability to escape. 

Violence: most agencies will utilize persuasive recruitment techniques when initially negotiating with a potential worker. However once they have successfully completed recruitment, the worker is likely to be subjected to violence or the threat of violence if they complain or try to end their contract. Some victims may be subject to violent coercion at the very start of the recruitment process and subsequently while working. 

Abandonment: the end of a contract for a victim will often see them abandoned without documents or finance in a foreign country where they are effectively illegal. The recruitment agency will not pay for the repatriation of the victim leaving them stranded and reliant on local agencies. There will also be no support or medical insurance for the victim if they were to get sick or injured. 

These modus operandi are thought to be used by a great number of organized criminal groups which are conducting illegal fishing activities in order to minimize costs. 

Detection and Opportunities 

Financial Metadata: the recruitment agency may purchase a number of items for the victim in order to get them ready for work and to create debt bondage. This includes items like, but not restricted to, passports, plane tickets, hotel accommodation, bank accounts and basic provisions. The recruitment agency may purchase these items in multiple quantities and utilize familiar business relationships with accommodation providers for example. This may create a ”paper trail” of transactional and background data (i.e. bank account numbers, transaction times, signatories, locations) that can be utilized by a human trafficking investigative process to uncover the responsible parties. There is also transactional information from the recruitment agency to the broker, the fishing entity to the recruitment agency and the recruitment agency to the victim that can show the flow of money between all parties. 

Inspections: when conducting at sea inspections of vessels, officers should be aware of certain documents that can be useful for uncovering illegal recruitment practices. 

  • The vessel must have a crew list detailing each person on the vessel and their identifying documents. 

  • The vessel must also have a copy of the employment agreement for each individual working on the vessel. There are common discrepancies that may indicate illegal practices such as multiple copies of an employment agreement for one person, employment agreements not in the employee’s understood language and agreements being inaccessible or not on board. 

  • Officers should ascertain whether crew has access to telecommunication facilities as well as personal ID documents

Social Media: recruitment agencies and brokers will utilize social media to lure victims. This can take the form of groups or pages that act as deceptive advertisements for lucrative work on fishing vessels or in another industry. Analysis of these profiles and pages may reveal networks and identities of individuals involved in the recruitment process. 

Recommended precautionary action:

It is strongly recommended that you circulate this purple notice to your country’s law enforcement bodies to alert them about this modus operandi and to allow them to take whatever preventive and precautionary measures they deem necessary. All recipients are strongly encouraged to share data, and provide any investigative information relating to this modus operandi.

The modus operandi and data requirements of EU CCS vs the US SIMP by Francisco Blaha

This one has been cooking for a while, and comes out of some work I did for FFA and from a document of my friend Gilles I blogged before, and my own work triying to help countries to comply with what the big brothers want…

We work like one, why can’t you?

We work like one, why can’t you?

Presently there are two unilateral schemes  (Unilateral as other nations have no choice in the matter) that apply to international trade in the FFA membership: the European Union Catch Certification Scheme (EU CCS) and the United States Seafood Import Monitoring Programme (US SIMP).

The fact that two of the world’s largest seafood markets have moved towards substantially different designs for unilateral trade measures to address the same problem indicates that there is a real risk of a proliferation of non-harmonised unilateral trade instruments to combat IUU fishing. 

For fishers and supply chain actors that currently, or may seek to in the future, sell to or process catch for both the EU and the US, the costs of complying with two different systems are likely to be considerable. In addition to the immediate costs of developing and operating different systems, the lack of coherence between them could lead to fisheries trade being diverted between the two, or to less demanding third markets.

An explanation of the requirements and characteristics of these two unilateral schemes is included in the following sections.

Modus operandi of the EU CCS

The EU IUU Regulation consists of a law (EC 1005/2008) passed in 2008, and an implementing regulation (EC 1010/2009) adopted in 2009. Both texts define a new legal EU regime to bar products derived from IUU fishing from entering the EU market. In its preamble, EC 1005/2008 states that this initiative is meant to respond to the tenets of the IPOA-IUU. The regulation consists of a Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS) requirement for all imports of marine fish into the EU and a separate, but related, rule involving the possible restriction of fisheries imports from countries identified as having unsatisfactory control of IUU fishing by their flag vessels, the so called “yellow and red cards”. 

The EU IUU Regulation’s CCS covers wild caught marine harvests—with some exceptions, such as molluscs—which are landed or imported into the EU, and which have originated from non-EU flag vessels. All products must be certified to be of legal origin, regardless of whether they are sourced from fisheries known to be affected by major IUU problems or not. 

The regulation requires flag states to issue catch certificates (CCs) for catch harvested by their vessels that is to be exported to the EU. Flag states must notify a competent authority (CA) validating catch certificates to the EC, which is formally approved or rejected. Only countries with a formally approved competent authority may export to the EU. 

When foreign catch is imported by a processing state for re-export to the EU, a processing statement must be issued at the time of exportation, linking the source products and foreign catch certificate(s) with the end products in the consignment. Since 1 January 2010, either a catch certificate (the direct importation scenario) or a processing statement, with attached catch certificates (the indirect importation scenario) must accompany each consignment of wild captured marine fish to be imported into the EU. 

Vessels flying an EU flag are also covered by the scheme if they land catch outside the EU and the products, processed or un-processed, later enter the EU market. EU vessels landing product directly into EU ports are not normally required to produce a catch certificate, unless the product is to be exported to a third country outside the EU, for example for processing, and re-importation into the EU. The processing statement is not required when catch from EU-flagged vessels is landed and processed in EU countries. 

The EU CCS is a paper-based system and operates in the absence of a central certificate registry. This means that EU authorities, whether central or national, or any other competent authorities worldwide complying with the system, do not know how many certificates are in circulation and what products they cover—nor do private sector supply-chain actors acquiring and dispatching products under given certificates. 

The authenticity of any certificate can only be ascertained through a lengthy process involving direct communication and feedback requests from the authorities that issued the original—a process, which falls under what the EU IUU Regulation refers to as “mutual assistance.”

Any such action by EU border authorities implies delays and demurrage costs to operators, regardless of the legal or illegal nature of consignments. It is not known how many consignments covered by how many certificates have entered the EU since the scheme came into force, or how many times any specific certificate has been used to import fisheries products into the EU market.

Role of Fisheries Administrations
The EU CCS relies on the cardinal principle of flag state validation, placing no formal emphasis on the role of coastal states, and a minimal role to be played by port, processing, and trading states. For example, the date and place of landing are not indicated on the catch certificate and port state authorities are not required to check, validate, or counter-validate catch certificates attached to catch that moves through their ports.  This partly weakens the potential strength of it, since these systems were conceived as a means to overcome the ineffectiveness of control regimes limited to flag state enforcement, and to tap the potential of port and market state jurisdictions and controls within a single, largely self-regulating and self-enforcing system. 

To date, the EC has not provided effective guidance on how catch certificates ought to be completed when consignments are derived from more than one domestic landing or mixed domestic and foreign landings, hinting at important regulatory voids in the regulation. 

Article 51.2 of the regulation on mutual assistance refers to the establishment of an automated information system, called the “IUU fishing information system,” designed “to assist competent authorities in preventing, investigating and prosecuting IUU fishing.” In 2015 the EC announced its intention to develop this IUU fishing information system in the form of an computer database, the main function of which, judging from descriptions released so far, appears to be to digitally record the entry of certificates and processing statements into the EU. In theory, such a database could enable competent authorities of EU member states to detect over-usage of particular certificates. However, the system would not provide any further evidence as to which importer has knowingly or unknowingly been involved in importing products covered by fraudulent certificates, and where in the supply chain document fraud has been committed. Nor would a system limited to registering certificates on imports into the EU address the circulation of non-recorded and non-secured paper copies of certificates along global supply chains. Therefore, it is not clear that the database, as currently outlined, will solve the fundamental problems in the EU CCS, nor effectively implement Article 51.2, whose aim appears to be the development of a system that would enable all competent authorities–including those in third countries—to confidently operate the scheme and to eliminate fraud. 

Despite its weaknesses, the EU IUU Regulation does provide some useful elements of good practice. Equivalence is provided under the scheme for existing RFMO CDS, meaning that any products covered by RFMO certificates imported into the EU are exempted from the requirement to provide EU catch certificates. This is an important first degree of coherence between unilateral and multilateral schemes. The EU system also allows for the recognition of equivalent national systems. A number of developed countries, such as Norway, Canada, and New Zealand, have developed “national CDS” systems to respond to the requirements of the EU CDS, and have been formally approved by the EC; these systems are considered to provide the same degree of assurance. 

The designation of the CA in the third countries
According to Article 20 of the EU IUU Regulation, third countries should nominate their CA by providing a Flag State notification (see Annex III of EU IUU Regulation). 

In the run-up to the implementation of the EU IUU Regulation and in its first months, the EC (DG MARE) largely accepted the nominations of CAs from third countries without questioning whether these were indeed the most appropriate authorities. In some countries, the authority nominated has been the CA nominated to validate the Health Certificate under the hygiene regulation. This arises from confusion in the terminology applied by the EC, because the CA under the hygiene regulations were in some cases assumed by third countries to be the same CA under the EU IUU Regulation.

Indeed, when the EU IUU Regulation entered into force, some countries did not understand the purpose of the CC or see the difference between the CC and the Health Certificate.

However, in most countries the nominated CA is with the Fisheries Authority which, while generally competent about IUU fishing and Monitoring and Control and Surveillance (MCS) measures, may not be familiar with the complexities of certification.

According to the wording of the EU IUU Regulation it would seem that the acceptance of the notification is automatic and cannot be refused if the information requested in Article 20 is provided. It is not very clear on which grounds the EC is currently basing the acceptance or not of the notification. DG MARE has conducted various missions to a number of countries (sometimes more than once to the same country), while other countries have not been visited.

Explicit mention is made of signature of Catch Certificates in Article 20. Article 20 makes no mention of CAs for signing Annex IV Processing Statements nor of the CAs in States that are processing products and are not Flag States. There is provision in the Processing Statement (Annex IV to the EU IUU Regulation) for endorsement by the Competent Authority, but there is no indication as to which authority this should be. One might presume, from the fact that the Health Certificate number and date are requested on the form, that this CA is the one nominated under the Health Regulations. Similarly, there is no indication in the EU IUU Regulation or its implementing rules on which CA should be authorising transhipments within a port area and validating section 7 of the regular Catch Certificate.

The original handbook (a largely obsolete document) indicates that these authorities have to be notified to the EC, but the point still stands that there is no provision for this CA in the Regulation itself and there is no provision for the approval or publication of the authorities approved for transhipments. At present transhipments are authorised by authorities in third countries that have not had their CA notification published by the EC but have been informally allowed to sign.

Role of PSM
Rather critically, there is no port of landing section in the EU CCS, which is very bizarre, as the FAO PSMA was being negotiated at the time of inception of the EU IIU regs. As yet the EU CCS involves Port states only in one section (Section 7) of the certificate template.

Section 7 is complex and somewhat confusing. It requires “date” and “port of landing” while transshipment is actually defined as occurring between two vessels, hence no actual landing is resultant. Landing is bringing the fish on to land (even if not defined in the EU legislation). The term “port area” is also not defined but the general view on this is that it refers to being around a “port” where an anchored vessel is approached by another one to transship. However, no official explanation has been given to date.

While not clearly explained in the regulations or manuals, section 7 is the only part of the CC that requires the signature from the Port State instead of the Flag State. So, vessels flagged in Country “A” transship at a port in Country “B”. Country “A” is responsible for the validation of the CC but Country “B “is responsible for authorizing the transshipment.

The transshipment can occur before the CC certificates are raised and validated, because in many cases there still no confirmed buyer for the fish or because the fish has not been landed or processed at destination which may or may not be the Flag State.

This is a difficulty for the Port State, as if they were to sign Section 7 at the time of the transshipment, they’ll sign an “empty” CC, with information provided by the captain or agent, unless the Flag State is really “onto it” and able to provide a validated CC based on reliable estimates provided by the captain via the logbook and/or observers, prior the transshipment (there is no evidence of this ever being the case).

DG MARE in one of its notes[1]proposes that the Port State signs the non-validated CC, however this can be seen as not showing sufficient due diligence by the Port State CA.

Alternatively, they need to keep the records of the transshipment authorization on file, until such a time as the processors of the fish that was transshipped request the CC from the Flag State who can then issue the CC which can then go to the Port State for section 7 signature.

Modus operandi of the US SIMP

Under the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) scheme, the National Marine Fisheries Service require importers to be holders of an annually renewable International Fisheries Trade Permit and specific data and information for defined fish and fish products has to be filed and retained as a condition of import. The additional data requirements apply only to imports of “at-risk” species, and derived products thereof, which are identified by HS codes. 

Importantly, the programme actively seeks to integrate the new reporting requirements with existing electronic infrastructure, and the rule also establishes how duplication with other existing programmesshould be avoided. For instance, it is proposed that information to be filed under the scheme be collected at the time of importation, making use of an electronic single window consistent with existing systems. 

The  SIMP does not develop a dedicated documentation scheme, the centrepiece of all other existing CDS in existence. Instead, it requires importers to collect information on source fishing vessels, fishing licences, areas of operation, date and place of landing, and first buyers, etc. on the basis of existing information, and to log this information at the time of importation. 

The validation or counter-validation of industry-generated information by designated competent authorities along the supply chain is not required, as is currently the case in varying forms in all other existing schemes. 

No recording of data would be required as products pass through the supply chain from harvest towards the US market. Existing documents, such as landing reports, catch certificates, or port inspection reports may be used by importers to establish the validity of vessel identity, trip, and landings data submitted by them into the International Trade Documentation System (ITDS). 

Information regarding the movement of fish between the point of landing and its entry into the US market would not be recorded within the system but has to be collected by the importer on the basis of documents and records that are normally issued along supply chains,and such records would have to be kept by importers for five years at their place of business. 

However, it is highly unlikely that an importer could be given a transparent insight into where the products he/she is importing have been channelled through in longer and more complex supply chains as supply chain relationships (suppliers/clients) and pricing are the most sensitive and highly protected types of information in seafood trade. Verifiable traceability between the presumed source fishing vessels indicated at importation, and the fisheries products being imported, is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a dedicated documentation system which links and records product flows each step along the supply chain (with applicable data confidentiality rules). The critical process of monitoring mass balance at individual supply chain stops, enabling the detection of fish laundering, would also be difficult to achieve under the system as it is currently presented. 

The list of “at-risk” species that will fall under the remit of the scheme under the programme’s initial phase was refined and republished through the proposed rule in February 2016. 

The list includes species that can naturally fall both under the management mandate of RFMOs, and/or under the management mandate of individual countries.Species covered by existing RFMO CDS systems are listed, specifically the entire Pacific fished tunas (albacore tuna, bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna, and yellowfin tuna). Bluefin tuna had not been covered in the earlier published version of the rule (Federal Register 2015), and had been classified as “not at-risk” owing to the multilateral mechanisms already in place—echoing practice under the EU CDS. It is now included “in order to establish consistent treatment of tuna species, and avoid possible concerns that one species of tuna may be treated less favourably than others.” (Federal Register 2016). 

It is anticipated, however, that “compliance with the entry data collection requirements of these schemes would, for the most part, meet the data reporting and recordkeeping requirements of the traceability program proposed here”. This means that an RFMO CDS duly complied with would provide an importer with all data needed to fulfil the needs of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. In as far as the system allows for a degree of mutual recognition of RFMO CDS, the US system follows a similar approach to the EU with regard to mutual recognition. 

Role of the flag and coastal state Fisheries Administrations
Critically, industry-generated information by designated competent authorities along the supply chain would not be required, as is currently the case in varying forms in all existing other schemes. 

Role of PSM
While the US SIMP does not foresee, per se, a specific role for Ports states administrations, good PSM processes are needed to potentially verify an unloading (yes, it was authorised to happen at this location) or deny it (no, it did not happen).

On the receiving side, the importer is required to be a registered as an Importer of record (in the US). The requirements are

  1.  Name, affiliation and contact information

  2.  NOAA issued IFTP number

  3.  Importer of record is responsible for keeping records regarding the chain of custody detailed above

  4. Information on any transhipment of product (declarations by harvesting/ carrier vessels, bills of landing)

  5. Records on processing, reprocessing, and comingling of product.

Side to side comparison in between the EU CCS and US SIMP data fields

I developed a comparison of the data requirements of both market access requirements follow, with the flowing coding: 


It becomes self-evident that data fields have very limited complementarity, and therefore are of limited use at present as an integrated approach.

table 1.jpg
table 3.jpg

On one side should not be surprising… I already wrote about how both powers seems to have very different views on which flag states and regions are mostly involved in IUU fishing… but obviously they coincide that China is not involved in IUU fishing otherwise their trade measures could have applied a long time ago ;-)


Hosch, Gilles. 2016. Trade Measures to Combat IUU Fishing: Comparative Analysis of Unilateral and Multilateral Approaches. Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).

