To mitigate this problem, urgent ratification of international agreements aimed to improve workers' rights, inspections and enforcement is needed, the report says. Full transparency in the industry is also vital to end the cycle of abuse.
The report outlines various cases of abuse, on ships carrying the flags of developing and developed nations, from the EU and US to Asia and South America. It contains recent investigations presenting serious abuses on vessels ranging from Taiwanese long-liners fishing far out at sea for high-value tuna.
The vast majority of these abused fishers are migrants, often trafficked to the vessels via brokers who facilitate these abusive practices
the report says.
In addition, undercover work in Thailand has shown how easily migrants, unable to speak Thai and unaware of labour laws and rights, can be exploited. Contracts are often written in Thai, meaning that workers cannot understand the terms and conditions.
Brokers charge exorbitant fees, with interest, often taking payment directly from workers’ wages and creating the conditions for debt bondage.
The report also contains detailed evidence of this cycle of abuse through interviews with fishers aboard Vietnamese vessels. Crew made complaints for long hours, restricted access to food and water, and only receiving pay if the catch was good.
What is more, they knew when they left port that they were headed to Thailand to fish illegally, as in Vietnamese waters there are no fish left.
Moreover, corruption and poor governance are feeding the problem. However, it is the almost total lack of transparency in the global seafood industry that facilitates such harmful practices to grow.
In the light of transparency absence, illegal operators can create as much confusion as possible around their identities, escaping detection by changing vessel names, concealing vessel ownership, flying different flags to avoid detection, or even removing ships from registers.
In order to break this cycle, EJF suggests adopting its Charter for Transparency:
- Give all vessels a unique number: Like cars number plates, but these would stay with vessels from shipyard to scrapyard, regardless of name or flag changes, and should be kept in a global record of fishing vessels.
- Make vessel tracking data public: This will mean neighbouring countries, non-governmental organisations and others can all help with surveillance.
- Publish lists of fishing licences and authorisations: Who’s allowed to fish where? Combined with vessel tracking data this means anyone can monitor and raise the alarm about illegal fishing.
- Publish punishments handed out for fisheries crimes: The arrests and sanctions imposed for illegal fishing or human rights abuse on fishing vessels should be public, so offenders can be identified.
- Ban transferring fish between boats at sea – unless carefully monitored: This practice enables unscrupulous companies to keep workers at sea, unpaid, for months or years. It also makes the source of the fish, once landed, very difficult to trace.
- Set up a digital database of vessel information: Storing information on fishing vessel registration, licenses, catch and crew is vital, and could eventually enable catches to be certified as fished legally and ethically.
- Stop the use of flags of convenience for fishing vessels: Some countries let any vessel fly their flags for a fee – but then don’t properly monitor them, which allows the owners of illegally fishing vessels to remain unaccountable.
- Publish details of the true owners of each vessel – who takes home the profit?: False front companies are often used so that the true beneficiaries of illegal fishing are safe from prosecution.
- Punish anyone involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: Countries must ensure that none of their citizens support, engage in or profit from illegal fishing, no matter where they are, or which flag they are flying.
- Adopt international measures that set clear standards for fishing vessels and the trade in fisheries products: These include the Port State Measures Agreement, the Work in Fishing Convention and the Cape Town Agreement.
It is absolutely clear that gaps in workers’ rights, fishing regulations, and enforcement procedures need to be urgently addressed. It is equally clear that this process will be greatly aided if all countries ratify, implement and enforce international agreements such as the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188). Likewise, the case for aggressive action against the brokers who trick migrants, selling them to traffickers and into debt bondage, is both clear and compelling
You may see further details in the PDF herebelow