IUU Fishing's Onshore Enablers

Argentine Coast Guard cutter in pursuit of a suspected IUU fishing vessel (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 08-13-2019 09:04:54

In a new in-depth report, American data analysis nonprofit C4ADS has analyzed the opaque and little-understood global business networks which make large scale illegal fishing possible. The authors called for national regulators to require more transparency in fishing vessel control and ownership, which would make it easier to pursue criminal fishing enterprises on shore. 

Over the span of 15 months, C4ADS identified and studied 29 business networks that engage in suspected illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). The analysts' dataset included the identities and movements of 150 vessels, along with more than 2,000 companies, individuals and support vessels connected to their activities. A network analysis based on this data allowed the researchers to reveal connections among the investors, companies, owners and vessels engaged in IUU fishing.  

According to C4ADS, the companies that operated suspected IUU fishing vessels often use complex ownership structures, much like many legitimate maritime firms. Using shell companies in jurisdictions that offer high secrecy and flagging with registries that offer lower transparency can insulate IUU fishing activity from scrutiny, C4ADS asserts. 

These opaque structures can make it difficult to determine who owns and controls a particular vessel, and the report's authors called on regulators to require beneficial ownership information when licensing or registering fishing vessels. "Large-scale reform is needed in the global fishing sector to improve how vessel owners report ownership information and prevent the exploitation of opaque jurisdictions and flag states. 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," C4ADS concluded. 

With some effort, the team was still able to identify a subset of vessel owners by collating currently available information. As an example, using Chinese public records, the C4ADS team was able to determine that the sole beneficial owner of the IUU fishing vessel Jing Yuan 626 is the Chinese government. (Argentine forces opened fire on the Jing Yuan 626 in February 2018 after catching her operating illegally in the Argentine EEZ.)

Links to other crime

Like the authors of previous studies, the C4ADS team documented extensive overlap between IUU fishing and other forms of crime. The researchers found a convergence with other illicit activities in over 60 percent of the IUU networks they examined. These related offenses included human trafficking, forced labor, document falsification and fraud, bribery, connections to organized crime and tax evasion. 

The majority of these crimes directly help the IUU business model to succeed. Customs fraud, document fraud and bribery all help IUU catches slip into the global supply chain as "legitimate" seafood products. Human trafficking, forced labor and tax evasion all make IUU fishing more profitable - and more harmful to society. "IUU fishing is not just a fishery management or sustainability issue, but is also compounded by other illicit behavior and vast amounts of money," C4ADS concluded. "Risks include the reduction of revenues for developing countries most affected by IUU fishing, the destabilization of job and food security, and the deterioration of legitimate and effective governance."