Hosch, G. & Blaha, F. 2017. Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance – Country level support for catch documentation schemes. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 619. Rome, Italy.


The fishery performance indicators for global tuna fisheries by Francisco Blaha

This has not been the easiest paper to read, yet it has been vey informative, and I cannot denny that the authors (Jessica K. McCluney, Christopher M. Anderson & James L. Anderson) are quite ambitious in this undertaken, furthermore published in Nature gives it substantial weight. Their finding that “… Our analysis reveals that the biggest variations in performance among tuna fisheries are not found among the RFMOs that manage them, but rather among the final markets that they are able to reach…’ put a very interesting dent on the usual criticism of RFMOs, and I like when my small brain gets challenged like this.

The main performers in fishery

The main performers in fishery

The authors evaluate the ecological, economic and social performance of each tuna fishery under the 5 RFMOS using the Fishery Performance Indicators (FPIs), which is a rapid assessment instrument comprised of 68 outcome measures that was developed by two of the authors (C & J Anderson, plus quite a few others) in 2015), where  each Likert-scored from a low of 1 to a high of 5, along with 54 measures of governance and management enabling conditions that may affect performance.

oner could criticise that, as we say In Spanish: “el que mucho abarca poco aprieta” which roughly translated means ”the one that covers a lot, can only squeeze very little”, yet that comes with the turf when you tackle big issues in a research like this one!

As said is good informative paper, and I recommend you read the original, I’ll just quote the Abstract the Discussion and a the very interesting figure of this paper.

We characterise the ecological, economic, and community performance of 21 major tuna fisheries, accounting for at least 77% of global tuna production, using the Fishery Performance Indicators. Our analysis reveals that the biggest variations in performance among tuna fisheries are driven by the final markets that they target: international sashimi market tuna fisheries considerably outperform a comparison set of 62 non-tuna fisheries in the Fishery Performance Indicator database, international canned tuna market fisheries perform similarly to the comparison set, and tuna fisheries supplying local markets in coastal states considerably underperform the comparison set.

Differences among regional fishery management organizations primarily reflect regional species composition and market access, despite stark variation in governance, management, and other enabling conditions. With a legacy of open access, tuna’s harvest sector performance is similar across all fisheries, reflecting only a normal return on the capital and skill invested: industrial vessels slightly outperform semi-industrial and artisanal vessels. Differences emerge in the post-harvest sector however, as value chains able to preserve quality and transport fish to high value markets outperform others.

Volume-weighted averages of tuna fishery FPI scores. Fisheries are grouped by by final product market (Output panel    a   ; Input panel    b   ) with a comparison to all non-tuna FPI case studies (grey solid field), governing RFMO (outcomes panel    c   ; enabling conditions panel    d   ), and industrial scale of production (outcomes panel    e   ; enabling conditions panel    f   ) with a comparison to non-tuna FPI case studies (yellow solid fields). Radial axes reflect volume-weighted average of the dimension score, with higher scores interpreted as better performance only in the outcome panel. On the outcome panels, a pink outer ring indicates the dimension of the Ecology indicator; orange, the dimensions of the harvest sector indicator; and beige, the dimensions of the post-harvest sector indicator. On the enabling condition panels, shades of green indicate dimensions comprising different components of the enabling conditions

Volume-weighted averages of tuna fishery FPI scores. Fisheries are grouped by by final product market (Output panel a; Input panel b) with a comparison to all non-tuna FPI case studies (grey solid field), governing RFMO (outcomes panel c; enabling conditions panel d), and industrial scale of production (outcomes panel e; enabling conditions panel f) with a comparison to non-tuna FPI case studies (yellow solid fields). Radial axes reflect volume-weighted average of the dimension score, with higher scores interpreted as better performance only in the outcome panel. On the outcome panels, a pink outer ring indicates the dimension of the Ecology indicator; orange, the dimensions of the harvest sector indicator; and beige, the dimensions of the post-harvest sector indicator. On the enabling condition panels, shades of green indicate dimensions comprising different components of the enabling conditions

Tuna fisheries represent a significant portion of global fishery volume and value, providing food, key nutrients, and a source of essential income to coastal states whose primary resource is fish. We characterize where the benefits of 21 major tuna fisheries—representing up to 96% of global tuna production—are accruing, and where there are differences in management and enabling conditions that may affect those outcomes.

Our analysis reveals that the biggest variations in performance among tuna fisheries are not found among the RFMOs that manage them, but rather among the final markets that they are able to reach. Harvest sector benefits are comparable across fisheries, as historical open access and leaky limited entry has limited harvester returns to the market return to the capital and labor used.

This is reflected in low scores for fisheries with low capital investment and unskilled harvesters, and in moderate scores in capital-intensive fisheries with higher operational skill. On the other hand, there is significant variation in benefits in the post-harvest sector, determined largely by how successfully processors are able to maintain the quality of the catch and distribute it into the highest paying global markets. 

This has important implications for current efforts by aid agencies, foundations, and NGOs seeking to identify ways developing coastal states can leverage the tuna stocks in their exclusive economic zones into sustainable sources of food and economic growth. Many of these efforts focus on strengthening coastal states in negotiating better access agreements with harvesting nations, or participating directly in the harvest sector.

While fisheries have the potential to provide supernormal returns to the capital invested reflecting resource rent, tuna harvesting demonstrates only moderate performance relative to other fisheries, with differences in benefits among tuna fisheries tracking only the level of capital that must be invested at each scale. This suggests current management is not allowing for the generation of significant resource rent, and therefore that policies designed to capture resource rents from the harvest sector will have limited potential.

Instead, there is more potential value in products currently being sold at low prices in local markets because simple infrastructure and handling practices do not capture or maintain export quality. While such a strategy would export micronutrient-rich protein from developing coastal states, this analysis highlights that tuna sold in local markets generates significantly less value for harvesters and processors than that sold in the international canned and sashimi markets.

Many poor coastal states face geographic, infrastructure, and capital market disadvantages, and thus are excluded from the benefits of processing. This income, if captured locally through wages, returns to local capital, or resource rents, can be used to support a broader economic base, and the opportunity to purchase a more diverse diet on the world market. 

However, this analysis illustrates the importance of who is likely to own and work in facilities that improve value, and thus capture benefits from them. A small developing state may not have many highly skilled jobs, such as industrial purse seine captain, but it also lacks the skill base; if needed in a domestic fleet, those jobs would be filled by someone with international training.

Similarly, moderate-income states often do not enjoy direct economic or employment benefits from processing plants, as local community members lack the skillset or capital to own or manage the plant, and a migrant workforce is often utilized for unskilled labor positions. While these experiences do not mean that expanding harvest or processing sector development in a particular region will not provide a local boost, they should introduce skepticism about where there are potential gains from the tuna industry.

In addition to identifying broad strategies, these benchmark FPI case studies can be used to identify areas for investment by providing points of empirical comparison, highlighting areas where tuna performs well, as well as opportunities for improvement in fisheries with similar enabling conditions. Within each of the RFMO-level fisheries, there is considerable heterogeneity, and individual countries or fleets can compare themselves to their RMFO fleet average, or to identify peers from which they may be able to transfer best practices.

Once a desired improvement is identified, the FPIs provide a framework for developing a theory of change. Stakeholders can choose outcome measures on which they would like to improve, and the specific enabling factors the project will modify. The FPIs can support the narrative arguing the changed enabling factors lead to the desired improvement in outcomes by providing empirical evidence, drawn from other case studies that have tried similar interventions. A well-supported narrative helps entrain stakeholders and potential funders who wish to distinguish successful approaches.

 As the project is implemented, progress through the narrative can be tracked by rescoring the FPIs. While any project should invest most of its monitoring and evaluation budget in data processes that support more precise measurement of its target enabling factors and outcomes, the FPIs’ rapid assessment strategy provides an affordable approach to broad-based monitoring beyond those specific project objectives, either for (possibly unintended) changes arising directly from project activity, or for exogenous changes which may affect the project priorities or the narrative supporting the theory of change. Further, the FPIs can be used for ex-post project evaluation of previous investments to identify whether and when particular strategies establish long-term sustainable benefits.

The volume and value of global tuna fisheries represent an important source of both food and income for millions of people, many in low-income or developing countries. While the RFMO system has been largely successful at curtailing overfishing of tuna stocks, healthy stocks have not led to uniformly high economic and social benefits.

As with many allocation issues, disagreement about the distribution of those benefits has hindered improvements, and the consensus-driven international resource management bodies are not structured to resolve these issues. The FPIs highlight where fishery benefits are accruing, and where there are opportunities to improve or reallocate them.

By drawing on comparison fisheries who have preceded in targeted reforms, it is possible to develop an understanding of what initiatives successfully improve outcomes under similar enabling conditions. This understanding will be used to inform governance, management and market improvement strategies for tuna fisheries, in order to sustain and enhance the environmental, economic, and community welfare benefits generated by them.

How emerging data technologies can increase trust and transparency in fisheries by Francisco Blaha

I have discussed here before the potential limits of the new technologies coming into fisheries, and to some of my friends I may have sounded a bit cynic, yet I have said in the past these technologies prove it can be done, but without the enforcement of mandated trade associated tools like a Catch Documentation Schemes, transparency along value chain will not happen.

Data Technologies… don’t you have a welding machine?

Data Technologies… don’t you have a welding machine?

The fishing companies that have been using the present examples of these technologies are not the ones that are the problem… the ones that are not involved, nor want to be involved, nor have an economic drive to be transparent are the ones that we need to bring in… and I don’t see another way, other not just import conditions, but export ones too… no fish leaves the country if there is no proof of legality and that product being accounted for.

And there is a lot of info out there that pins massive hopes in these technologies if those are the only thing we need… Hence when reading in this Marine Science paper by Wolfgang Nikolaus Probst: … “Blockchain, data mining, and AI will not stop IUU fishing, will not prevent overfishing and discarding. But they may help to make global streams of fish and seafood products with the associated flow of money becoming more visible and transparent” … I thought… Nice! That makes sense to me.

Is an interesting paper, that describes Blockchain, Smart Contracts, Data Mining and Artificial Intelligence in an accessible way. But also explores the combinations in between some of these Technologies.

I do quote the abstract a comparative graph I found interesting and the conclusions, yet as always read the original accessible here

The ubiquitous spread of digital networks has created techniques which can organize, store, and analyse large data volumes in an automized and self-administered manner in real time. These technologies will have profound impacts on policy, administration, economy, trade, society, and science. This article sketches how three digital data technologies, namely the blockchain, data mining, and artificial intelligence could impact commercial fisheries including producers, wholesalers, retailers, consumers, management authorities, and scientist. Each of these three technologies is currently experiencing an enormous boost in technological development and real-world implementation and is predicted to increasingly affect many aspects of fisheries and seafood trade. As any economic sector acting on global scales, fishing and seafood production are often challenged with a lack of trust along various steps of the production process and supply chain. Consumers are often not well informed on the origin and production methods of their product, management authorities can only partly control fishing and trading activities and producers can be challenged by low market prices and competition with peers. The emerging data technologies can improve the trust among agents within the fisheries sector by increasing transparency and availability of information from net to plate.

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 8.41.51 PM.png

This article can only sketch some potential applications of block-chains, big-data analysis and AI in fisheries. Currently implemented examples and existing literature are too scarce to provide an in-depth review. Each technology will most likely evolve further, leading to unforeseen opportunities (and risks). Thus many of the described applications may never become realized, or their implementation may come with drawbacks which are not yet to be foreseen. But it is unlikely that the economics and management of fisheries will not be significantly affected by any of these technologies. Thus it is rather a question of when and how enhanced data technologies will find entrance into the world’s fisheries.

Blockchain, data mining, and AI will not stop IUU fishing, will not prevent overfishing and discarding. But they may help to make global streams of fish and seafood products with the associated flow of money becoming more visible and transparent.

In fact, digital data technologies may work best in fisheries, which voluntarily intend to demonstrate their compliance to laws, management rules, and consumer demands or which are looking for a self-controlling mechanism to foster trust amongst competitors.

Such systems may even evolve in areas, where governmental fifisheries is currently weakly developed or totally absent, because fishermen may want to organize themselves to reduce conflicts and improve trade opportunities.

Finally, in many situations, these technologies might allow governmental authorities to improve surveillance of industry compliance and consumers to place better informed decisions on which product they would like to purchase.

Empathy, place and identity interactions for sustainability by Francisco Blaha

I see my self as a grounded person when it comes to very lofty ideals in term of technologies or solutions to existing problems. I guess it comes with my background and the fact that according to the World Bank, I work in a world where 45% of the population lives below 2USD/day and 71% below 10 USD/day… most of the people I deal with need to care more about eating tomorrow than about the future

fruit seller for transhipping FV in Rabaul, PNG

fruit seller for transhipping FV in Rabaul, PNG

Hence good and nice “words” like empathy don’t tend to cut into my world view… but then big part of my work revolves around empathy, place and identity, as a necessary part of the setup when you ‘literally” live in different societies for more than half my working year, and the pother 1/2 the year in a country i consider now my own… but I still an immigrant.

So reading the title of a paper that brings into the big picture of sustainability the concept of empathy, place and identity interactions did totally called my attention. Even if is not fisheries paper!

I like to be open minded in regards new approaches to our present problems… obviously the solutions we tried so far are not totally working, so let try different approaches… in the worst case scenario we will be not worst off than now.

I quote the abstract and the conclusions, but as always read the original and make you own mind about it. In my case it did made me think… and I really like when that happens!

Sustainability science recognises the need to fully incorporate cultural and emotional dimensions of environmental change to understand how societies deal with and shape anticipated transformations, unforeseen risks and increasing uncertainties. The relationship between empathy and sustainability represents a key advance in understanding underpinning human-environment relations. We assert that lack of empathy for nature and for others limits motivations to conserve the environment and enhance sustainability. Critically, the relationship between empathy and sustainability is mediated by place and identity that constrain and shape empathy’s role in pro-environmental sustainability behaviour. We review emerging evidence across disciplines and suggest a new model exploring interactions between place, identity and empathy for sustainability. There are emerging innovative methodological approaches to observe, measure and potentially stimulate empathy for sustainability

Empathy is, we argue, a critical but hitherto neglected variable in sustainability research because of its central role in human-environment relations. Evidence across disciplines has shown how empathic and emotional engagement creates cultural meaning and embeds the environment and pro-environmental behaviour in place-oriented norms and institutions. In the same way as the creation of exclusionary identities facilitates the demonization and exploitation of marginalised groups, so the distancing of humans from nature creates the conditions for over-exploitation of nature and disconnection from the biosphere.

These processes have been implicit in sustainability models in many disciplines: here we posited that empathy can promote sustainability when individuals have empathic relations with the consequences of environmental harm, when they have inclusive identities beyond their locality, and when empathy promotes collective responses.

The key limitation alluded to throughout this paper is that empathy for others is not sufficient for action. We have argued that empathy for nature, embedded as it is in relation to place and underlying identity processes or identities, is similarly limited because of the complexity of those relations.

Indeed, much evidence shows how attachment to place can both promote sustainability and act as a barrier to progressive action arising from particular circumstances.

Adding analysis of place and identity can provide important insights into how and why empathy might be related to sustainability. We show how these relationships are mediated through dynamic social processes around the meanings and construction of place and identity.

Better understandings of the empathy-sustainability relationship, and the mediating roles of place and identity, can inform policy domains from climate and environmental policy, urban planning, economic and trade policy, to international relations.

First, in order to avert unexpected negative impacts, it is important to account for the inadvertent impacts of policy on people’s place and identity and what this means for who or what they feel empathy towards.

Second, understanding how to enhance empathy offers different policy pathways for realizing sustainability outcomes.

It may be possible to enhance absolute levels of empathy that are durable over time, but it is also possible that empathy is a relative emotion whereby enhancing empathy in one direction diminishes it in another or where enhancing empathy in the short-term has implications for longer term emotions and actions.

These issues suggest the value of empathy, place and identity interactions as a cutting edge for sustainability research

The FFA register of vessels of "good standing" is online by Francisco Blaha

I’m been an advocate of transparency on my own life for a long time, mostly because the principle that if I put my life out there, yet I may face some risk to be signalled for my defects… but I rather have that that than be accused of hiding or being dishonest.

on good standing…

on good standing…

Same with fisheries... yes we have issues… like anyone else, so the more we put out the better we can deal with them and better the light gets pointed on those ones that are trying to hide things.

Here in the Pacific we have two main vessels registers, the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels that holds all the vessels or all the countries fishing in the region as listed with the details provided by the flag states, and then the one of Pacific Island Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) 

FFA is a quiet giant in the fisheries world, for 40 years has been responsible for the biggest fishery in the world (the Pacific Tuna fishery) and made up by some of the smallest countries in the world. And they do good work, as shown by the recent Stop IUU Award the got.

