WASHINGTON—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 today 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. While moving catch from one vessel to another may seem innocuous, its largely hidden nature allows unscrupulous fishing vessel operators to obscure, manipulate, or otherwise falsify data on their fishing practices. This contributes to millions of dollars of illegally caught fish entering the seafood supply chain each year.
To gain better insight into transshipment operations, 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.
Per the combined analysis of AIS data and publicly available reports to WCPFC, 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. Very little information is available on the remaining vessels’ activities.
A study cited in the report estimated that more than US$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.
“The relative lack of transparency surrounding transshipment is a cause for great concern,” said Amanda Nickson, Pew’s director of international fisheries. “Misreporting or not reporting catch not only hinders management efforts to improve the health of fish stocks, but it also hurts the economies of island nations that heavily rely on fishing.”
In addition to the problems with data collection, 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.
To make vessel operations more transparent, Pew’s report recommends that three parts of the transshipment regulatory framework be significantly strengthened: reporting, monitoring, and data sharing.
“With continued research, analysis, and action, the WCPFC could become a model for effective transshipment management for other regions and fisheries management organizations across the globe,” said Nickson.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at pewtrusts.org.