Key ocean nation outlines how voluntary guidelines can set a clear policy framework for enhanced regulation, monitoring and control of at-sea transfer of fishing catch
Fishing is a crucial part of life for people throughout the world and the industry contributes to the food security, economic prosperity and cultural identity of many people, including communities throughout Canada. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the sustainability of our ocean on a global scale. To tackle IUU fishing, authorities must have access to vessel identification, authorization, license and tracking data. With this information, they can make informed decisions about the risk of IUU activities being conducted by vessels that they register, license to fish in their waters and allow to land in their ports. Flag States are responsible for the activities of their registered vessels, however they may not have the information they need to make decisions on other, foreign-flagged vessels which meet at sea to transfer catch.
Transshipment—the transfer of catch between vessels—plays a vital role in the commercial fishing industry. Each year thousands of fishing vessels offload fresh catch like tuna, crab and small pelagic fish onto refrigerated cargo vessels called carriers, commonly referred to as “reefers,” which then take it to shore for processing. This allows fishers to avoid a costly and time-consuming trip back to port, increasing the freshness and value of their catch. However, it can also open the door to the laundering of illegal catch, the trafficking of forced labor and other crimes.
Without adequate monitoring, transshipment can threaten the legitimacy of fishing operations and undermine efforts to eliminate IUU product from supply chains. Recognizing this, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and its Member States have started work to develop and endorse voluntary guidelines for the regulation, monitoring and control of transshipment. The guidelines will build upon an in-depth study which recommends that progress be made regarding seven key considerations on transshipment—definitions, authorizations, reporting, monitoring, data and information sharing, new technology, and traceability.
In an effort to showcase real-life examples of inadequately regulated, controlled and monitored transshipment activity related to IUU fishing, Global Fishing Watch, International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network, The Pew Charitable Trusts and TM-Tracking are working together to evidence a need for enhanced regulation, monitoring and control of transshipment activities.
As a key ocean nation, Canada is keenly involved in this process. TMT spoke to representatives of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada with experience on these issues about the FAO voluntary guidelines. Their combined expertise is summarized below:
Why is effective regulation of transshipment so important?
The biggest challenge related to transshipment is the lack of transparency, and effective regulation is pivotally important in addressing transparency gaps and driving further improvements. We need transparency for successful implementation of the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures —a policy designed to prevent IUU catch from being landed in ports—and for greater visibility of products that have been landed in ports. This will support traceability from catch to plate. A need for consistent regulation of transshipment can be seen in the fact that measures on transshipment vary significantly across different regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). We can strengthen transshipment measures and make them consistent across the RFMOs through one set of harmonized voluntary guidelines, in addition to creating compatible sharing protocols between RFMOs. This will help prevent unscrupulous operators seeking to conduct IUU from exploiting gaps in regulations. Many RFMOs have developed measures on transshipment, with ongoing efforts to improve these conservation measures to tighten up operations involving transshipment.
We also need effective regulation of transshipment to support observer programs, which are a key tool and should be proliferated where appropriate and safe, at cost to the vessel owner and in tandem with new monitoring technologies. Some observer programs are cost-prohibitive, may be narrow in their coverage and are susceptible to necessary health and safety limitations due to the coronavirus disease. Effective regulation, supported by data transparency and electronic monitoring and technology, are more important than ever to bridge the observer gap.
While the guidelines will offer a way to regulate transshipment, they are voluntary in nature, and so should be fully reflected in binding domestic policies and regional measures that have enforcement and penalty provisions.
New monitoring technologies used to provide data/analysis of transshipment activities.
Which key considerations highlighted in the FAO in-depth study require most attention?
All of the considerations have a role to play in improving the monitoring and control of transshipment activities. Authorizations have to become more transparent and publicly available. The sharing of authorizations is paramount to allow the other factors to work harmoniously. All other considerations depend on the availability of authorization data, which currently may be patchy or outdated. Timeliness of the publication of authorizations is crucial for their effective regulation. Once we have a grasp on the authorizations, we can make effective risk assessment and subsequent decisions on where to apply resources, where to deploy additional human or electronic monitoring or other new technology to validate the authorizations, and where to focus our enforcement assets.
There is ongoing assessment of what data is available now, where there are gaps, where transshipment is occurring and what reporting we are missing. But, we must consider the needs of developing States and those with limited resources, particularly in port. Enhanced regulations such as those developed by the FAO will assist inspectors in the monitoring and control of transshipment activities, and new and innovative technologies offer significant opportunities to assist with identifying encounters and loitering events. When combined with appropriate in-port training, these advances can help validate transshipment reporting.
An analysis of transshipment activities in port is another area that should be explored further. In doing so, we would not only increase effective enforcement response, but also aid transparency in fish supply chains. We should also focus on Flag States responsibilities, so that the burden does not always fall to the port States, which may have limited capacity for extensive in-port control processes.
Duncan Copeland is the executive director of TM-Tracking. Courtney Farthing is the international policy director at Global Fishing Watch.