Anyway, the FFA Vessel Register procedures act as a basic entry level requirement into the region that ensures vessel operators provide a minimum set of registration elements; meet the FAO Standard Specifications for the marking and identification of fishing vessels and is reporting automatically, normally and consistently to the FFA VMS. 

FFA Vessel Register procedures are additional to any national registration and licensing procedures required by FFA members, that may require additional National licensing procedures prior to issuing a license to fish.

Any application received which contains information that is incorrect, inaccurate, misleading or incomplete, will be rejected, and the applicant will be informed of the reasons for rejection. 

Any vessel operator that contravenes FFA Vessel Register requirements is likely to have its vessel’s good standing on the FFA Vessel Register suspended or withdrawn, so that it will not be legally entitled to fish in any FFA member EEZ.

And this is quite unique, because it involves all vessels (of any nationality) fishing in the waters of the 17 member countries (Cook Is, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Is, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and then NZ and Australia) and list them in function of their “Good Standing”

The FFA Vessel Register procedures act as a basic entry level requirement into the region that ensures:

  • operators provide a minimum set of registration elements;

  • FAO Specifications for the marking and identification;

  • Monitored by and reporting to the FFA VMS;

  • Subject to background checks on IUU lists before registration;

  • Flexible registration period one year.

Those in good standing, mean that not only they have their own flag state authorisation to fish, in the register, that they are listed on WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels, and that thy can have FFA Members National fishing licenses to fish and they can be in the PNA VDS Register (PS & LL under PNA VDS) or US Treaty Licenses.

So this “good standing register” is a very good tool if you want know if your tuna come in principle from a vessel that is legally entitled to fish in the WCPFO.

I think that having this resource on line and searchable is awesome, as allows many authorities and/or consumers to check by themselves the status of the vessels operating in this fishery.

Now if that vessel has done underreporting or fished in contravention of its licensing conditions on the trip that that particular fish comes from… well that is another story… there you need to trust our PSM, our surveillance and a lot of other stuff se do as part of our everyday work.

Surely not perfect, but believe me, everyone is really triying.

Disclosure: FFA has been one of my contractors for many years now and one of my favourite agencies to work with. Over the years I had always good and challenging assignments and I never take their work for granted... many years ago they gave me (remember I’m an immigrant) the only thing one cannot buy… and opportunity and then trust.

The four principles governance of labour in aquaculture and fisheries by Francisco Blaha

As i advance on my FAO assignment*, just found this little FAO jewel initially written for aquaculture (Improving governance of aquaculture employment – A global assessment) but totally applicable for fisheries

prawn farmer in northern Peru

prawn farmer in northern Peru

For the governance of aquaculture (and fisheries) labour, four general principles are important. They are criteria against which institutional roles and policies of the sector should be judged for their impact on sustainability. The four principles are: accountability; effectiveness and efficiency; equity; and predictability.

Accountability: implies greater openness so that enterprises and officials are answerable for their actions. Accountability would be reflected in monitoring and enforcement of labour legislation, with appropriate penalties for violations.

Effectiveness and efficiency: reflect the quality of administration and would require that labour regulations are cost-effective and enforceable. Too often, regulations are imposed without sufficient consideration given to efficiency or capacity to enforce.

Equity: refers to intergenerational but also intragenerational equity. Intragenerational equity can be included in procedures for hiring, for remuneration, and gender fairness.

Predictability: refers to the fair and consistent application of laws and regulations. It also requires transparency with an open, clear decision-making process.

Implementation of these principles in labour practices enhances public acceptance of aquaculture (and fisheries)


*I’m working on a draft FAO Guidance on Social Responsibility in Fish and Fish Products Value Chains. This is one the hardest assignment I had… so thankful to my college and co-author Katrina Nakamura for her guidance (and patience) as I navigate trough these new waters

“Persons of Interest” from a fisheries perspective (and their identification) by Francisco Blaha

It always struck me as odd that we have IUU vessels lists, and that when they capture vessels, they burn it or stuff like that. Yet, we don't do that with cars, and while we actually may impound them, we do go after the driver. We find them, get their license off for periods of time, get demerit point, etc… but also we keep track of recidivism. Vessels don't commit offences, people on board do, either by them self or on behalf of the vessels owners, so why we take it on the vessels?

definitivelly PoIs in the 90s… they all retired, dead … or even worst: one is a consultant!

definitivelly PoIs in the 90s… they all retired, dead … or even worst: one is a consultant!

Identifying Persons of Interest (PoI) is an issue that has been brewing for a couple of years for us in FFA, and I’m on the way to Honiara for our 2nd big workshop on it.

Tracking people is a complex area that mixes legal and operational elements (I come in from the operational side). Legally one of the most critical issues underlying a POI scheme is to decide which persons come within such a category and the accompanying question of whether beneficial ownership should be included as part of the target.

While is quite convenient to have the broadest approach to determining who are POI, is also true that the bigger and the more variables in the data set, the more complicated is it to handle (let me come back later to this)

One of the first things to decide then is the type of “natural or legal persons” are we talking about? And we have quite a collection here.

For the simple Francisco: it should be straightforward… a vessel is allowed to fish against a series of conditions listed in the fishing license, complying with the conditions is the responsibility of the master (aka the captain), and “our record of transaction” is the logsheet, where the signature at the bottom takes on the responsibility of the accuracy of the information provided. And that person is the one I should be interested… yet is no easy in reality

In reality depending on the type, gear and flag of vessel we have a series of operational people on board.

For example, the issue here is that the set up in modern purseiner is quite complex, the days that the master did everything are long gone. Today you may have the master, the fishing master and the navigator, that depending the arrangement of board will be the responsible of the vessel as entity, or the responsible of the fishing operations, hence who is accountable for the logsheet or for deciding when do you set, or to cheat around a FAD during closure for example?

If fact on over half of the US-flagged vessel the captain under American law, has to be American, yet he would be the only American on board and is basically a paper captain… the total command of the vessel is in the hands of the Taiwanese fishing master, I been on board vessels where there was no communication in between these two maters, they could not understand a word of each other… yet the logsheet (in English) was signed by the American master, who may have been in his cabin drinking for half of the trip… so if there have been infringements who is responsible?

The fishing master on a PS is the person that takes command of the vessel during fishing, gives to orders, communicates with the panga, gives the order to the winchman, etc, etc… not an easy job I tell you… yet he is responsible for the fishing.

The role of the navigator (in some vessels they also call them radio operator) is an interesting one, since is the person that will take you to the fish, back in the days he will also do the navigation, but today he has the satellite and oceanographic data as to where to find the fish… but now he is the guy on the FAD plotters checking how much fish is it under each of the hundreds of sonar FADs he (and other associated to him, his fishing master or his company have). But also, this role is changing, since a lot of the data now feed directly to some fisheries biologist or oceanographer in front of 4 screens at the vessels owners or syndicate headquarters that relay that info back to the vessels and say, go here or there… so is not easy…

For most PICs flagged vessels, there are no links in between the responsibilities on board and the flag state, (in some cases there is not even a company representative of the owners in the flag state). Japanese vessels tend to have their own nationals in charge, in fact, fishing master and master tend to be the same and most of the crew as well, Chinese follow something similar… yet there is a more stable difference in between the master, fishing master and radio operator

In LL (longliners) and P&L is much simpler, the master tends to be the fishing master…and in many cases also the vessels owner… yet that is diminishing with time. In the bigger LL you may have a master and fishing master.

Back on my DJ days, days when you were exploring new music I learned to keep track of the producers, most than the artists… those guys where the ones marking the trends, the musicians just played it and the labels sold it.

Similarly, in fishing is a whole other layer of people that have the power of decisions and in some fleets are the deciders, but also like the producers are the ones marking the borders for how their vessels operate…

In fishing, we have vessel owner, beneficial owner, but also company directors, de facto directors, and shadow directors.

And getting to these guys can be very complex or just impossible, as they ownership is hidden under layers of overlapping jurisdictions and shell companies where the vessel Is flagged on an open registry and the company/nies on fiscal heavens. And their relationships to the coastal state where they are fishing is via a Charterer in that country which also defines a further category on PoI.

Now all this is very interesting form the organisational and legal perspective and surely will be dealt with… but from my operational background, my interest is on how do we get the data of this people and how we do know who is who and what role they have, mainly because a straightforward but always forgotten element in data acquisition and management: language.

While in principle can be easy to think that we just ask for the person passport and see if their signature coincides with the one in the logsheet, reality is that fishing in the Pacific is mostly Asian, and all the people involved have names in Asian script, while compliance and databases are designed for western (Roman) script… and here start a further problem.

With my colleges from Tryyg Mat Tracking have been doing very interesting work on the problems of romanisation and reverse of fishing vessels names, problems that are totally transferable to peoples names.

On the image below we can see that a unique Chinese script name, can be written in at least 36 different ways in Roman characters.

thanks Duncan!

thanks Duncan!

Or in reverse, a romanised name can have two different ways to be written in Chinese and these, of course, will have its own ways to be re-romanised

thanks Duncan!

thanks Duncan!

So yes… imagine what it would be to manage a database with all this and at least 7 different PoI? How do you make sense of it (and who is going to do it!)

Yet we still have a big issue here, that is what is the unique identifier here, what do we use to say this person is this person… the western usual combination of name and DoB is more fallible in terms of Asian scripts.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 9.16.48 AM.png

Hence my proposal is to go the biometric way, and nothing easier these days that fingerprints and a picture… at the operational level, we can do that when boarding and getting the logsheet… who’s signature is this one? Ok, that is you? Yes? Can you write your name in the original script here, thank you. What is your position? Fishing master… nice. Here stay quiet while I make a picture and put your thumb in this reader.

What do we do with this? all this gets into a database similar to the one in the airport when you go over immigration, and any issues arising from your operations would be linked to your profile…

And if in the future, we get to: Ah no this is not me! ok… please put your thumb here mate… and all will be sorted.

The type of portable biometric readers I’m thinking are on the picture on the right, standard gear this days.

Yes… long walk till we get this one on track… but you have to start somewhere, and you have to applaud FFA for thinking different and giving this project a go.


PS: when i told my kids the first reaction was how cool it would be if i was going to a workshop of “interesting persons” like a a works where everyone is really interesting! (love that idea)

International Law Enforcement Cooperation in Fisheries by Francisco Blaha

Todays post has been brewing for a year, and it has been in back-burner for a while, is not a topic that I know much, yet Law Enforcement is the upper level of what I do pretty much on daily basis. I help with the operational stuff, we make sure we collect the evidence in the most professional manner and then pass it the to the lawyers and prosecutors.

Beau from RMI is on the job

Beau from RMI is on the job

Obviously, the operational job is key and if you make mistakes there, the defence can use it to discredit the process and the prosecution case fall down, even if we all know the offence was committed… (and I know this, because at some stage in my life, one of my jobs was to find holes on cases to discredit prosecutors)

The more complex the rules allegedly broken, the more complex the evidence collection and chain of custody, and the more chances for the defence to find gaps… and this is particularly more relevant when the fisheries officers and prosecutors don't know a lot about fisheries.

And if this is the case on fisheries working on one jurisdiction only (same flag, coastal and port state) imagine when you deal with multi-jurisdictional fisheries.

In any case, this very good INTERPOL publication “International Law Enforcement Cooperation in the Fisheries Sector - A Guide for Law Enforcement Practitioners” fill a gap by providing a comprehensive (but by no means all-encompassing) resource to enhance and develop the capacity, capability and cooperation of member countries to effectively tackle illegal fishing and associated crimes. 

The Guide is especially intended to aid fisheries enforcement and other agency officers, such as customs agents and vessel registrars, who may not be aware of the types of assistance available to them from other countries and regional and international organizations, or how to secure such help.

This Guide is divided into four chapters. 

The first chapter discusses the reasons for international cooperation in this sector. The first half of the chapter lays out the types of offences covered in this Guide, including IUU fishing, fisheries crimes and other associated crimes; it concludes with an overview of the typology of offenders conducting illegal activities. The second part of the chapter lays out the challenges inherent in coordinating responses between multiple jurisdictions. 

The second chapter lays out the legal framework for combating crimes in the fisheries sector. Because international, regional and/or national instruments can all be used to fight IUU fishing and crimes in the fisheries sector, the chapter presents a selection of relevant international and regional frameworks that establish rules and principles governing the exploitation of marine fisheries resources, as well as available mechanisms for international cooperation.  

The third chapter presents the INTERPOL policing capabilities that may be useful in facilitating law enforcement cooperation. In particular, it provides an overview of INTERPOL’s mandate, INTERPOL’s I-24/7 secure global police communication system, INTERPOL’s notices and diffusions and INTERPOL’s databases and criminal analysis files. It goes on to explain some of INTERPOL’s specialized teams: the National Environmental Security Task Force (NEST), Regional or Global Investigative and Analytical Case Meetings (RIACMs), and capacity building and training for law enforcement.

The fourth chapter is a practical guide for law enforcement practitioners investigating fisheries-related crimes. The first part of the chapter presents a framework to national authorities on available processes for requesting international cooperation in IUU fishing and fisheries crimes. The goal of this section is to provide those national and regional authorities working on matters related to illegal fishing with ideas for tools and processes available to them in order to obtain information and/or admissible evidence from other states.

You should download it and read it, for this entry, I just deal with a part I find quite interesting (and close to my past and present work) and is that Fisheries crimes can occur at any stage of the fishing industry process, and there are three “stages to it” and the guide details some of the most prevalent examples of crimes that occur during each stage.

Preparation Phase

Document fraud: Document fraud is a very common offence in the fisheries sector, as most fishing documentation is still paper-based.  Document fraud may include the production of false documents in relation to a ship’s flag State registration or ownership, or as to a vessel’s name, dimensions or identifiers.  During the ensuing phases, document fraud may consist of, but is not limited to, the following: false fishing licences; false catch and transshipment documents; or mislabelling of fish and/or fish products on export/import packages.

Corruption: Because the fisheries sector is a highly regulated industry, it is particularly vulnerable to corruption. The most common form of corruption is active bribery.  During the preparation phase, active bribery consists of promising and/or giving a bribe to a public official. The aim of the bribe may be the issuance of the necessary documentation for conducting illegal fishing activities, such as fishing licences, or to persuade officials to operate registries with little or no oversight.  Active bribery can also take place during the later stages of the fisheries supply chain. It may aim to circumvent on-board or in-port inspections or to discontinue proceedings concerning the offences committed by the offenders.

Tax evasion: During the preparation phase, tax evasion in the fisheries sector can take place by different means, including through the creation of shell companies or offshore financial centres.  Methods of tax evasion may also include the evasion of import duties on fish and fish products transported across national borders, value-added tax fraud or the evasion of income tax or other taxes. The main methods used to commit tax fraud are disguising the origin of the fish (either the country of origin or the identity and flag of the fishing vessel), under-declaring the size of a catch or mislabelling the products caught or sold.

Money laundering: Within the fisheries sector may take several forms, including the laundering of the proceeds of crimes committed in the course of fisheries activities or of other crimes committed in the fisheries sector. The proceeds of crime may be siphoned into the fishing industry supply chain at many stages. During the preparation phase, offenders can invest illicit funds in new infrastructure, including fishing gear, fish processing facilities or transportation. Illicit funds can also be laundered during the sale of fish at port or by paying crew members in cash.

Catch Phase

Disobedience of an order to stop: When a vessel is caught fishing illegally in the EEZ, (China in Argentina) of a coastal State, a national Fisheries Protection Vessel (FPV) may order the vessel to stop in order to verify the vessel’s documentation. Depending on national legislation, the disobedience of an order to stop by the captain of the vessel can constitute a criminal offence.

Forced labour: Direct links between vessels involved in illegal fishing and vessels exploiting their crew for forced labour have been reported, along with other forms of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, coercion, disregard for safety and working conditions of crew members and even murder. Forced labour can also occur in fish processing facilities.

Sale Phase

Illicit trade: The illicit trade of fisheries products is facilitated by various means. For example, the forgery of catch documentation is simple, especially due to the prevalence of paper-based catch documentation schemes. Insufficient enforcement of fisheries regulations at the port of entry, often due to lack of staff and resources, also allows for the illegal trade of fisheries products.

Food fraud: In the fisheries sector can occur through the mixing of illegally and legally caught fish or the mislabelling of products. Falsification of documents, such as landing or/and transshipment documents, can also constitute breaches of custom regulations as well as food hygiene regulations, which may then pose a risk to public health.

And also I quite like the description of the Typology of offenders conducting illegal activities in the fisheries sector, since IUU fishing, fisheries crimes and other crimes within the fisheries sector are not necessarily spearheaded by single individuals or businesses. They generally involve several individuals from various backgrounds, each playing a specific role in the illegal activities taking place in the fisheries supply chain.

Fishing captains/crew members: Because they are at the forefront of fishing activities, the captain and crew-members of fishing vessels are often the first ones to be held responsible in cases of illegal activities in the fisheries sector. Nevertheless, they should not be considered to be the only offenders involved in these types of offences. 

