Tuna Transshipment Management Compromised

Credit: Luke Dubbleby, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Credit: Luke Duggleby, The Pew Charitable Trusts

Published Sep 15, 2019 10:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC’s) management of transshipments in its waters is compromised by significant gaps in reporting, monitoring and data sharing, according to a report released by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Transshipment is the transfer of fish from the vessel that caught the fish to a carrier vessel that will deliver the fish to port, an activity that often takes place on the high seas and outside the view and reach of authorities. The practice allows unscrupulous fishing vessel operators to obscure or falsify data on their fishing practices. This contributes to millions of dollars of illegally caught fish entering the seafood supply chain each year.

The Pew Charitable Trusts combined commercially available Automatic Identification System data with the application of machine learning technology to analyze the track histories of carrier vessels operating in WCPFC convention area waters in 2016. Researchers then compared this analysis with publicly available information on transshipments and carrier vessels.

The resulting report, “Transshipment in the Western and Central Pacific: Greater understanding and transparency of carrier vessel fleet dynamics would help reform management,” found that only 25 carrier vessels reported high seas transshipments to the WCPFC’s secretariat in 2016 - but at least five times as many authorized carrier vessels potentially transshipped in port or at sea in WCPFC waters in 2016.

The report concludes that a strong probability exists that more at-sea transshipment events occurred than were reported to the WCPFC by carrier vessels themselves or by relevant flag or coastal State authorities. 

A study cited in the report estimated that more than $142 million worth of illegal, unreported and unregulated catch is transshipped in the western and central Pacific Ocean alone, most of it misreported or not reported by licensed fishing vessels.

Pew’s report urges the WCPFC to enhance data-sharing agreements with other regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) whose waters overlap with its own. Gaps in coordination increase the risk that unreported transshipments may cause RFMOs to inaccurately count all species caught in waters they manage, adversely affecting the accuracy of stock assessments.

The report is available here.