On 1st November, Stimson in the US starts by saying that commercial fishing is big business, with a complex global seafood supply chain and over 56 million people working on vessels to support it. In the past several decades distant water fishing (DWF) has expanded its size and reach across the ocean and around the world. Despite its importance to international trade and economics, the industry largely remains a mystery. It is shrouded in an opaque operating system that limits information about where vessels operate, who owns them, the amount of fish that is caught, how fish is shipped and transshipped to market, the human labour practices onboard, and the access arrangements to other nations’ waters. The nature of the industry has led to illicit activities and increased illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, all of which threaten the long-term sustainability of global fisheries. A report from Stimson identifies the top DWF fleets in the world, where they operate, their motivations and economic impact, and their connections to IUU fishing and illicit activity. The top 5 DWF fleets, which account for nearly 90% of DWF efforts – China and Taiwan at 60%, with 10% each for Japan, South Korea and Spain. The report paints a picture of exploitation of (other) coastal nations’ resources, with these countries experiencing negligible short-term gains at the cost of long-term marine destruction, and it argues that the current fishing industry is unsustainable. The report comments on the low level of transparency that persists across the industry, including intentionally ambiguous reporting by DWF fleets – with little to no insight into vessel ownership, the conditions aboard such ships, or access agreements – and the significant gap in understanding the movement and extent of DWF fleets and support vessels due to AIS and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology not being mandated abroad these vessels.
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