At this level, the main offences are Corruption/bribery, Document fraud and Forced labour

Vessel owners/corporate entities: The corporate structure behind illegal fishing activities is complex. It often entails an opaque company structure where the legal owner is not the beneficial owner.

  • Legal or registered owner: -   Name on the title of ownership of the vessel (Registration is often in an open registry state)

  • Beneficial owner: -Controls the real activities of the vessel, normally hides behind the registered legal activity, and is the one that mostly benefits from the profits. And usually is owned by front companies registered in international tax havens. At this level the main offences are: Tax fraud, Money laundering, Illicit trade and Violation of national/regional food laws (food fraud).

Administrative and support services: Support services can play a key role in setting up the corporate structure, financial aspects and overall business networks behind illegal activities in the fisheries sector. At this level the offences are mostly Tax fraud and Money laundering

Public officials: Offences can also be committed at various levels within public institutions including within the law enforcement community. At this level the offences are mostly Corruption/bribery and Document fraud.

Interestingly, these when these individuals or entities collaborate with each other to conduct illegal activities in the fisheries sector, they may meet the requirements laid out in Article 2(a) of the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to be considered as an “organized criminal group.” 

According to this definition, a group is considered to be an “organized criminal group” if it meets the four criteria below:  

  • a group of three or more persons that was not randomly formed;

  • existing for a period of time;

  • acting in concert with the aim of committing at least one crime punishable by at least four years’ incarceration;

  • in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.

In this case, as “participation in an organized criminal group” is one of the offences covered by UNTOC (alongside money laundering, corruption, obstruction to justice and serious crimes – crimes punishable with a maximum deprivation of liberty of at least four years), the legal frameworks provided by the UNTOC regarding extradition (Article 16) and mutual legal assistance (Article 18) could apply in the absence of a bilateral, regional or multilateral treaty concluded between the countries concerned.

I could go for ages… but please have a go with this good publication.

About seafood champions and NZ's terrible hate crime by Francisco Blaha

Is always going to be hard to write about anything from NZ after what happened of Friday (I would not believe you are reading this blog and don't know about it)… I’m not will even pretend to be a good enough writer to comment on that terrorism act that took place here. 

in honour and memory of the dead at the terrorist attack in Christchurch 15/3

in honour and memory of the dead at the terrorist attack in Christchurch 15/3

Normally only during elections being an immigrant is forced upon me as part of my NZ identity, but I couldn’t feel too separated, I did my citizenship ceremony in a sea of colours and diversity, yet it seems only superficial now. Friday show us how different is life for others.  

I’m have mostly Eastern European background so is relatively easy to “fit in”, but I need only to travel with my Pacific Island friends to know how racism works… how that sense of “what you want here?” works, even if colonisers are the ones that came this way. 

And while is total cliché, every time I worked in Muslim country I was treated with outmost respect and hospitality… yes of course there are hard to swallow aspects to their set believes, but I can say that about ALL religions,… and trying to dominate each other ain’t never gonna be the solutions to any ‘perceived problem” what ever that may be.

And particularly in NZ, the youngest populated landmass on earth… we all came from somewhere else… from first Maori Waka to the guys that getting of the plane right now… we came wanting a better life… 

Yeap there has been plenty of strife during the colonisation, no doubt… but also a general willingness to amend wrongs and to live peacefully… That feeling was shattered to the core on Friday.

And a my friend Russel Brown eloquently wrote: Perhaps, apart from having the stricter gun laws in place, nothing could have been done to prevent this mass murder. One of the problems with even identifying a likely far-right terrorist is simply picking out his hate rhetoric from the background din of bigotry. They can, to some extent, hide in plain sightBut no more. This must end here. These ideas need to be called out and, where necessary, drawn to the attention of police. Politicians need to stop using bigotry as a lever, media organisations need to stop giving it air. Intelligence agencies must look where they, unaccountably, have not been looking. We may need to talk to our own family members about what they’re reading. We can’t change what happened on Friday, but we can do everything to prevent it happening again.

I soo do hope we can do that…


With this background, is really hard to move on and celebrate something so superficial as being confirmed as finalist at the SeaWeb organised Seafood Champion Awards for 2019, but life has to go on… otherwise they hate and its crime win the day.

The Seafood Champion Awards seek to inspire and catalyze change by providing a platform to recognize those who are committed to overcoming obstacles, seeking novel solutions and fostering strategic partnerships to advance seafood sustainability.

Some very kind souls did nominated me, and obviously they must have done a good job as the selection panel chose me, along a very amazing group of companies, NGOs and people representing their institutions. To be totally honest, is pretty sobering to be considered at that level…. Particularly because, as usual, I’m the only one self employed (as I I don't represent any organisations other than just me), which is quite “out there”. I’m the fisheries equivalent of a freelance handyman or plumber you call in when something is not working, hence to be nominated with the equivalent of construction companies is really humbling. 

So I’m totally thankful to those that nominated me, yet I would not be able to even be considered if it wasn't for those institutions that trust me to the their work, and reality is the while the institutions hire me, the trust comes from the people that work there… I have to totally acknowledge FFA and NZMFAT for the last few years that provided me with the bulk of my works and their support is awesome, then FAO, SPC, PEW, Oceanmind, WWF, SIPPO and the rest… all very great institutions with great people.

But fundamentally, I wouldn’t be here… in fact none of us would (and I mean all of those that are nominated, elected, contracted me, plus the rest of the finalists, plus whoever wins and whoever is there applauding)… if it wasn't for the work of all fishers, observers and fisheries officers on boats and wharves worldwide.

I’m so grateful to those that I work with, that listen to me, laugh with me and trust me… and is the biggest unfairness that none of them would ever be ever nominated… even is the are the real champions in the seafood world.


Pacific handbook for gender equity and social inclusion in coastal fisheries and aquaculture. by Francisco Blaha

As I dive deeper in the decent work condition in fisheries world (and believe me is a BIG world) for the FAO position paper I’m working on, I keep discovering amazing material. The labour component of fisheries and aquaculture is bigger and more complex that I ever imagined, as there are so many angles and layers. Yet needless to say I’m learning a lot and bringing big lessons to my more usual compliance and fisheries development work.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 9.26.53 PM.png

Among the amazing plethora of materials I’m using, I like to bring to attention to the “Pacific handbook for gender equity and social inclusion in coastal fisheries and aquaculture” published a few days ago by SPC’s FAME.

I love working for SPC and the quality of the publications is sine quanon. The handbook here presented is written by four authors and I’m lucky to know two of them (and they are great people!) Dr. Kate Barclay and Connie Donato-Hunt.

And if that wasn't enough it has a quite a few of pictures I took over the years, including one of my favourites ever!

I just going to present the publication, but you should download the original from here.

This handbook is designed to give practical guidance on improving gender and social inclusion in coastal fisheries and aquaculture for staff working in fisheries agencies in Pacific Island countries and territories. It focuses on the responsibilities of Pacific Island governments to help promote sustainable development outcomes for all people relying on coastal fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods.

The book has 5 modules: Introduction, Gender and Social Analysis, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, Government Process and the Policy Cycle. 

The modules are structured around the tasks involved in government work on coastal fisheries and aquaculture, that is, the planning and implementation of projects and programmes, including social analysis, monitoring and evaluation, policy development, community engagement, fisheries management, and livelihood projects.

The intro set it splendidly: 

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 9.33.24 PM.png

Over the last decade, we have made efforts to address the human dimension of natural resource management. When the human dimension is considered in fisheries and aquaculture, it is often in the context of ‘coastal communities’. However, communities are not homogenous – their members have different roles, status and entitlements.

Baseline surveys of communities generally use the ‘household’ as the basic unit. This can result in differences between the roles of women and men of various ages and their power relations being overlooked, even though inequality of household members, in terms of decision-making and income sharing, is often at the root of development and environmental issues.

There was an earlier wave of effort to promote the role of ‘women in fisheries’ in the Pacific, especially in the 1980s. Today there is renewed interest in the area of ‘gender and fisheries’.

This focus on gender equity, equality and social inclusion comes from awareness of women’s critical role in fisheries and management of marine resources, and the importance of everyone benefiting equitably from technical and scientific interventions designed to achieve development outcomes.

Integrating a gender and social inclusion (GSI) perspective in coastal resource management and development improves our capacity to achieve the goal of improving the well-being of all people living in coastal areas.

People use their coastal resources in different ways and develop specialised knowledge and skills related to them.

Women use coastal marine resources to provide food as well as material for handcrafts for customary exchange or income generation. They farm seaweed and sell fish and invertebrates in markets. They often have good knowledge of the marine resources in shallow waters and along the shore.

Men collect coastal marine resources for subsistence as well, but they also go out to sea to catch fish for food and for sale. They may know more about marine life in deeper waters. Men are usually more involved than women in high-value commercial fisheries such as beche-de-mer (sea cucumber), but women also take part in beche-de-mer harvesting in some places including Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

A gender analysis could show that we overlook certain areas of fisheries and aquaculture due to ‘unconscious bias’. Unconscious bias can occur in several ways. We might define fishing and aquaculture narrowly (e.g. based on fishing for sale only) or focus only on activities that men are more involved in, and ignore those dominated by women. 

We think of fishing as something that takes place on fishing boats, and we concentrate mainly on the fisheries that generate cash. For example, in the industrial tuna fishery, fleet employees are all male and fishery access fees are an important source of government revenue. Coastal fisheries that involve using boats and producing fish for sale in markets also tend to be dominated by men.

Women do fish, and their fishing is important for food security, but we notice and value men’s forms of fishing more. Some women use boats to fish, but most of them fish or glean (collect by hand) close to shore in shallow waters where they do not need boats, and their catch is often consumed directly for food, rather than being sold.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 9.49.19 PM.png

We also tend to forget about women’s participation in fisheries because we focus on the point of harvest rather than the whole supply chain. Women make up the bulk of the tuna processing industry workforce. They tend to be more involved in processing and marketing fish from coastal fisheries, including smoking, salting, drying, or cooking fish using traditional and modern methods. In addition, women use seashells to produce handcrafts that have high cultural value and generate income.

 Both women and men share the unconscious biases that cause us to overlook women’s roles in fisheries. This can seriously affect the accuracy of survey results. For example, national Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES) conducted over the 2012–2015 period in various Pacific countries found that women made up only 8% of the fisheries labour force.Fisheries research, however, has found that women’s participation in fisheries in the Pacific is often over 50% when we include gleaning and subsistence fisheries.11,12 It is possible that unconscious bias affected those administering the HIES and those responding, or perhaps the questions were formulated in a way that meant women’s fishing was not picked up.

As said, if you have an interest in this topic, this one of those reference materials that one will keep digging into it!

Report of the Special Rapporteur on fishery workers and the right to food (2019) by Francisco Blaha

Following on my present work on decent labour in fisheries I came across this report by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food which is someone I didn’t know much about, but the quality of the stuff she is producing is fantastic, learn more about her here.

Male Fish Market Maldives

Male Fish Market Maldives

This one I’m presenting here focuses on two aspects of fishery workers’ rights: first, the report details the essential role that fishery workers play in contributing to the food security and nutrition of others, thus enabling the greater realisation of the right to food.

Second, the report discusses the unique barriers that fishery workers face to the enjoyment of their own human rights, specifically the right to food, with special attention to vulnerable groups of fishery workers, including women, children, migrants, and indigenous and coastal communities.

Finally, the report will focus on the obligations of States under international legal frameworks and the potential contribution of the private sector, international and regional organisations as well as consumers to enable the realisation of the right to food of fishery workers in a changing global food system.

I quote here some aspects of the summary, but definitivelly go for the full one if you have the time.

Fishery workers are instrumental to the progressive realisation of the right to food and nutrition, and are increasingly important in the fight against global hunger, as articulated in Goal 2 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (A/RES/70/1). The fishery sector is responsible for supporting the livelihoods of approximately 880 million people, many of whom are among the world’s poorest. Yet, paradoxically, those who rely on fisheries for work and serve as the driving force for the realisation of the right to food of others, encounter formidable barriers to realising this right for themselves.

Failure of States to implement adequate protections for workers perpetuates continued exploitation and impunity for those responsible.

Overview: Quick Facts on Fishery Workers

An estimated 660 to 880 million people, or 10-12% of the world’s population, directly or indirectly depend on fisheries. 120 million people directly depend on fishery-related activities for their livelihoods. 60 million people who are directly employed, full-time, part-time, or informally, in the primary sector. Of the 19.3 million fish farmers and 40.3 fishers, 37% are employed full-time, 23% are employed part-time, and over 15 million work on fishing vessels. 85% of workers live in Asia, 10% live in Africa, 4% live in Latin America and Caribbean.

Women account for 14% of those employed in primary sector, and 50% of the secondary sector workforce, as fish traders, sellers, and processors.

Cannery workers in Noro (Solomons)

Cannery workers in Noro (Solomons)

Small-scale fisheries catch nearly the same amount of fish as industrial fisheries, but employ 25 times more workers. More than 90% of the world's 34 million fishers derive their livelihood from the small-scale sector and contribute to 80% of the total world catch. Women occupy 47% of SSF employment.

Inland fisheries, most of which are small-scale, account for 2.5-6% of the global agricultural workforce. Women represent 50% of inland fishery workers.

Occupational Safety and Health Hazards

According to the ILO, fishery work is notoriously “dirty, dangerous, and difficult,” yet Sates often fail to implement applicable national health and safety regulations due to lack of resources, and difficulties monitoring the sector. In commercial fisheries, approximately 24,000 workers die each year. Most fatal incidents occur at sea, either from over-exposure to heat, sun, and salt water, or dangerous equipment used to catch, sort, and store fish.

Workers of inland fisheries are similarly without adequate safety equipment and may suffer fatal accidents from unstable fishing platforms. In arctic regions, ice-fishers may develop hypothermia. The health of fish farmers is also compromised by prolonged exposure to toxic disinfectants and dangerous antibiotics in the water.

Right to a Living Wage.

  1. Wages and Contracts: No basic minimum wage figure exists under ILO for fishery workers, and salaries are usually less than national minimal wages. An estimated 5.8 million small- scale fishery workers earn less than USD 1 per day. As many activities are seasonal, workers may only receive periodic include, and scheduled payments are paid late or withheld.

  2. Working hours and quotas: Fishers aboard commercial vessels reportedly work 14-16 hours/day, contrary to international labour standards which impose minimum resting requirements. In aquaculture and seafood processing, average working times also often exceed recommended labour standards. Employers unilaterally impose quotas similar to those used in agriculture, forcing workers to work unpaid hours or cut necessary breaks.  

  3. Limited Collective Bargaining: Fishery workers are often unable to exercise their right to freedom of association. Fishery workers work in remote and isolated settings that are not conducive to unionization. Even in less-secluded settings, such as seafood processing plants, employers often warn against unionization 

  4. Lack of Social Protection: Many fishery workers depend on informal work that falls outside the scope of national labour protections. As a result, they do not benefit from social protection schemes. In SSF, most workers operate under oral agreements that lack fixed terms or benefits.

Fish sellers in Vizag (India)

Fish sellers in Vizag (India)

At risk groups

Even when States adopt measures consistent with international law, including CEDAW, women are often without adequate protection from exploitation, due in part, to their informal employment within the fishery sector. In SSF, women’s responsibilities as fishers, processors and traders may be considered occasional activities,

Formal employment for women is often in the post-harvest sector, where women rarely receive child-care or other accommodations and may experience physical and sexual abuse from employers. Women face gender discrimination, with less secure employment than men, and receive lower wages than their male counterparts.

The ILO and FAO estimate that 60% of child labourers, or 129 million children, are working in the agricultural sector, which includes fisheries and aquaculture. Employing children in the industry is considered among the worst forms of child labour, yet it is prevalent in small-scale and aquaculture enterprises. Occupational safety and health hazards associated with the sector have aggravated consequences on children’s health, as they are more susceptible to illness, fatigue, and injury. In Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ghana and the Philippines, fisheries are responsible for two to five per cent of all child labour, and the practice is well-documented in Senegal, the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, Myanmar, and African lake regions.

Migrant workers suffer the most severe forms of abuse, including contemporary forms of slavery, i.e. forced labour, bonded labour, and human trafficking.

Despite protections under international human rights law, an estimated 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery, 71% of whom are women, and 62% of whom are forced into labour. Labour trafficking has been on the rise in Europe, and documented in Ireland, Hawaii, Russia, and Africa, but is most frequently reported in South Asia, where high-ranking brokers traffic thousands of migrants from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar to Thailand, China, and Indonesia each year. Trafficking and forced labour is especially prevalent on the high seas, and is often connected with IUU fishing practices.

Indigenous & Coastal Populations
Nearly 2.5 billion, or 40% of the world’s population, live in coastal zones and rely on fisheries as a source of food, income, and a buffer against economic shocks. This includes indigenous peoples, for whom fisheries are the main source of animal protein, up to 15 times more than the global average, and sites of cultural expression. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Communities acknowledges traditional, long-standing rights to fishing areas and resources, however, the creation of conservation or marine protected areas, large-scale development projects, tourism, natural resource extraction, and industrial aquaculture, threaten rights of indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike.

