Greenpeace Southeast Asia claims that Thailand’s overseas fishing fleets are intentionally shifting to remote waters in order to avoid fishing regulations.
The organization started a 12-month investigation after the Associated Press released an expose on human rights abuses on Thailand’s fishing industry, and the investigation demonstrates there is a very clear case for banning transshipment at sea, says Greenpeace.
Thailand is the world’s fourth largest seafood exporter, earning the country annual revenues of over $6.5 billion according to recent figures. In the last two years, Thailand’s overseas fishing industry has been put under the spotlight as a stream of hard-hitting reports exposed the shocking human rights abuses linked to supply chains of major global seafood producers.
“The Thai government has tried to clamp down on human rights violations in the fishing industry, but these Thai fleets remain as ruthless as ever,” said Anchalee Pipattanawattanakul, Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Our investigation shows that rather than changing the way they fish to meet the regulations, they are just shifting to isolated and less regulated fishing grounds outside the region.”
Between 2014 and 2016 Greenpeace Southeast Asia tracked Thailand’s rogue overseas fishing vessels and found that, after fishing restrictions were imposed by the governments of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in August 2015, as many as 76 Thai flagged vessels shifted their operations to the environmentally fragile Saya de Malha Bank in the Indian Ocean, more than 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles) away from Samut Sakhon, Thailand’s seafood center.
Maintaining fishing fleets in the distant Saya de Malha Bank requires routine journeys by reefer vessels of over 7,000 kilometers, making transshipment at sea central to the Thai business model. This model allows the fishing vessels to remain at sea and out of reach of authorities, where they can operate outside the law, asserts GreenPeace. The reefers deliver supplies and sometimes trafficked workers, and pick up fish, with some shipments reported to include up to a 50 percent bycatch of sharks.
The Turn the Tide report also found that the negligent use of trafficked, abused and underpaid local and foreign workers can lead to horrific outcomes such as the outbreak of beriberi disease. An official investigation into six beriberi fatalities concluded that the men had died of heart failure caused by poor nutrition, overwork and long periods at sea without returning to port, a situation that was enabled by transshipment at sea.
Furthermore, of the 15 trafficked survivors interviewed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, almost half experienced physical violence on the vessels. One of the main reasons for beatings was illness, especially when there was insufficient food on board and exhausted crew members would try to sneak off to rest.
“The powerful Thai Overseas Fishing Association, which controls much of the billion dollar fishing industry, has eroded trust in their willingness to operate modern, sustainable and ethical businesses. Greenpeace and other Human Rights NGOs are asking them to change the way they operate to meet regulations for the sustainability and viability of the fishing and seafood sectors,” said Pipattanawattanakul.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s supply chain investigations demonstrate the unacceptably high risk of tainted surimi entering numerous seafood and non-seafood supply chains throughout 2016, including products destined for export which end up being raw ingredients for sushi and pet food products sold around the world.
“As long as transshipment at sea continues, it will be nearly impossible for any seafood company to guarantee that the fish they are selling is both sustainable and ethically caught,” said Oliver Knowles, Sustainable Tuna Project Leader at Greenpeace New Zealand. “The case for banning transshipments at sea grows stronger by the day. The evidence in our report puts more pressure on the Thai and international fishing industry to phase out this deeply problematic practice that allows so many problems to flourish.”
Greenpeace is calling for greater control, including prioritizing efforts to eliminate risky practices such as transshipment at sea, to be exerted over Thailand’s distant water fishing fleets. It recommends stricter monitoring and enforcement measures from the Thai government to ensure that only sustainably and ethically-produced Thai seafood reaches the shelves, freezers, sushi bars and cat bowls around the world.
The report is available here.