Could banning cargo offloading put an end to seafood malpractice?

By Louis Gore-Langton contact

- Last updated on GMT

A worldwide ban on transshipment of cargo on high seas maybe the only answer to endemic environmental and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain, despite an inevitable rise in costs, say researchers.

Researchers at the University of New York are calling for a global moratorium on transshipment – the offloading of cargo from one vessel to another – on high seas (ocean lying outside national jurisdiction), saying such a law would reduce human trafficking and forced labour on the high seas” ​and prevent illegal fishing.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fish (IUU) is an endemic problem in the world seafood market, estimated to make up €22bn of the €123bn global trade.

Greenpeace’s report ‘Turn the Tide’ recently exposed fisheries for avoiding the coastal policing by keeping fishing vessels at high sea and simply offloading their cargo to other ships.

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) which are responsible for management of fishing at high seas, have yet to implement a complete ban on transshipment. Of the world’s 17 RFMOs, only five have introduced partial bans, and one (in South East Atlantic) has imposed a full ban.

“Given the increased overexploitation of high seas fish, sizable economic losses to illegal fishing globally, documented IUU fishing associated with transhipments on the high seas, and ever-increasing concerns about forced labour, it would be prudent to invoke the precautionary principle and instate a moratorium on transhipment at-sea across all RFMOs” ​the study reads.

Researchers admitted​ such a ban would increase the cost of fishing and hence the price of fish, but said this could potentially be offset by making legal fishing more productive.

Fishy business

A tide of reports​ linking the seafood trade to human trafficking, forced labour and illegal fishing practices – particularly in East Asia, has put increasing pressure on governments and industry to take action.

After the European Commission (EC) threatened to ban imports of Thai fish, the Kingdom promised to remedy the problem, but were again condemned this year by the UN for government corruption and failure to end slavery aboard its vessels.

A Greenpeace report​ last year highlighted that Thai fisheries – often using slave labour from Myanmar- avoid police detection in coastal areas by staying at sea year round, and offloading catches to other ships.

Increasing public awareness has pushed Norwegian researchers to investigate the potential for a new system of ethical seafood labelling, emphasising ‘social sustainability’.

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