Legal Framework: Role of the State

International human rights law
States bear the primary duty to respect, protect, and promote the right to food and all human rights of fishery workers under international human rights law. Article 25 of the UDHR, together with Article 11 of the ICESCR charges States with the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the realization of fishery workers' human rights. Relevant to the protection of fishery workers are Article 12 of the ICESCR, which provides for hte right to the highest attainable standard of health, and Articles 6,7, and 9, which provide for the right to just and favourable conditions of work including the right to a "living wage," the right to rest and to reasonable working hours.

While not binding on States, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the 2001 Plan of Action to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing established within the Code of Conduct, set forth recommendations for States to ensure the economic, social, and cultural rights of fishery workers. Guidance for States on realization the right to food generally are included in the 2004 Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security, and for small-scale fishery workers, specifically, in the 2015 Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication.

International labour law 
The International Labour Organization (ILO) provides a formative framework for States to better regulate working conditions within the fisheries sector. The ILO 2007 Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) sets basic standards of decent work for the 38 million workers employed on commercial fishing vessels. The Convention may be extended to the smaller vessels that constitute 90 percent of all fishing vessels, but does not apply to shore-based workers. The Convention also provides jurisdiction of States to inspect compliance of both domestic and foreign vessels. Guidelines for administering the inspections are detailed in supporting resolutions and the Work in Fishing Recommendations (No. 199).

Other relevant ILO instruments include the 2014 ILO Forced Labour Protocol, the ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour, the Palermo Protocol, the ILO Convention on Occupational Safety and Health (No. 155) and the ILO Maritime Labour Convention of 2006. State ratification of these Conventions has been quite slow and most States have not adopted comprehensive international labour or safety standards applicable to the fishery sector. Still, some States have made notable efforts to address on-board exploitation of fishery workers.

Other relevant international treaties
Protections for fishery workers may also be derived from commitments in multilateral and bilateral treaties. Unfortunately, States do not always take advantage of relevant provisions, as is the case for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, which could be used to combat contemporary forms of slavery in commercial fisheries.

Monitoring Compliance and Administration of Remedies
States are responsible for protecting the rights afforded to fishery workers and for administering appropriate remedies for violations consistent with international law. Yet, human rights cases involving fishery workers is quite limited, despite well-known abuses throughout the sector. In part, this is due to weak inspection regimes that fail to seriously investigate allegations of abuse. Many workers lack the opportunity to seek remedy due to informal working arrangements or migrant status. Unregulated recruitment agencies often escape liability for fraudulent or illegal practices and depriving workers of legal recourse against vessel owners or recruiters. Recognising the heightened difficulty of monitoring treatment of fishery workers aboard vessels on high-seas, some States have turned to vessel monitoring and global positioning systems, though not all States have the capacity to do so.

Extraterritorial Obligations of States
It is the principal duty of States to regulate, monitor and investigate the activities of their domiciled corporations under national law or through intergovernmental instruments and voluntary codes of conduct such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011). The Special Rapporteur has addressed the particular challenges in holding transnational corporations accountable for human rights violations in global supply chains where jurisdictions are often blurred.

The 2017 United States case Ratha v. Phatthana Seafood, demonstrated the difficulty in holding a demand State responsible for the violations of its suppliers. Collaborative regulation among States can therefore help crack down on violations. For example, the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) is the first binding international agreement to specifically target IUU fishing activities

Foreign crew on a Taiwanese Longliner in Koror (Palau)

Foreign crew on a Taiwanese Longliner in Koror (Palau)

Legal Framework: Role of the Private sector

Private actors along the supply chain must take proactive measures to eliminate exploitative working conditions and to implement protections consistent with international law. Instituting fair recruitment practices that prohibit the use of brokers or agents may reduce the risk of human trafficking and forced labour. Seafood suppliers and major retailers may also adopt risk assessment tools that screen for high-risk zones of forced labour and reveal potential abuses within their supply chains. Third-party audits, for example, have the potential to increase transparency and hold companies accountable to the public, but it remains up to private actors who commission the audit whether to publicly release the findings of these studies, and of course, how to address violations.

Privately-funded initiatives and partnerships with States designed to track IUU fishing have the potential to further identify violations of fishery workers’ rights at sea. Global Fishing Watch, Project Eyes on the Seas, and Fish-I Africa, for example, help governments and the private sector flag illegal activity. In 2017, nine of the world's biggest fishing companies with a combined annual revenue of about USD 30 billion signed the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship initiative to protect the world’s oceans, pledging to help stamp out illegal activities, including the use of slave labour. This effort marks the first time that industry actors from Asia, Europe and the United States have jointly committed to ending unsustainable practices.

Fisherman in Dharma (India)

Fisherman in Dharma (India)

Role of Fishery Organisations

The FAO, the ILO, and International Maritime Organization continue to advance awareness of the socio-economic value of fisheries and conditions facing workers. The ILO is leading international dialogue on forced labour and trafficking in fisheries, while the FAO has introduced programs, such as GLOBEFISH, and collaborated with other UN Agencies to monitor the sustainability of global fisheries and call for State commitments consistent with the SDGs. The FAO is also working to understand the specific needs of small- scale inland and capture fisheries and to promote policies and programs that enable them to build resilience in the face of dual challenges from globalisation and climate change.

Civil society and non-government organisations, including those with fishery workers as members, are critical for supporting these initiatives, empowering workers and ensuring that States are engaging in efforts to provide protective measures. There is also a broader Global Fisherman’s Movement, with chapters in the United States, Canada, Japan, Senegal, Chile, Italy and Norway, that focuses on safeguarding common access to oceans and protecting food security of the world’s fishers.

Particularly in the context of small-scale fisheries, fishery organisations can help challenge the prevailing assumption that small-scale fisheries do not significantly contribute to macroeconomic indicators.The World Forum of Fisher Peoples, for example, is comprised of 29 member organisations from 23 countries and represents over 10 million fish people. The Forum has helped promote a human rights-based approach to the implementation of the SSF Guidelines and advocated for more inclusive decision-making. The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers similarly monitors issues that relate to the livelihoods of fishery workers and help prepare guidelines for policy makers that often integrate a gender perspective on issues facing small-scale fisheries.

Role of Consumers

Fish rank third in the top five products at risk of modern slavery imported into G20 countries—approximately USD 12.9 billion worth of seafood may be products of modern slavery. Most consumers who purchase fish are unknowingly part of an abusive supply chain. Certification and labelling schemes relevant to fish are voluntary and primarily focused on the sustainability of the product rather than conditions of supply chain workers and do not take a human rights-based approach when evaluating labour practices.

Persistent consumer demand for specific types of fish, such as tuna, salmon, shrimp, not only perpetuate overfishing practices, but are more likely to result in worker exploitation, as companies will try to cut worker protections to maximize profit. Meanwhile, global trade guarantees the availability of fish at affordable prices. Diversifying consumption of fish species beyond shrimp, salmon and tuna, and seeking out additional information will indirectly reduce the risk of worker abuses. Consumers should also consider purchasing fish through a Community Supported Fishery model, which seeks to directly link small- scale fishermen to consumers.

Small Scale Fisherman in Quetzal (Guatemala)

Small Scale Fisherman in Quetzal (Guatemala)

Select recommendations

The Special Rapporteur recommends that States:

  1. Improve human rights protection for fishery workers, including those informally employed, especially those in presently vulnerable categories.

  2. Adopt and enforce legislations criminalising contemporary forms of slavery practices in the fisheries sector.

  3. Collect data pertaining to human trafficking and labour exploitation.

  4. Adopt laws, programmes and policies to decrease child labour.

  5. Implement binding rules introducing due diligence mechanisms to allow those affected to hold supply chain actors accountable for human rights abuses.

  6. Ratify all ILO and IMO conventions relevant to workers in the fishery sector.

  7. Adopt and enforce laws and regulations to improve working conditions.

  8. Set a minimum wage corresponding to a “living wage” for all workers.

  9. Adopt and implement binding safety regulations adapted to the specificities of fisheries sector, based on, among others, the 2005 Code of Safety for Fishermen and Fishing Vessels.

  10. Implement social protection schemes.

  11. Guarantee the right, including for migrant workers, to establish and join trade unions.

  12. Devote appropriate resources for an effective functioning of labour inspectorates in fisheries, as per the ILO Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81)

  13. Inform workers of underlying rights and available remedies

  14. Provide safe channels for undocumented migrant workers so that they can anonymously report violations without fear of retribution.

  15. Enact, implement and enforce national legislation that addresses structural violence and discrimination against women in the fishery sector.

  16. Require use of mandatory labelling systems and enable consumers to participate in defining relevant policies.

  17. Fulfil their commitments with respect to SDGs 1, 2 and 14.

  18. Fully implement the SSF Voluntary Guidelines.

  19. Prevent overfishing and IUU by developing and protecting fish sanctuaries.

  20. Adopt measures to address fish waste and marine pollution.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that International organisations, including ILO, FAO, UNICEF and OECD:

  1. Develop policy recommendations and guidance for States

  2. Increase transparency into supply chains and guiding the private sector.

  3. Develop regulatory mechanisms for commercial fishing and aquaculture

The Special Rapporteur recommends that private actors:

  1. Ensure that wages and working conditions for fisheries workers improve.

  2. Eliminate exploitative working conditions and implement protections

  3. Fund third-party audits to increase transparency to reveal exploitation.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that consumers:

  1. Diversify purchases to include fish and fish products that in lower demand and not associated with IUU fishing practices and exploitative working conditions.

  2. Purchase fish and fish products directly from fishers, cooperatives, or suppliers with more transparent, and less expansive supply chains.


Economic benefits of FAD set limits throughout the supply chain by Francisco Blaha

the economic benefits for FAD sonar buoys makers are undisputed

the economic benefits for FAD sonar buoys makers are undisputed

In my quest keep learning more about FADs, I came across this very interesting new paper that tackles the issue from the economist perspectives, and is authored by 3 colleagues  I have came across the Pacific from time to time.

Fisheries economists are an interesting and very diverse tribe in the fisheries world, and in particular among consultants. Over the years most of the ones I have meet, have opened my eyes to new ways to see some aspects of fisheries work from angles I didn't see before (and I love when that happens), while with others I wonder if they actually understand anything about fisheries. Yet I’m sure these latest ones, see me as an arrogant brut that does not know anything of economics!

But from being a fisherman I know that “everything has advantages and disadvantages” and any measure is a compromise, furthermore people will by nature “rig any game” based of either beneficial (as seen from the interested party) incentives or disincentives. And is in the quantification and qualification of those areas where I have learned the most from the good fisheries economists.   

The paper’s abstract sets the scene quite clearly.  

Fish aggregating devices (FADs) have over recent decades, become an integral tool in commercial tuna fisheries due to their increased efficiency over free school catches. Technological development has further aided in their increased usage and reliance by many fleets. The negative consequences of FADs include higher rates of non- target species such as juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas. Management of this negative consequence has to date been undertaken by spatial and/or temporal closures to fishing. These closures can result in an economic burden to fishermen via reduced catch rates, coastal states trying to sell access rights to fishing grounds at the same rate with no closure in place, and canneries through variability in supply and subsequent volatility in market prices. This paper examines the economic benefits of replacing closures with FAD set limits which place a hard limit on the total number of FAD sets that can be made in any given period. The analysis indicates that economic gains can be achieved at all levels of the supply chain from the fishing vessel through to the consumer.

As always, please read the original, I just quote here the discussion and conclusions, and at the end I put my 5 cents, on an area that I never seen involved as a variable on most economic papers I read.


Outside of a direct quota system, set limits represent arguably the best option for managing the catch of small and juvenile tunas and other species in the purse seine fishery. This is essentially due to the effective capping of effort, restricting the potential for effort shift. FAD set limits therefore represent a more precise management approach than closures in terms of achieving management objectives such as restricting the impacts on small and juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

However, more precise management typically also requires more management resources to effectively implement. While there may be reluctance to implement such additional resources, the economic benefits across all stakeholders may well justify the additional expense within RFMOs.

One of the greatest challenges with FAD management is that the negative impacts from FAD usage on juvenile bigeye and other associated species are not felt within the purse seine fleets that utilise FADs.

Consequently, a seasonal closure on FADs reduces profits for purse seiners, but most of the benefit of such a measure goes to other fleets that target the more valuable adult bigeye and yellowfin. The incidental catch of these tunas in the purse seine fishery utilising FADs has led to a more rapid reduction in stock size and a decrease in maximum sustainable yield. The purse seine fleets that rely most heavily on FADs generally target skipjack, as opposed to bigeye and yellowfin, and therefore do not feel the negative impacts of decreasing yields. Calls by the longline industry, dominated by developed distant water fleets, for a reduction in FADs, have been met with significant resistance from fleets and coastal states that rely on FADs for skipjack catch. While closure periods clearly represent a burden to purse seine fisheries, moving to the higher precision management of set limits represents a lesser degree of economic burden.

The implementation of FAD set limits with scarcity values will likely raise the political minefield of allocations. This becomes more complex due to the spatial variations in FAD usage across RFMO areas due to both fish behaviour and fleet preference.

However, some RFMOs already use allocation systems within both catch and effort contexts and thus these systems could also be modified to produce an agreed FAD set allocation.

FAD set limits have economic benefits over closures across almost all stakeholders in the supply chain. From allowing flexibility to operators of purse seine vessels through to potentially less volatile market conditions and the opportunity for increased economic returns to coastal states. FAD set limits also result in economic benefits for the longline sector through providing a more effective cap on the purse seine impacts to bigeye and yellowfin stocks. Indeed, when assessing the potential impacts of various FAD closure options, stock assessment models incorrectly assume that the closures operate as effective FAD set limits such that a 1-month closure represents an annual reduction in FAD sets by 1/12th. This has resulted in less realistic projections since the shifting of effort to outside the closures are not accounted for. Moving to a FAD set limit will therefore likely also bring a higher level of confidence to stock status projections.

Economic benefits of FAD set limits extend from the flexibility afforded the fishing company to be able to pick and choose when to set on FADs, a decrease in reluctance to purchase fishing access days and an increase in the stability of the market price. Assigning a number to FAD sets places a hard limit on that specific type of fishing effort and thus assigns a value to the permit to set on a FAD. This scarcity value may then potentially be traded amongst fleets or vessels or amongst coastal states, creating another market mechanism for income generation. This in turn creates economic incentives for some fishing vessels to avoid FADs. In areas such as the WCPO, set allocations could also be bundled with access agreements such the PNA's VDS. This however could have a disproportionate effect on the VDS if the rents from trade don't go back to the fishing fleet. The added value from the tradeable FAD set limits could be offset against the value of the access fee. Further economic modelling will be required to better understand those trade-offs.

A hard limit on FAD sets may also drive increased efficiency within the purse seine industry. With increasing use of technology in FAD fishing, most FADs are now equipped with GPS beacons, making the FADs easy to find, while echosounders provide the ability to estimate fish biomass underneath the FAD. The implementation of a limit in the number of FAD sets will introduce a scarcity value and incentivise vessels to make the most of each set, only travelling to and setting on FADs with a decent size school of fish underneath.


Closure periods to limit the adverse impacts of FAD fishing represents an imprecise management measure that while simple to implement, can be easily circumvented via effort shift outside the closures.

Moving to the more precise management measure of FAD set limits has both economical and biological benefits and with FAD technology rapidly developing, the implementation of precision management is no longer beyond realistic feasibility.


My 5 cents: one of the issues I don't see reflected normally is that whatever decision is taken there is a associated cost of compliance… our team in the Marshalls spends a lot of effort trying to assess if sets during FAD closure are not associated to FADs… yet I wonder how they expect us to be dealing with controlling a maximum number of FADs for each vessel, when we don’t have the capacity to associate independently FADs to one vessel, even less to shared ones by syndicate, company or just masters that are friends. There are ways to associate a register a FAD signal to a vessel and use VMS to link proximity… but we still depend of the FAD owner to actually register the FAD… if they don’t how we know?. One could try to “force” the providers to register all FAD the sell to FFA or PNA, yet good luck with that.

To rely on Observers to do FAD compliance work is a minefield that exposes them to even further pressure. These “compliance options” costs should be part of the equation too.

A further option I would like to see analysed is the pros and cons of a full closure of the fishery as the they do on other RFMOs (3 months). Lots of vessels do voluntarily “tie up” during FAD closure at the WCPFO as they don’t make money from FAD free fishing only, others burn their subsidies during this time (I was told Chinese vessels that are part of a MSC certification get 20% increase in fuel subsidies) or work at a loss just to be there, because the competitors are.

