New Report from Security Think Tank Calls For Greater Transparency in Global Fishing

Photo: Stimson Center

A new report from the Stimson Center, a global security think tank concludes that globally the fishing industry — particularly fishing vessels that ply waters far from their home (“the distant water fleet”) — is unsustainable and the only way to reign it in is through much greater transparency so that these vessels’ movements and catches can be more closely monitored by governments and NGOs.

  • The largest distant water fleets (DWFs) — those from China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Spain, are able to operate for the most part in the shadows with “little to no insight into vessel ownership, the conditions aboard such ships, or access agreements” to fish in the waters of developing countries.

Why This Matters: According to the authors, the bottom line is that because distant water fleets have no effective global oversight, they are fishing unsustainably (and possibly even illegally) and that will lead to destabilizing food shortages in parts of the world that can least afford them, like East and West Africa and the Pacific.  The secrecy surrounding these fleets leads to significant global security problems — lack of information about where these vessels operate, who owns them, the amount of fish that is caught, how fish is shipped and transshipped to market, the human labor practices onboard, and whether the payments to developing nations for access to fishing are fair and equitable.  Until these distant water fishing vessels are fully tracked and monitored, our oceans and global security are at risk.

Distant Water Fleets Fish Where Their Practices Are Opaque

The authors of the report found that distant water fishing vessels are more likely to fish in coastal countries where governance enforcement capacity is low, and thus are much more likely to engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in a developing coastal nation’s waters.  Why?  There are three primary factors: economics, the degree of governance and enforcement capacity, and political influence.

  • Economic incentives in the form of subsidies, the market value of the fish type, and the proximity of various fisheries to markets all drive the actions of DWF fleets.
  • The countries with weaker fisheries governance in their waters are much more likely to have distant water fleets fishing there, thus increasing the risk of IUU fishing in a developing coastal nation’s EEZ.
  • And “quid pro quo deals” for access to fishing in the developing coastal nations’ waters with little transparency around them leads a much greater potential for government corruption.

The authors conclude that the only way to cure these fatal flaws in the current system of fishing by distant water fleets is for the “international community, DWF states, coastal nations, and the industry itself must improve transparency and accountability for DWF fleets while taking the necessary steps to safeguard global fisheries for future generations.”

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