In much of the world, the fastest way for commercially caught fish to get from sea to market is through transshipment, where catch is transferred from the fishing vessel to a carrier ship that takes it to port. But regulation, monitoring and enforcement of at-sea transshipment are often inadequate, creating ample opportunities for illicit activities, including the laundering of illegally caught fish and trafficking of wildlife and people.
Many regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), which manage fish populations in different areas of the ocean, acknowledge the risks involved in unregulated transshipments and have developed some measures to control these activities. But that oversight is patchwork, ad hoc and lacks uniformity, which of course makes it less effective.
Fortunately, that could soon change: When members of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meet virtually 1-5 February, they have the opportunity to begin formal development of international transshipment guidelines to help RFMOs and governments manage transshipment in a more coordinated, harmonized and successful way.
COFI, which meets biennially to review and provide direction on the world’s fisheries and aquaculture industry, has been building towards this action since 2016, when its members specifically requested FAO begin exploring transshipment regulations. Following several high-level meetings, expert workshops and in-country research projects, the FAO released a report in December that outlines five key elements that should be included in the guidelines:
At February’s COFI meeting, members should request that the FAO establish formal negotiation processes to draft international transshipment guidelines based on these elements; COFI could then adopt these guidelines in 2022. This would be a major step towards establishing transparent transshipment processes that support a sustainable and verifiable seafood supply chain.
Dawn Borg Costanzi and Esther Wozniak work on Pew’s international fisheries program.