The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has released a briefing that details documented evidence of vessels illegally transhipping fish at sea, the connection between the transfer of fish and illegal “pirate” fishing and that exposes traceability and transparency flaws, which allow laundered fish to penetrate the European market.
According to the EJF, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing causes global losses estimated to vary between US$10 (€7.829) billion and US$23.5 (€18.399) billion per year. West African waters have the highest levels of IUU fishing and it represents up to 37 percent of the region’s catch; in West Africa, this problem also severely compromises food security and the livelihoods of coastal communities as well as marine health.
Via its efforts to eliminate IUU fishing in West Africa, EJF has obtained evidence that the transshipment of fish from one vessel to another frequently facilitates the laundering of IUU fish because coastal and flag State authorities cannot monitor how, by whom and where transferred fish was sourced.
This fish then can regularly enter the EU market because there was no detection to keep pirate fishers at bay. Developing coastal countries lack the logistical capacity to inspect vessels at sea before the transshipments take place and thereby ensure that the fish has been caught legally.
“The complications involved in monitoring large-scale transfers of fish at sea, mean that any transshipment of fish from one vessel to another can currently obscure illegal activities,” Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, elaborated. “Transshipment adds to the opacity in global fisheries that enables pirate fishers to operate in the shadows, far from supervision and regulation.”
“Fish is being caught illegally in the waters of West Africa, transshipped at sea and ‘laundered’ under a legal vessel’s paperwork to end up on our plates in Europe,” he added. “EJF is calling for urgent action to address the issue and ban transshipment at sea, which is hindering the transparency required for global fisheries to be managed effectively and fairly.”
The new EJF briefing gives recommendations for urgent action, such as asking Coastal States to ban transshipment at sea and collaborate with neighbouring countries and international partners to control their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). It is also encouraging the EU to close access to the European market for fish that was transshipped at sea without effective monitoring.