EJF uncovers shark finning and extensive dolphin killing on Taiwanese-owned vessels

Published on
December 5, 2018

An investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation has discovered shark-finning operations and the killing of rare dolphins and turtles onboard five Taiwanese longline vessels fishing in waters around the world. 

The vessels, which all either fly a Taiwanese flag or are linked with Taiwanese ownership, are part of the country’s distant-water longline fleet and participate in the international tuna market. The crews on all five of the boats reported being ordered to remove shark fins and throw bodies overboard.

Some of the vessels, according to the EJF investigation, also illegally caught and killed dolphins. Crew aboard one vessel were ordered to harpoon dolphins riding the bow wave, and then dragged alongside until exhausted or dead. Those that were still alive were then electrocuted with a car battery. All were butchered and used as shark bait. 

“It is easy to catch [dolphins]. We could kill maybe six to nine per day,” one crewmember told EJF. “But if we had 10 dolphins already on deck and there were still more at the bow, we would hunt them until they were all caught.” 

Roughly 300 dolphins were killed that way on each of the vessel’s three-month trips, according to crew interviews conducted by the EJF. 

The crews also reported catching hundreds of sharks every day, including vulnerable species such as smooth hammerhead and bigeye thresher sharks. 

While all the practices are illegal in Taiwan, the report found that evading the Taiwanese Fishing Agency was easy and that inspections were “ineffective and easily evaded.”

“Once in port, crew simply put the shark fins at the bottom of the freezers under a layer of fish so they were hidden from view, to be sold in the early hours of the morning,” the EJF report states. 

“We would unload in the middle of the night at 3 a.m., pull the fins out and sell them,” a crewmember told the EJF. “Captain would often order us to hurry when we were unloading the fins.”

One vessel was under Taiwanese ownership, but flew a Panamanian flag. On board that vessel, a rare false killer whale was caught – illegal under Panamanian law. However, the vessel foreman ordered it to be brought on board and decapitated so its teeth could be used to make necklaces. 

On four of the five vessels, the migrant crew also reported human rights violations, from physical abuse to debt bondage. 

“Killing dolphins to catch sharks, this is madness: rogue Taiwanese fishing vessels are ripping the heart out of our oceans. These illegal, unsustainable and brutally cruel activities are being enabled by the Taiwanese authorities’ failure to act,” EJF Executive Director Steve Trent said. “Only three months ago EJF was reporting gross human rights violations aboard Taiwanese vessels, now we have exposed the shocking illegal exploitation of wildlife by the same fleet. Enough is enough. Taiwan can be a global leader on fisheries governance: it has the finance, technology and opportunity to end these abuses and create legal, sustainable and ethical fisheries.”

The EJF has been working extensively in Taiwan to try and reduce the amount of illegal fishing and human trafficking present in the fishing industry. 

The organization has also made several recommendations to the country, including pushing for the adoption of the 10 basic principles for global transparency in the fishing industry, investigating and prosecuting the vessels found in the report, increase the resources for Taiwanese Coast Guard officials and Fisheries Agency inspectors, and more. 

“Taiwan must also create a simple and effective action plan to protect sharks,” Trent said. The handful of vessels we investigated caught tens of thousands of sharks – illegally discarding the bodies to make space for more. Multiply that by Taiwan’s large fishing fleet and the scale of exploitation of the marine ecosystem is vast. Action needs to be taken to stop the slaughter.”

Photo provided by the Environmental Justice Foundation

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