C4ADS report names companies involved in global IUU fishing trade

Published on
August 14, 2019

The Spanish firm Sea Group SL, South Korea’s Sajo Systems, and several Chinese conglomerates, including the Beijing State-Owned Capital Operation and Management Center and Pingtan Marine Enterprise Limited, which is listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market, were each named in a new report tying them to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.

The report, "Strings Attached: Exploring the Onshore Networks Behind Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing," was released 14 August and was produced by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. that researches transnational security issues.

The report names IUU fishing as just one tentacle of a larger onshore system of illegal business activity that poses risks to the sovereignty, national security, and economic development of many of the world’s nations. 

“By framing IUU fishing as a problem linked to onshore crimes and facilitators, governments and law enforcement can rely on additional authorities to pursue the networks that sustain vessel activity at sea,” the organization wrote in its introduction to the report. 

In its research, C4ADS investigated more than 2,000 entities, including companies, individuals, and vessels, associated with IUU activity around the world and tied them into 29 different networks connected to IUU fishing or associated crimes, collectively controlling 150 vessels. 

The report provided authorities a means for identifying illegal activity at sea. In a large-scale analysis of all of the IUU incidents it studied, C4ADS found common behavior that indicated or revealed potential IUU activity at sea: More than 80 percent of the incidents it studied involved the manipulation or disabling of AIS signals; 60 percent of incidents involved alteration of vessel identifiers or flag registrations; and 30 percent involved transshipment. C4ADS found that these at-sea risk indicators were largely the same around the world and that the presence of one or more indicator provided a red flag for suspicious activity.

However, even when vessels are caught violating laws prohibiting IUU fishing, their corporate owners often escape with minimal fines and hardly any longer-term punishment, C4ADS found. Besides the above-named companies, C4ADS also identified China’s Honglong Ocean Fishing and Fuzhou Honglong Ocean Fishing Co., and Indonesia’s PT. RMI and PT. Media Maritim Tegal as perpetrators of IUU fishing. But it said all of the companies in its report have thus far avoided any significant punishment for their actions.

Building out from at-sea vessel activity to onshore ownership is a key step toward targeting the ultimate owners and networks behind IUU fishing and determining how they continue to exploit vulnerabilities within the global fishing sector to operate with impunity.

“Weak existing penalties for IUU fishing allow companies and individuals to factor in associated fines as a cost of doing business,” the report said. “IUU fishing should be targeted alongside the crimes closely linked to it, including document and customs fraud, human trafficking and forced labor, money laundering, and more. Addressing IUU fishing in conjunction with its associated crimes can establish new avenues for enforcement to go after bad actors in the fisheries sector. To do this, trainings are necessary to build capacity for inter-agency cooperation that includes fishery officers. Additionally, domestic fishery statutes should be updated and standardized across jurisdictions to more clearly define IUU fishing infractions, increase penalties, and hold the ultimate beneficial owners of the vessel responsible as opposed to the crew. Penalties that are proportional to the value of the vessel’s IUU catch or the value of the company’s revenue will be more effective as an appropriate deterrent without causing undue harm to small-scale fishermen.”

But even with stricter penalties and harsher enforcement, many companies engaged in the business of IUU fishing will still escape justice without the imposition of other measures, C4ADS said. The organization pointed to “broad regulatory loopholes” that prevent authorities from “holding IUU vessel owners to adequate standards of due diligence and information reporting.”

“[Regional fishery management organizations], flag states, and coastal states must increase reporting requirements for vessels and vessel owners to create a model of enhanced due diligence,” the report recommended. “To do so, these entities should require vessel owners to report ultimate beneficial ownership when registering with a flag state or requesting authorization to fish. Access to ultimate beneficial ownership information would help regulatory and enforcement efforts detect, track, and disrupt investment in illegal fishing vessels within the fishing sector.

Additionally, better data collection and aggregation will help cut down on continued bad behavior, as many vessels that engage in IUU fishing often repeat their offenses, operating “with impunity,” C4ADS said. The group applauded the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ development of the Global Record of Fishing Vessels but said the list “would be strengthened further by the development of a universal unique vessel identifier for the global fishing fleet that can be used to confirm vessel identity from point of construction, including changes in name, flag, or ownership.”

“Access to this information would curtail IUU operators’ ability to tamper with vessel identity to gain access to ports, fishing grounds, and flag registrations,” it said.

Lastly, in its report, C4ADS calls for regulators and RFMOs to increase the accountability of non-compliant flag states and port states. 

“While steps to address the role of ports of convenience are already underway with the implementation of the Port States Measures Agreement, which requires increased reporting from vessels attempting to land at port, other measures are required,” it said. “To increase accountability, countries should be encouraged to publish a record of registered vessels and require vessel owners to report ultimate beneficial ownership information. Additionally, countries should publicize any legal or administrative actions taken against fishing vessels to increase awareness of non-compliant vessels and vessel owners. In response to non-compliant flag states and port states, governments and NGOs should provide resources and trainings to build capacity for improved monitoring and inspections by customs, port, and fishery management officers. In the absence of reform, greater restrictions can be placed on the import of seafood products from non-compliant countries.”

These large-scale reforms are necessary in order to root the mechanisms that allow the perpetration of IUU fishing offenses and to catch and adequately punish those who engage in illegal behavior, C4ADS said.

“Without adequate laws and regulations to enforce transparency among vessels at sea and their owners onshore, the ecological, economic, and security risks posed by IUU fishing will continue unabated,” the group concluded.

Image courtesy of C4ADS

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500