At-sea trans-shipping open to abuse

Opens opportunity for illegal fishing practices and human rights abuses

April 19, 2017

At-sea trans-shipping has been exposed as an opportunity for illegal fishing practices and human rights abuses.

A new report by Oceana uses data released by Global Fishing Watch and Oceana’s partner SkyTruth to identify likely trans-shipping hotspots as well as the top countries whose vessels were involved in suspected rendezvous at sea and the ports they most frequently visited.

Trans-shipping enables fishing vessels to remain at sea for extended periods of time. Fishing vessels and refrigerated cargo vessels rendezvous at sea in order to transfer seafood, fuel or supplies.

While this trans-shipping practice can be legal in many cases, it also can facilitate the laundering of illegally caught fish, especially on the high seas and in waters surrounding developing and small island nations with insufficient resources to police their waters.

“The practice of trans-shipping at sea can undermine fisheries management, threaten food security and facilitate unethical activities on our oceans,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for the United States and global fishing watch at Oceana.

“By avoiding scrutiny at port, captains can conceal suspicious activities like illegal fishing, human rights abuses and seafood fraud. The only way to ensure an end to illicit activities on our oceans is to ban trans-shipping at sea, require vessel tracking for all fishing vessels and establish consistent seafood catch reporting requirements worldwide.”

Highlights from the report’s findings include:

  • Almost 40 percent of all suspected trans-shipping events occurred on the high seas, beyond national jurisdictions.
  • High densities of suspected trans-shipping were revealed in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk, the high-seas waters of the Barents Sea, the national waters of Guinea-Bissau and immediately outside of the national waters of Argentina and Peru.
  • Of the suspected trans-shipping events worldwide, 50 percent occurred within Russian waters. In 2016, Russian-flagged fishing vessels ranked highest for the average number of suspected rendezvous per vessel in a national fleet.
  • Comoros and Vanuatu, both flag of convenience countries, were the second and third highest-ranked countries for the average number of suspected trans-shipping events per vessel in a national fleet during 2016.
  • Top ports visited by refrigerated cargo vessels engaged in suspected trans-shipping in 2015 included Vladivostok, Russia; Montevideo, Uruguay; Murmansk, Russia; and Busan, South Korea among others.

Oceana analyzed a new dataset released by its partner SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch, the product of a partnership between Oceana, SkyTruth and Google, identifying 5,065 likely rendezvous of refrigerated cargo vessels with the largest commercial fishing vessels between 2012 and 2016.
For a description of the dataset used to generate this map, and of the methods behind the data, see for SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch’s companion report on the data analysis behind trans-shipment.