And here is a perverse incentive, because the FADs still out there, is just you cannot use them... so you been over 3 weeks out and only have 1/3 of your boat full... your income (captain and crew are on catch shares) depends on bringing more fish, and you can see that one of the FADs is full of fish... the temptation is really high to either try to bribe the observer or cheat by  playing with different ways to make a FAD set look “FAD free” (maybe a topic for another post 😉)

So there is a opportunity to make FAD closure a “Fishery closure” without much fuss... And yes while there are to be associated costs in terms of “revenue” loss for states during that closure (i.e. port usage and fees to a point, since many of these vessels still need ports for refit, maintenance, services to vessels, etc) but are also chances to used that “breathing time” to re-focus work, do upgrades, do training, meetings, …

I believe that people think that vessels (and institutions) can work “maintenance less”, but I don't think this is necessarily good (or economically efficient), so… while closures do have costs, there can be “non tangible” gains associated to them that normally I don't see usually quantified and/or qualified.


As I said before, I’m always surprised by the quality of my readers! and here is just and example of this: A colleague I admire a lot, yet wishes to remain anonymous as he does not want his opinions to be linked to the institution he works for, raised two great points on a mail after reading this post, I quote them here:

  • Avoiding night setting (i.e. starting a set before the sun is up when it is difficult for the observer to see what is going on, and when it is unlikely that a free school has been spotted) helps the observer, but this has never had any traction at WCPFC. 

  • The main point of restricting the number of FAD sets is to restrict the relatively high catch of non-target species and small tuna. And the catch composition of FAD and free-school sets is sufficiently different that SPC can pretty accurately work out which sets are free-school and FAD sets just by looking at the proportion of different species in the catch from each set. We now have 100% observer coverage and observers sampling each set. Which suggests to me that we might be able to stop restricting the use of FADs entirely, and just limit the catch and landing of more than a certain amount of non-target and small fish – which is the ultimate aim of the FAD restriction anyway – and leave it up to skippers to decide how many FAD sets they want to make. It would be up to them to decide how much risk of going over their limit of FAD associated species they wanted to take, by adjusting their ratio of FAD sets to free-school sets. (This is quite possibly a silly idea – others may already have ruled it out for reasons I haven’t thought of yet)

I personally think that this two contributions are gold, in particularly as we advance on issues of data integration and real time data access.

On leadership, geopolitics and having low salaries by Francisco Blaha

I got a bit of slack from the conservative corner of the MCS world for a response I did to a question of my friend Brad Soule from OceanMind during the last session of the Bangkok IMCS workshop. So I just want to emphasise the record and reiterate my personal views, as some topics do not get touched at the MCS meetings. And I know I’m fortunate to be relatively independent and sometimes bring these issues to the table without many consequences.

I think not may in the crowd git the HIpHop reference of the title

I think not may in the crowd git the HIpHop reference of the title

I just had finished my presentation on what we do in regards PSM for the Marshalls and how did we got to the MoU with Thailand. And the question that Brad asked something like: What you think is needed to have more countries ready to collaborate internationally in terms of transparency at the case you just presented?

Certainly, if I had a “one-shot” answer to that, surely, I would be a more expensive consultant, so I thought a bit and here is more or less what I said (with added context)… I think it involves 3 elements:

Leadership: I tend to bring everything down to boats, and we know that decisions are taken on the bridge. The boat goes where the captain decides for good or for bad. In the Marshall’s we are lucky that we have a progressive skipper (I wrote about Glen here), and I’ve seen in action the boss of Thai DoF ( Dr. Adisorn Promthep), and these guys are unusual and very confident, yet that leadership has a price. Because while you are changing stuff, there is a lot of people after your head, furthermore there is not always the political space for the skipper of an institution to make a difference (either small or big). Which bring me into the 2nd part of my answer:

Politics: fish is money is politics… it would be naïf to think otherwise. Furthermore (and is not the first time I said this) when politics and fisheries get-together, they seem to bring the worst of both to the surface, and the scene becomes sewage quite fast.

Fishing is the main game in town for many developing nations, is a natural resource that belongs to its citizens yet is out is sight and mind… so the interest of some in politics is to maintain it in obscurity, so mismanagement is not noticed.

Furthermore, in all those regions that allow for DWFN access, fishing has long not been only just fishing but part of geopolitics. We in the Pacific are the scene for a turf war in between China and Taiwan for quite a while now, as well as a space for Aid for Fish tactics in some cases (one main donor keeps bringing to the table a bridge they donated in the ’80s every time bilateral access is discussed and is now 2019!).

Many PIC countries side with Taiwan; hence the Taiwanese fishing industry negotiates access through bilateral negotiations. While China officially has not deals with this country, it gets involved normally via a Chinese citizen that has that island nationality and sets up a fishing company that is being seen as “local” and bring in Chinese FV as charters and joint ventures as to undermine the TW hold on the access… sure it also acts in vice versa when a country has diplomatic ties with China. The key issue here is that in not about fishing anymore… I know fishing companies in the Pacific that build massive infrastructures like wharves and huge factories that operate at a meagre % of its full capacity, yet they never go broke! Here in NZ a company working on those conditions and without subsidies would be in receivership in months, yet in the Pacific, they keep going (see this post for a more in-depth analysis on this). In any case, these DWFN keep their interest on high alert for any transparency getting into this world. Which bring me to the last element:

Shit Salaries:  An institution is made of people, and if you want a good crew you need to pay good salaries, and that is not happening in fisheries institutions. Most fisheries (all but one, in the Pacific I’ll say) are bound by being the civil service/public service type structures that has salary bands across of all sections of the employment for the state, independent if you are the person that is in charge of authorising the transhipment of 1.2 million dollars of tuna or controlling the access to the rubbish dump, and that is not right (no issues with the guy in the landfill – he does the job, but the value of their responsibilities are different).

Changing approaches in fisheries institutions requires motivated and talented people, and we have quite a few in the Pacific… but believe me, they are not in their jobs for the money… yes there are some perks with the trips and per diems…. But that does not compensate for the fact that the salaries are shit…. I estimated that the hotel bill for the staying of a week was the equivalent to their monthly salary

People in the Pacific are not individualistic by nature and family responsibilities are very high in the moral agenda, so I believe that their sense of belonging to their land and clan takes them a long way into accepting low pay. Yet where is the motivation to innovate and change if you are going to get paid the same by maintaining the status quo? At the end either you drift (and totally understandable) into mediocrity, or if you are good and can go, you get a job in a regional organisation like FFA or SPC.

I have nothing more than full respect to many of my colleagues in MIMRA and the Pacific for the level of work they do in comparison to the level of their salaries, particularly in taking into consideration the amounts of money coming into their countries from fisheries.

I live at wharf level. But for me, it is evident that If I had the goose of the golden eggs, I make sure I compensate VERY well those who are entrusted to keep her alive, and that is not happening.

And no capacity building or institutional strengthening programme by any regional or international organisation is going to make up for that… you cannot promote and expect excellence if you are not ready to pay for it.

So yea…  here are more or less the ideas behind my answer… to a rather puzzled and uncomfortable crowd

MIMRA establish a collaboration MoU with Thailand’s DoF and announces intention to ratify FAO PSMA by Francisco Blaha

I have been in the 6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop (GFETW) here in Bangkok since the 18 Feb. As we (MIMRA) have been invited to present what we are doing in terms of our Port State Measures system to authorise transhipments.

Happy faces all around!

Happy faces all around!

I say we, because there are 4 of us: Sam Lawni (Deputy Director), Laurence Edwards (Legal Counsel) and Beau Bigler (Fishery Officer) and my self as an Offshore Fisheries Advisor. I was quite keen for all of us to come as we this GFETW is a biennial or triennial conference organised by the International Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) Network to improve and enhance capacity and communications of MCS practitioners around the world. And the fact that we are in Bangkok made it more special.

And while a lot of effort has been focused on the control of Transhipments at sea, transhipments from FV to refrigerated carriers in port, are a vital element in the Pacific tuna fishery and a daily occurrence for us. Thailand is the biggest tuna processing country in the world, and I’ll say that half of the transhipments we authorise in Majuro will be arriving here to be processed, we call it the “tuna highway”. 

From the “transhipment port” perspective, PSM best practices require the port to take a series of steps prior to authorise  port use for transhipment, including: a standardised and integrated process of advance notice and arrival fishing vessel intelligence-based risk analysis using available remote sensing capacities, a transhipment authorization protocol, the estimation of volumes transhipped, and the departure clearance of the carriers with full traceability of fish on board and hatch plan totals.

our MoU in one slide (pic by Lara Manarangi)

our MoU in one slide (pic by Lara Manarangi)

From the receiving port perspective, as the case in Bangkok in Thailand, since the fish on board on board the carriers fish has “not been previously landed”. Thailand’s DoF under PSMA principles has to evaluate compliance on the legality of the catches of each of the FVs, being transported on the carrier, plus the volumes on departure from the last transhipment port as to assess the possibility that the carrier would have received fish on board since the last declared port departure. 

As in many other cases worldwide, the processing states do not have access to the all the compliance tools used by the flag states of the Fishing Vessels, and perhaps most importantly the coastal states where those catches where taken, hence having a direct link of collaboration with the regional port states where those vessels transhipped initially, does facilitate the fulfilment of their obligations under PSMA.

On the other side, only at the moment of reception of the fish at the processing plants in Thailand the verified weights per species per vessels are known, before this, volumes and species composition are based on estimates from the logsheets and observers/monitors estimations, in fact a 2017 FFA study on the quantification of IUU for the region identified underreporting of catches as the region’s biggest treat in terms of IUU. Yet Thailand’s DoF as part of their e-Traceability program does collect all the “weight in” values of the fish originating on each fishing vessels inside every arriving carrier. This verified information available in Thailand is vital further understand the magnitude of the underreporting problem in the Pacific.

Based on the understanding of this reality the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) as the fisheries body of the most important transhipment port in the pacific (>400 a year) approached Thailand’s DoF to establish a MoU for cooperation and exchange of information of common interest and mutual benefit. 

The MoU, signed on 22 February, is the result of over a year-long engagement I have been fostering between these 2 countries I work substantially with, whereby both sides identified that reciprocal exchange of fisheries data was an area of critical importance that would require mutual collaboration between key players, in this case, RMI (Majuro) being arguably the busiest transhipment port in the world and Thailand (Bangkok) as the largest tuna processing and port State.

Beau and Lawrence get to know Makai (Thira), we all work around PSM at both end of the “tuna highway” in between Majuro and Bangkok.

Beau and Lawrence get to know Makai (Thira), we all work around PSM at both end of the “tuna highway” in between Majuro and Bangkok.

With the signing of the MoU, the RMI, through MIMRA, will now be able to receive verified weights of tuna catches that are transhipped in Majuro and offloaded in Bangkok from Thai fisheries inspection officers on a regular basis. 

In essence, this will enable officers on both sides to trace the catch both ways to ensure its legality throughout the entire chain of custody thereby preventing Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. This verified information is vital to further understand the magnitude of the catch underreporting problem in the region.

The MoU is in line with the RMI IUU-Free Pacific initiative as declared by H.E. Madam President Dr. Hilda C. Heine last year. Having this direct link of collaboration with a key player like Thailand further facilitates the fulfilment of obligations under the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which the RMI, through MIMRA, is currently considering signing and ratifying in the near future.

At a personal level it has been a huge 10 days as I facilitated a workshop for PEW and WWF full of people I admire, then presented at global fisheries MCS workshop on what are we doing in RMI, and realise that I’m a consultant to both the gold (FFA) and silver (ThaiDoF/OceanMind) winners of the stop IUU awards! and then facilitating the Marshals-Thailand  MoU.

I’m a privileged and very lucky man‬

The Fisheries MCS world meets in Bangkok  by Francisco Blaha

Like two years ago in Auckland, the people that works around the world on MCS (Monitoring, Control and Surveillance- which are the mechanism for implementation of agreed policies, plans or strategies for fisheries management).get together to a big jamboree were all share what are we doing and connect a personal level.

While is not very obvious at first, some of these powerpoints do help fisheries

While is not very obvious at first, some of these powerpoints do help fisheries

I’m not at all a meeting guy, but this one is quite specific and you get to catch up with people that actually know what you do. 

In my case is again an almost overwhelming experience… I had 42 people coming yesterday to say how much the enjoy this blog and the pictures I make… totally humbling! My biggest thank you to you all!!

Furthermore, I still surprised that with my background, I genuinely enjoy being in place where I’m pretty much the only fisherman surrounded by tons of fisheries inspector without having a hearth attack.

 The jamboree works in two separate meetings:

The Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies Conference (SAFET)

This is the baby from my friend Bubba Cook, which has been a great supported of my blog and my work, so is great to see so many people attending, and lot of good talks going on.

The SAFET started with a modest vision to explore and discover the potential of emerging, and potentially disruptive, technologies that could be applied to improve the conservation and management of our world's fisheries.  The Goals of the SAFET Conference are:

  1. Improve and clarify the understanding of the existing MCS and supply chain traceability environment. 

  2.  Objectively review emerging and advancing technologies that might contribute to less expensive and more efficient MCS and supply chain traceability. 

  3. Advance future implementation of innovative emerging technologies in MCS and supply chain traceability applications where appropriate. 

 Check the list of task here, I’m not a speaker this time (but I took my job as question maker very seriously) but I’m moderator and speaker at a half day PEW Fundation supported workshop called “Effective MCS” and we will be dealing with some key aspects: 

  1. Availability and accessibility of technology/data – scale and scope of coverage, timeliness of data, ease of implementation, effectiveness of technology and affordability / cost?

  2. Path to conviction – how can technology help?

  3. Impacts to legal fishing – how does IUU impact legal fishing efforts, and how can technology help incentivize or encourage other fishers to operate legally. 

And I would be doing this with some very clever crew: Per Erik Bergh from Stop Illegal Fishing, my mate Vivian Fernandez from FFA and Deon Burger form Interpol 

So very much looking forwards to this.

The 2nd event starting next week is the:

6th Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop

The theme for this edition is ‘CLOSING THE NET: Global cooperation between flag, coastal, port and market States for effective enforcement of international and domestic law.’

The GFETW is a biennial conference organized by the International MCS Network to improve and enhance capacity to enforce fisheries legislation and exchange of information and experience between MCS practitioners around the world. Sustainable fisheries can only be achieved when fishing is pursued in compliance with the applicable rules and, therefore, all fishing activities in the world’s oceans and seas should be subject to adequate levels of monitoring, surveillance, inspection and enforcement.

 For decades, globalization, modern technologies and demand for fishery products have placed increasing pressure on global marine living resources. Efforts to sustainably manage existing fish stocks are continuously undermined by enterprises engaged in IUU fishing. The pervasive trend of IUU fishing carries negative consequences not only for legal operators but also for the livelihoods and cultures of coastal communities dependent on fisheries and for food security. Furthermore, IUU fishing may be associated with other crimes undermining for example international labor standards.

The annual costs derived from IUU fishing activities globally has been estimated to range between USD 10 – 23.5 billion. IUU fishing undermines sustainable exploitation of fish stocks, in some cases, to the point where stocks are depleted, the ecosystem is irreversibly damaged and conservation of some species threatened. The International MCS Network supports efforts to build a culture of compliance among stakeholders and a level playing field for operators to the effect that only sustainably harvested and legal fish and fisheries products reach the consumer.

On this one I’ll be a speaker and presenting on what we are doing in Majuro and will be expanding on the details on my next blog.

But yes, even if the thinkers and “leaders” are here… most of the MCS practitioners I work with on daily basis are not here, they are in the wharves of the world doing the vital part of this work, while earning per month less of what we pay for our hotel this week. Please keep them in mind, because they are the real heroes in this job.

A trade restrictive measures for labour violations, the case of the TUNAGO 61 by Francisco Blaha

The use of trade restrictive measures (TREMs), as “trade sanctions“ enacted by a market-state has so far been limited to the IUU side of fisheries, either by closing the market to a country (as in the case of the EU with the red cards) or to individual vessel on IUU blacklist. 

picture from

picture from

These measures to certain extent have worked, even if just in the case of bringing general awareness to the issues at hand. But something that is new is to use the same system for closing the market fish from a vessel in relation to forced labour issues. 

This is quite momentous, as it adds a “end market” tool to an area where compliance based on the multiple players involved has been difficult to set up (these entries discuss the issue)

Last week the US Custom and Border Protection Agency (CBP) issued a withhold release order against tuna and tuna products from the Tunago No. 61 based on information obtained by CBP indicating tuna is harvested with the use of forced labour. The order is effective immediately as of the date of issuance.  

Under 19 U.S.C. § 1307 it is illegal to import into the United States goods made, in whole or in part, by forced labour, including convict labour, forced child labour, and indentured labour. CBP issues withhold release orders when information available reasonably indicates that imported merchandise is in violation of this statute.

The order will require detention at all U.S. ports of entry of tuna and any such merchandise manufactured wholly or in part by the Tunago No. 61. Importers of detained shipments are provided an opportunity to export their shipments or demonstrate that the merchandise was not produced with forced labour.

This is good news, I wrote about the case that may have started the process that got to this outcome. Tunago is well known name in fisheries and notorious flag-hoppers in between Vanuatu and Panama.

Whatever a vessel does abroad and whatever happens on board, is ALWAYS the responsibility of the flag state (and this is strongly engrained in international legislation - see at the bottom of the page) therefore here Vanuatu is ultimately the responsible state for whatever happens in that vessel. Doesn't matter if the owner, and masters of the vessel has no direct relation to anyone or anything in Vanuatu... if Vanuatu can’t take responsibility do to the many constrains they face, they should not be an open registry for fishing vessels. I really hope that this (and surely more forthcoming measures like this one), make Vanuatu rethink their fishing vessels flagging policy or invest in better control systems. 

Yet on the other side there is also responsibility by the Taiwanese vessels owners industry who consistently exploits the weaknesses of the Vanuatuan government and the attempt to whitewash (and spin off) the name of their vessels and their practices by participating in "Fisheries Improvement Projects".

And to a point from the taiwanese government, albeit its not officially their vessel or crew, its new regulations apply to their nationals even if outside their territory. See under Development 4: The incorporation of a labour component in a Taiwan fisheries legislation in that blog entry.

Human rights issues and IUU fishing are not the same and do not “automatically” go hand by hand, yet they work in parallel and exploit the same voids available.

Good one the US CBP for taking this measure, and I wish the best to the team working on more identification of these cases.

Additional information, including how to submit information to CBP may be found at and

Flag State responsibilities have been defined in International agreements since the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under Article 94 of UNCLOS, flag states must oversee the operations of fishing vessels flying their flags and “effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters”. The 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement also mandates this and obliges flag states to investigate “immediately and fully” alleged violations of conservation and management measures (CMM) and apply sanctions “adequate in severity to be effective in securing compliance… and deprive offenders of the benefits accruing from their illegal activities”. The 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries also mandates an approach consistent with this for flag states, but further strengthens and broadens the requirements for the enforcement regimes.

Our new fisheries building in Majuro by Francisco Blaha

I have been in Majuro for over a week now, as part of my work as “offshore fisheries advisor” for MIMRA (the fisheries authority). Yesterday was a big day for us here as we officially opened the new headquarters, with the presence of everyone from the country’s president to the kids of the staff.

Pic by my mate Garry Venus that was in the water at the time

Pic by my mate Garry Venus that was in the water at the time

Why the opening of a building would be such an event? Because I think (my personal opinion) that it means more than just a building, I see it as a statement of independence and institutional maturity from from one of the most progressive and assertive fisheries administration in the Pacific.

The revenues from fisheries in particularly since the set up the Vessel Day Scheme by PNA, have become the main income earner for the PNA countries, since they are rightfully the owners of the fish, while the DWFN are the “renters”. Yet the power was totally in the hands of the renters, and a lot of aid support was tied up to concessions in terms of fisheries access. The PNA secretariat changed that for good, and that shift is being further strengthened year to year.

Yet all the money coming in was absorbed by the many needs that Pacific Islands countries have, and very little was invested in making sure the fisheries administrators (as the custodians of the resource) had the space and tools needed to manage and control their fisheries.

made and paid by MIMRA

made and paid by MIMRA

Traditionally fisheries building in the Pacific were (and are) being donated or built with the support of developing agencies from the DWFN (that are not shy to then use their support to then get cheap access - with the honourable exemption of Australia -no vessels in the region- and NZ - only one)

MIMRA’s management decided to change that and stood firm in making sure that they have the place they deserve (literally) and invested in building their new headquarters, who was totally designed and built out of RMI’s own resources.

And this is (in my view) the statement I was talking above, no one has done this before in the region, and that is what is to be commended.

I said before that I enjoy working here because they have a progressive and independent attitude, they are not afraid to innovate and try different approaches. And that permeates from the leadership down. Glen Joseph (himself a marine scientist and former observer) has been at the helm of MIMRA for quite a few years and has been a champion on this “new” way to see fisheries in the Pacific.

I do appreciate the man both professionally and personally, he has been a total supporter of my works and presence here, (even if I wasn’t the obvious choice for this type of work: dyslexic, ex-fisherman, non-native English speaker) yet since I started working here I believe we have achieved a lot, and he asked NZMFAT to extend my contract for at least another year, which I really appreciated, as I don't take anyone's support of my work for granted at all.

And this appreciation goes to all the people I work with on daily basis, such as Berry (ladies 1st), Sam, Beau Bigler, Melvin, Helmar, Bernard, just to name a few… I’m not made feel as the foreign consultant but as one of the team… and that means a lot to me.

Anyway, enough of that banter! The new building is by far the best of its kind in the whole of the Pacific and I’m particularly happy with the Operations room that is state of the art, we have a direct feed from FFA’s regional picture over 4 massive screens and dedicates VMS and FIMS screens as well as direct link with the sea patrol. (All the technology you see in the pic below was bought under a World Bank Programme)

Glen (the boss) explaining the country’s President (in the yellow dress) the key elements of the control room

Glen (the boss) explaining the country’s President (in the yellow dress) the key elements of the control room

From the MCS and in particular PSM perspective is a bit a wet dream room. Being the busiest transhipment port in the Pacific this helps lot… and we have some big PSM developments for the pipeline that will be announced soon

But the best thing we have space and is amazing what this does to morale you can feel people being amped about their work and their workspace.

So yes, I’m loving the new place and the work I’ve been trusted by my colleagues to do, and if you are by chance in Majuro, come and check it out.

Here are some pictures from it and the inauguration.

From top left to bottom right: the oceanic division, Glenn in his office (he has to coffee machine!), the port operations whiteboard, welcoming flowers and the last two have a story, the minister in his opening speech challenge MIMRA staff to live after the expectation of the job, and we (I was invited to join) all went behind Glen to accept the challenge.

A Model of Mercury Distribution in Tuna from the WCPO by Francisco Blaha

By far the most read blog post I had last year was the one on the relationship of mercury in Yellowfin tuna with location of capture. It seems that more people is worried about eating them than around their sustainability, legality or the welfare of those that catch it… which is saying something!

Figure 1. Observed spatial variation in mercury concentrations (mg kg−1, dry weight) for bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore muscle samples captured in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

Figure 1. Observed spatial variation in mercury concentrations (mg kg−1, dry weight) for bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore muscle samples captured in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

In that post, based on an article I wrote for the SPC Fisheries news, my colleague Valerie Allain (who is a admirably smart colleague doing a lot of amazing work) advanced the news from a paper by a group she is part off, had a much bigger sample size and was focused on the Pacific.

That paper is out, and the findings are very interesting. I hope they put at ease the worries that many people have about the potential consequences on their health by eating a can of tuna or the occasional sashimi or tuna steak. 

I really like that the scope of the paper went beyond of the usual size and explored the Influence of Physiology, Ecology and Environmental Factors on the level in tuna

As usual, I’ll quote the abstract, introduction and part of the discussion (Hg Levels and Spatial Distribution), but please read the original paper, is always better!. (Unfortunately, is paywall protected, so unless you work in rich country and your employer has access to subscriptions or universities, I suggest you contact the authors or use legally grey alternatives such as this one


Information on ocean scale drivers of methylmercury levels and variability in tuna is scarce, yet crucial in the context of anthropogenic mercury (Hg) inputs and potential threats to human health. Here we assess Hg concentrations in three commercial tuna species (bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore, n = 1000) from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Models were developed to map regional Hg variance and understand the main drivers. Mercury concentrations are enriched in southern latitudes (10°S−20°S) relative to the equator (0°− 10°S) for each species, with bigeye exhibiting the strongest spatial gradients. 

Fish size is the primary factor explaining Hg variance, but physical oceanography also contributes, with higher Hg concentrations in regions exhibiting deeper thermoclines. Tuna trophic position and oceanic primary productivity were of weaker importance. 

Predictive models perform well in the Central Equatorial Pacific and Hawaii, but underestimate Hg concentrations in the Eastern Pacific. 

A literature review from the global ocean indicates that size tends to govern tuna Hg concentrations, however regional information on vertical habitats, methylmercury production, and/or Hg inputs are needed to understand Hg distribution at a broader scale. 

Finally, this study establishes a geographical context of Hg levels to weigh the risks and benefits of tuna consumption in the WCPO.


Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant of primary concern to human and ecosystem health. These concerns stem from the physiochemical properties of the different chemical forms of Hg in the environment. Inorganic mercury deposited at the surface of the ocean represents a combination of natural geogenic (volcanic) and anthropogenic (fossil fuel combustion, artisanal gold mining) inorganic Hg sources emitted initially to the atmosphere.

Once deposited in the ocean, a yet unknown fraction of inorganic Hg is naturally converted to the highly persistent organometallic toxin methylmercury (MeHg). The balance between microbial methylation processes and demethylation reactions, dominated by photodegradation in the ocean water column, controls net methylmercury production and availability for the marine food webs.

Depth profiles in the open ocean consistently show that in situ MeHg production is highest in the subthermocline oxygen minimum zone. Further, differences in net MeHg production have been documented across the global ocean1 suggesting that MeHg availability and transfer pathways in marine food webs may also vary spatially.

Human exposure to MeHg occurs primarily through consumption of marine fish species. As MeHg is the dominant form of Hg that biomagnifies in food webs, open ocean pelagic predators (e.g., tuna and billfishes) contain high levels of MeHg, sometimes exceeding food safety guide-lines (e.g., 1 mg·kg−1 of fresh tissue).

Methylmercury in situ net production and availability, food web dynamics, and individual dietary intake and excretion rates are primary drivers of MeHg concentrations in fish tissue. MeHg concentrations typically increase with fish age and size because MeHg is taken-up at a faster rate than it is excreted. Due to the bio accumulative nature of MeHg, an organism’s trophic position can also positively correlate with MeHg concentrations in fish tissues, particularly when a large range of trophic positions are considered.

Species-specific Hg concentration patterns, documented among tuna and other pelagic fish predators, show increased Hg levels with deeper habitats. Increasing Hg levels in deep-dwelling tuna could likely be related to their foraging behavior, as they feed heavily on mesopelagic prey from deep oceanic zones where much of the MeHg is produced. Ferriss and Essington used contaminant models to determine if food chain length and/or baseline Hg variations could explain differences in MeHg concentrations in tuna from two ocean regions in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific.

Data limitations impeded the ability to validate the regional food web models and thus to address the question of the relative importance of these two causal effects. Other studies also reported significant variability of MeHg concentrations in yellowfin tuna between and within ocean basins, but the underlying causes were not investigated.

The main objective of this study is to improve our understanding of regional patterns and drivers of Hg concentrations in three commercial tuna species (bigeye, Thunnus obesus; yellowfin, T. albacares; and albacore, T. alalunga) across the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

The WCPO is a remote oceanic region, exhibiting strong geographical gradients in surface temperature, water column stratification and primary production. These gradients were previously shown to influence tuna distribution, foraging behavior, and trophic position in this region, and as such are likely candidates to affect Hg concentrations. Sub objectives include (i) model Hg at size to standardize the effect of fish size on Hg levels, and (ii) develop generalized additive models to map regional patterns in tuna Hg distributions and identify explanatory covariates among environmental factors (temperature gradient, primary production) and ecological drivers (trophic position).

Finally, an extensive literature review of Hg concentrations in bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore tuna is conducted to discuss broad-scale patterns from the global ocean in comparison to those seen in the WCPO.

Results and Discussion

Mercury Levels and Spatial Distribution. 

Mercury concentrations in our tuna muscle samples from the WCPO are relatively higher for bigeye and albacore compared to yellowfin. Similar differences in Hg concentrations between these tuna species were reported in the Northern Central Pacific Ocean and were attributed to their foraging depth.

Tuna species foraging at depth (bigeye, albacore), below the mixed layer and closer to where MeHg net production is the highest, exhibiting higher Hg concentrations than surface foraging predators (yellowfin). About 11%, 1.2%, and 0.5% of the sample data set for bigeye, albacore, and yellowfin in the WCPO region show Hg concentrations exceeding the food safety guidelines of 1 mg· kg−1 (ww) (estimated to 3.3 mg·kg−1 when expressed on a dry weight basis).

Mercury concentrations among the three tuna species are highly variable at the subregional level. Bigeye show he largest spatial variation in Hg concentrations

The highest yellowfin Hg concentrations (∼0.7 mg·kg−1) are encountered south of 15°S, in the southern part of ARCHm and the eastern part of SPSGm, respectively. 

Yellowfin from the Western Equatorial Pacific regions (WARMm and PEQD) show the lowest Hg concentrations (∼0.35 mg·kg−1).Finally, despite albacore occupying a more southern subtropical habitat relative to bigeye and yellowfin, a southward increase in Hg is evident. Albacore samples located between 15°S and 25°S exhibit higher Hg concentrations (∼1.2 mg·kg−1), relative to those north of 15°S(∼0.6 mg·kg−1) and those from much southern latitudes (30°S-50°S) in Australia/Tasmania and New Zealand areas (∼0.6 mg·kg−1).

Tuna size appears as the primary factor influencing Hg concentrations within species, accounting for 77% and 42% of the total muscle Hg variations for bigeye and yellowfin respectively when fitted with a power-law relationship. Increasing Hg concentration with fish size indicates that Hg intake exceeds Hg excretion rates over an individual lifetime. 

Fish size explains only 34% of albacore Hg variation, but the restricted size range (42−108cm) available in the data set for this species provided less contrast to assess this relationship compared to bigeye and yellowfin. These results suggest that fish size strongly governs Hg concentrations in bigeye, and to a lesser extent for yellowfin and albacore. 

Mercury concentrations at the most southern latitudes in Australia/Tasmania and New Zealand areas are lower than those reported in the southern part of ARCHm. The consistency in these size-standardized geographical patterns suggests that spatially driven ecological processes, and/or local Hg sources, MeHg production and/or environmental factors may be important, additional contributing drivers.

This paper is good news, as gives us in the Pacific the chance to further sustain something we knew, our Yellowfin has very low levels of Hg, but most importantly, could argue for the reduction in the frequency of sampling and therefore the costs for the battled seafood safety Competent Authorities in the region.

Drifting FADs: Who arrives first, tuna or non-tuna species? by Francisco Blaha

I have a keen interest in drifting FADs (dFADS), and I mean everything about them: design, technology, monitoring, operation, functioning, materials, management, and so on… truth is that presently the tuna canned industry depends totally on them, “FAD free” alone will not maintain the present fleet numbers and supply volumes (not arguing that this is good thing at all!), yet “banning FADs” is rather utopic.

So we are stuck with them, and I find it almost bizarre that for a “tool/gear” that the canned tuna industry totally depends on, we still understand very little about them. 

each of these FAD sonar buoy has more “definition” than best SIMRAD sonars on the boat that I was in the 90s

each of these FAD sonar buoy has more “definition” than best SIMRAD sonars on the boat that I was in the 90s

Don’t get me wrong, fishing masters know a lot about FADs (and I love that the authors of the paper seems to have spent a lot of time talking to them), yet is all based on personal experiences and preferences. And as anything else in fisheries is very dependent on where and who with, as a fisher, you learn your trade. Different fleets and sometimes different fishing masters in the same fleet, do the same thing in different ways. 

With 3 to 4 dFDAs per km2 in some parts of the pacific, they don't only congregate fish, but chances are they are changing the schooling behaviour and who knows what are the long term consequences of this (for example: FAD aggregation behaviour could have an evolutionary disadvantage at present levels of FAD associated fishing pressure on skipjack, yet non aggregation can have impacts in terms of reproductive patterns)

So I’m always interested on any research that expands our understanding about them, my interests is both as a fisher and as a scientist. And here is paper by very well know researchers at AZTI in the Basque Country (a very autonomous part of Spain) that has partnered with the Basque purse seine fishing company Echebastar for this research in the Indian Ocean. It would be interesting to see if this research to be replicated for the pacific (and i know that SPC as is working on that)

One of the key criticism for FADs is the levels of bycatch, hence knowing the dynamic of fish species appearing underneath the FAD over time can help mitigate to an extent the issue. While the present generation of sonar buoys is getting better by the month in differentiating on the composition of the schools underneath, having an understanding of the non tuna to tuna “progression” does helps a lot.

As always read the original “Aggregation process of drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs) in the Western Indian Ocean: Who arrives first, tuna or non-tuna species?” (free access), I will just quote here the abstract and the conclusions.


Floating objects drifting in the surface of tropical waters, also known as drifting fish aggregating devices (DFADs), attract hundreds of marine species, including tuna and non-tuna species. Industrial tropical purse seiners have been increasingly deploying artificial man-made DFADs equipped with satellite linked echo-sounder buoys, which provide fishers with information on the accurate geo-location of the object and rough estimates of the biomass aggregated underneath, to facilitate the catch of tuna. Although several hypotheses are under consideration to explain the aggregation and retention processes of pelagic species around DFADs, the reasons driving this associative behavior are uncertain. 

This study uses information from 962 echo-sounder buoys attached to virgin (i.e. newly deployed) DFADs deployed in the Western Indian Ocean between 2012 and 2015 by the Spanish fleet (42,322 days observations) to determine the first detection day of tuna and non-tuna species at DFAD and to model the aggregation processes of both species group using Generalize Additive Mixed Models. 

Moreover, different seasons, areas and depths of the DFAD underwater structure were considered in the analysis to account for potential spatio-temporal and structure differences. Results show that tuna species arrive at DFADs before non-tuna species (13.5±8.4 and 21.7±15.1 days, respectively), and provide evidence of the significant relationship between DFAD depth and detection time for tuna, suggesting faster tuna colonization in deeper objects.

For non-tuna species, this relationship appeared to be not significant. The study also reveals both seasonal and spatial differences in the aggregation patterns for different species groups, suggesting that tuna and non-tuna species may have different aggregative behaviors depending on the spatio-temporal dynamic of DFADs.

This work will contribute to the understanding of the fine and mesoscale ecology and behavior of target and non-target species around DFADs and will assist managers on the sustainability of exploited resources, helping to design spatio-temporal conservation management measures for tuna and non-tuna species.


Many studies have investigated the behavior of tuna [22364751] and non-tuna species [2932] at different spatio-temporal scales around FADs but few of them have investigated the aggregation process of species in detail [4243452]. This is the first-time, to our knowledge, that fishery independent data provided by fishers´ echo-sounder buoys have been used to explore at a fine- and meso-scales the aggregation processes of species at virgin DFADs in the Indian Ocean. The effect of the DFAD depth was assessed in relation to the first detection day and the aggregation dynamics, finding significant differences for tuna and not-significant effects for non-tuna species. The aggregation dynamics of tuna and non-tuna species generally showed an increasing trend during the first 30 days after deployment, but also showed specific seasonal and area differences per group. These differences suggest that tuna and non-tuna species may have different associative behaviors.

In recent years the potential use of DFADs as scientific platforms has been highlighted by the scientific community [2627]. Indeed, echo-sounder buoys represent a very powerful tool to continuously and automatically collect and stream information on thousands of DFADs in a very cost-effective manner. Considering that around 100,000 objects may be deployed annually worldwide [375354], these devices can provide acoustic data on the biomass of tuna and non-tuna species underneath them from all tropical oceans on a regular and effective basis. Fishers echo-sounder buoys have been very useful for the investigation of the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, so these data could also allow scientists to better assess several issues of scientific relevance related to DFADs, for example they could investigate the spatio-temporal distribution in relation to environmental parameters or could produce a fishery independent abundance index for stock assessment [55], among others.

The echo-sounder buoys used in this study provide a single biomass value without determining the species or size composition of the fish underneath the DFAD. Tuna are well known to engage in both horizontal and vertical movements around DFADs [515658] and, although overlap may exist in the vertical range of the three species of tuna, tagging data suggest differences in depth preferences between the species and the different sizes of these species.

Skipjack tuna schools tend to remain in shallower waters, as do small yellowfin and bigeye tuna that are found occupying similar depth ranges as skipjack. However large individuals of bigeye and yellowfin tuna are found at greater depths. This potential segregation has also been observed in the Indian Ocean by dedicated surveys around DFADs using scientific echo-sounders [33]. In addition to this segregation by species and sizes, the vertical distribution of tuna at DFADs may vary depending on different factors, including oceanographic conditions (e.g. thermocline depth or surface and subsurface currents) [5156], total associated fish biomass or number and size of species present at DFADs [36]. Recent acoustic research [59] has found a different frequency response for skipjack compared to bigeye and yellowfin tuna when analyzed simultaneously using multiple acoustic frequencies, based on anatomical differences (i.e. the skipjack does not have a swim bladder while bigeye and yellowfin tuna do).

Incorporating multi-frequency technology in echo-sounder buoys could help in more effective tuna species discrimination at DFADs, with obvious advantages for science and management. Having specific composition information before the fishing set could help to mitigate, for example, the catch of small bigeye, which is one of the most important concerns associated with DFAD fisheries in tunaRFMOs [18], thereby contributing to a more sustainable exploitation of the resources. Future studies should consider improved methodologies and buoy technologies to effectively discriminate between the three species of tropical tuna so that species-specific aggregation processes can be better understood.

In addition to this spatial competence by tuna species and sizes, overlap may also exist between tuna and non-tuna species that occupy different depth layers depending on the time of day or the area. To take this consideration into account, several options were considered during preliminary analyses to choose the time at which the acoustic signal is more representative of the biomass around the DFAD. For example, model the diel biomass estimated by the echo-sounder using general additive models and choose the maximum biomass value between the peak hours.

Another option was to choose the sample with maximum biomass value around sunrise (between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.), since this is the time when tuna and other species are supposed to be more closely aggregated under the DFADs [6063]. However, due to sampling constraints (i.e. sampling frequency is not hourly), using these options would considerably limit the number of samples available in this study. Future studies with more data should consider the use of the above-mentioned options and compare results with current findings. Also, the position of the fish in relation to the echo-sounder beam and its detectability is something to be considered.

Some bycatch species are known to be more strongly and tightly attached to the DFAD (intranatant/extranatant species, see [64]) than tuna species (circumnatant) and thus, may be more easily detected. Besides, some species like tuna make longer excursions out of the DFAD when compared to most non-tuna species [243134]. However, the cone shape of the beam of the echo-sounder, with a larger area with increasing depth, compensates the detectability of tuna individuals. Ideally, future studies should combine echo-sounder buoy sampling around DFADs with dedicated tagged and monitored fauna to infer detectability rates per species and size and assist in acoustic signal interpretation.

First detection day
Our research shows that, in general, the average first detection of fish at DFADs occurs at around 1–2 weeks (~12.2±7.7 days). Previous studies in the field have shown different results. Some works observed a faster colonization of DFADs by tuna, generally in less than a week [52] while others have suggested similar aggregation periods. For example, fishers working with anchored FADs (AFADs) in the Philippines wait 11 days after the first deployment before checking for biomass aggregation [49]. AFADs may be easier to detect and colonize as they are fixed reference points located in areas close to the coasts. In general, the first group to be detected by the echo-sounder appear to be the tuna.

Some authors, based on interviews with fishers and other investigations, have stated that non-tuna species may arrive first at DFADs [1423]. For example, fishing masters of the purse-seine fleets working in the Western Indian Ocean suggested that 1–3 weeks are necessary to colonize virgin DFADs by non-tuna species [23]. However, for tuna, half of them said that aggregation process may not be time-dependent, and the other half said that at least one month is needed. Our results, using fishery-independent data from continuously monitoring DFADs since their first deployment, showed that this time may be shorter than expected. A possible explanation for this is that at the time of the interviews (i.e. 2007) they had just started working extensively with DFADs equipped with echo-sounders and, hence, were not able to accurately interpret echo-sounder buoy information in general, and in particular related to the aggregation process.

Another possible explanation is that non-tuna species may be easier to observe than tuna when fishers approach the object, as non-tuna species are strongly associated with DFADs [65] showing less frequent excursions out of DFAD [232534]. Future studies should consider consulting fishers again on this issue in order to determine whether their beliefs have changed through time due to the extensive use of these technological devices or fishing strategy changes. Indeed, fishing strategy changes may have been occurring in recent years in the Indian Ocean (i.e. smaller soak times before first setting) to try to reduce the potential steal rate of DFADs, and consequently, catches.

Although our results for the first detection day slightly differ from some of the previous works, the differences could be partially explained by the minimum detection threshold of around one ton that buoys have. If the amount of fish aggregated under the DFADs is lower than one ton (as for the conversion done by the manufacturer) during the first few days the object is at sea, the echo-sounder may not be indicating biomass presence, potentially biasing the analysis. This limitation may be significant in the case of non-tuna species, since bycatch species are normally found in lower amounts than tuna species at DFADs (i.e. in a range between 1–5 tons [256667]).However, we do not expect this to have implications for the final results as tuna usually swim in large schools [68].Moreover, Satlink buoys use a method that converts raw acoustic backscatter into biomass using an empiric algorithm based on the target strength and weight of skipjack tuna, which is the main target species of the DFADs’ purse seine fishery. Whereas the skipjack tuna does not have a swim bladder, the majority of bycatch species do.

Swim bladder species normally produce a much higher echo than bladderless ones since this hydrostatic organ, when present, is responsible for 90–95% of the backscattering energy [69]. Accordingly, one ton of the skipjack-based algorithm biomass may not necessarily represent the same amount of non-target species, but probably less, and thus the one ton threshold may not weaken the results and conclusions of this work.

Still, it would be very useful to be able to work without this detection threshold. To overcome this, there is a need to propose collaborations between buoy companies, fishers and scientists to develop a process for a routine, continuous, confidential and RFMO-supported raw data transfer, with reasonable delays, between the purse seine industry and research centers. Access to these raw data would provide scientists information without the threshold limitation, which could help in the investigation of sustainability and the management of the exploited resources.

Influence of DFAD structure on the aggregation process
DFADs’ characteristics can vary between fleets and oceans but in general they are composed of a raft and an underwater part hanging below the object [270]. The depth reached by the structure ranges from 15 to 80–100 meters and is ocean-specific (15-20m in the Indian Ocean, 80-100m in the Atlantic Ocean and around 30m in the Eastern Pacific Ocean) [37], although in recent years a trend toward deeper objects in all the oceans has increased [71].

The study has suggested a significant relationship between object depth and faster tuna aggregation. For non-tuna species, on the contrary, this relationship appeared not to be significant. These differences may be related to the vertical distribution of the species under DFADs. As non-tuna species usually occupy shallower waters (<25 meters) [34] the depth of the underwater part may not affect their detection ability, and consequently, the aggregation process. It may happen, however, that the shape or material of the floating part would be more important than the hanging structure in the aggregation of non-tuna species. Similar works should study non-tuna species aggregation process differences on DFADs with different features of the floating structure.

By contrast, tuna are usually found in deeper waters (i.e. > 25m) [3450517273], and thus, deeper objects might be easier to detect visually. Indeed, the eye is considered the main sense organ of tuna which is better adapted to low light [7475]. However, other senses may also help in detecting the object (e.g. sound, chemical) [7677]. Although the results of this study may suggest that the depth of the underwater structure could play an important role in the aggregation of tuna at DFADs, further studies should investigate in detail the aggregation-segregation phenomenon in relation to sensory cues, as understanding the key drivers of the associative behavior is crucial for the adequate management of exploited resources.

During the first 30 days of the object at sea, the tuna biomass follows the same biomass increasing trend for both DFAD depth categories. However, from that point onwards, there is a decrease of the tuna biomass in deep DFADs. The reasons causing the loss of tuna biomass in deeper objects after the first month are difficult to determine, as there is little evidence and information on the factors driving fish to leave the DFAD. Several hypotheses have been generated by the scientific community to explain why tuna and non-tuna species associate with DFADs [167] but none to elucidate why fish leave them.

The interviews conducted by Moreno et al. (2007) with fishers in the Indian Ocean, pointed out a change in the speed or direction of the drifting object, the presence of large predators, or DFADs entering the continental shelf as the main reasons for fish to leave a DFAD. Future research should combine echo-sounder buoy data along the trajectory of the object with environmental information to investigate the drivers of biomass dynamics around DFADs.

To our knowledge, this is the first time that the depth of the net hanging down has been related to the aggregation process. So far, the effect of the depth has been investigated in relation to the tuna catch species composition. Lennert-Cody and Hall [78] and Lennert-Cody, Roberts [79] found that the species composition of the catch varied with the depth of the net hanging down, suggesting there could be more successful bigeye and yellowfin sets on objects with deeper structures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

However, similar works in the western Pacific Ocean [80] did not find such a positive relationship for bigeye tuna. Related to these investigations, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission considered the possibility of limiting the depth of the underwater part hanging below the FAD [81] in order to reduce the bigeye bycatch, although the measure was not ultimately adopted and it is not being implemented by the fleet. Therefore, since in this study we have found evidence that the depth of the object’s underwater part affects the aggregation of tuna, further studies should be proposed to help to design specific management measures for tuna species.

Aggregation process by periods and areas
The large quantity of data available for this work (42,322 daily biomass observations) provides a high spatio-temporal resolution to study the aggregation process across different seasons. The Indian Ocean is characterized by strong environmental fluctuations associated with monsoon regimes that affect ocean circulation and biological production [39]. Changes in biophysical factors associated with seasonality (i.e. chlorophyll, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen) may play an important role in the aggregation dynamic of tuna and non-tuna species. Our first detections were consistent for all the monsoon periods analyzed (i.e. tuna were always detected earlier than non-tuna species at DFADs).

The first detection days of tuna species at DFADs were statistically different across seasons, with a maximum difference of 2.5 days. Despite this result, when the analysis was made between seasons, we only found differences for arrival time among the winter monsoon and summer monsoon and autumn intermonsoon periods. In relation to the aggregation dynamics, the maximum biomass is reached later (i.e. after 40 days at sea) in summer and autumn periods in comparison to other seasons. These differences may be related to changes in productivity between periods. A strong upwelling occurs in the Western Indian Ocean in the summer monsoon season [82], where cold and highly saline waters with a high nutrient content are pumped up, producing an increase of primary production along the coast of Somalia [8384] which can spread more than 500 km offshore [85].

This productivity increase may make floating objects less attractive for tuna as enough prey concentration may be available in the surface environment. On the other hand, productivity is significantly lower during the winter monsoon [86], where not only both tuna and non-tuna species arrive earlier at the DFADs in comparison to other seasons, but the biomass also peaks earlier compared to the summer and autumn periods. It is known that the distribution of large predators, like tuna, is affected by productivity [87], but the relationship between productivity and DFAD attractiveness remains unclear.

This work hypothesizes that productivity and DFAD attractiveness may be inversely related. Future research at different spatio-temporal scales should link acoustic information with remote sensing variables, including chlorophyll-a, to analyze whether, and how, environmental conditions are related to the aggregation dynamics of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs.

It is important to highlight the different trends that have been observed in the SE Seychelles from December to April-May, while for the rest of the year all areas showed similar trends. During the winter monsoon the fishery is usually located in the SE Seychelles and Chagos areas in search of FSC [88], where schools of yellowfin and bigeye tuna happen to be feeding or spawning in surface waters [89]. The difference in the observed aggregation dynamics in the SE Seychelles area coincides with the FSC fishery season, which could affect the species composition in the area and, hence, the aggregation dynamics around DFADs.

In addition to environmental features, other factors could also affect the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, such as the density and abundance of the population and of the DFADs. Robert, Dagorn [36] suggested that social interactions underlie aggregation processes. Because tuna biomass seems to increase after the deployment of a DFAD, we could interpret this to mean that tuna associative behavior may be dependent on fish density [90], and thus, an increasing abundance of fish at DFADs could lead to stronger attraction and retention behaviors [24]. Moreover, an overall saturation point observed after approximately 30–40 days may indicate that after a certain specific period, the aggregation of tuna could be compromised. Therefore, DFADs could contribute to the formation of large schools and the optimal school size [91] during the first 30–60 days at sea.

each of the cost around 2 tons of skipjack…

each of the cost around 2 tons of skipjack…


Fishing around DFADs has become the main strategy used by tropical tuna purse seiners in recent years [11]. The concern surrounding DFAD fishing generally comes from the uncertainty about the impacts it produces (e.g. a higher level of bycatch, alteration of tuna movements, impacts on the habitat, etc.). To consider new and alternative management options, it is necessary to improve our knowledge of the key factors driving the species aggregation-segregation processes with floating objects.

This study contributes to better understanding of the tuna and non-tuna aggregation mechanisms in relation to both the DFAD structure and deployment seasons. In summary, the first detection day of fish at DFADs was around 1–2 weeks and differed significantly between tuna and non-tuna species. Although fishers consider that deeper DFAD may favor faster and larger fish aggregations [2], this aspect has never been investigated in detail in relation to the aggregation processes.

The analysis showed a significant relationship between object depth and colonization of tuna, suggesting a faster tuna colonization for deeper objects. For non-tuna species this relationship appeared not to be significant. The Indian Ocean is characterized by strong environmental fluctuations associated with monsoon regimes and seasonal variability in fishing grounds [92] and catch [93]. Therefore, analyzing the aggregation process in different periods could help with designing spatio-temporal management measures for tuna fisheries.

The aggregation dynamics differed between monsoon periods in both tuna and non-tuna species. These differences could be explained by changes in the biophysical environment associated with seasonality, although there may be other social factors affecting the aggregation process of tuna and non-tuna species at DFADs, such as the density and abundance of the local tuna population or DFADs.

The results of this research can be used to assist in working for the sustainability of tuna fisheries and may help to design management measures for tuna and non-tuna species, such as optimization of fishing activities.