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Half of industrial IUU fishing vessels operate in Africa, majority Chinese and European – new report

October 26th, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Africa concentrates 48.9% of identified industrial and semi-industrial vessels involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, 40% in West Africa alone which has become a global epicentre for these activities, according to a new report from the Financial Transparency Coalition and partners – a group of 11 NGOs from across the world.


Read the executive summary.

Read the full report.

Listen to interview with BBC Newsday / interview with BBC World Service – Focus on Africa / Senegal case study interview

The report entitled “Fishy networks: uncovering the companies and individuals behind illegal fishing globally”, the most extensive analysis of IUU fishing cases to date, also warns that developing countries lose billions of dollars in illicit money flows directly linked to this practice every year – up to $11.49bn for Africa, and $2bn for Argentina and $4bn for Indonesia. The study also reveals that the top 10 companies involved in IUU fishing for which there is beneficial ownership concentrate nearly one-quarter of all reported vessels: eight from China, one from Colombia and another from Spain which received millions of dollars in EU and other subsidies.

IUU fishing is a key contributor to more than 90% of global fisheries stocks being fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, according to the UN, impacting regions most affected by climate change. This practice also accounts for one-fifth of the global fisheries catches, worth up to $23.5bn annually, the third most lucrative natural resource crime after timber and mining.

The report warns that almost no countries require information about owners when registering vessels or requesting fishing licenses, meaning that those ultimately responsible for these activities are not detected and punished, resulting in fines often being applied to the vessel captains and crew.

According to Matti Kohonen, executive director of the FTC: “Illegal fishing is a massive industry directly threatening the livelihoods of millions of people across the world, especially living in poor coastal communities in developing countries already affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of climate change. Developing countries also lose billions of dollars in illicit money flows due to illegal fishing, yet vessel owners continue operating with complete impunity, using complex company structures and other schemes to hide their identity and evade prosecution.

Other report key findings include:

  • Fishing vessels flagged to Asia represent 54.7% of reported IUU fishing by industrial and semi-industrial vessels, followed by Latin America (16.1%), Africa (13.5%) and Europe (12.8%).
  • One-third of identified illegal vessels are flagged to China and 8.76% use flags of convenience such as Panama and Cayman Islands which have lax controls and low or no effective taxes.
  • Some prominent illegal vessel owners appear in the Panama Papers and other financial transparency revelations, underscoring the link between illegal fishing and tax abuses.

Alfonso Daniels, the lead author of the report, said: “The US and EU have called for measures against owners of IUU vessels, but the framework to identify ultimate vessels owners is simply not in place. No shareholder information was available even for some of the largest companies linked to illegal fishing, including European ones, with vessels often owned via multiple shady subsidiaries registered in places like Curacao and Panama, reflecting the largely lawless nature of the fisheries sector, something that need to end.

The Financial Transparency Coalition and partners therefore call for urgent measures to improve transparency in the fisheries sector to fight IUU fishing, including:

  • Public beneficial ownership registration should be required when requesting a fishing licence, fishing authorisation, joint ventures or registration to their flag.
  • Fisheries should be included as an extractive industry in key initiatives including the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and other global and regional initiatives concerning regulation and transparency of extractive industries.
  • Supply chain due diligence requirements should be extended across supply chains and to IUU fishing and other fisheries-related crimes as part of wider due diligence requirements on products natural resource crimes.
  • Governments should publish an up-to-date list of IUU vessels allowing the use of fines and sanctions on the companies and real owners. This list should be also collated internationally under IMO-FAO auspices.
  • Improve monitoring capacity by coastal state governments by supporting their coast guards including with help of external assistance, requiring automatic vessel monitoring and vessel Automatic Identification Systems to be enforced.

For any additional information or interview requests, contact the FTC communications and media department, email: press@financialtransparency.org

Quotes from FTC members:

Laksmhi Kumar, Global Financial Integrity: “The US, EU, and Japan together account for over 50% of global seafood consumption and therefore directly contribute to the shocking food insecurity and natural resource depletion that this report highlights. Though IUU fishing is the third most lucrative natural resource crime, it has not received the same attention that illegal mining and timber have in recent years. Before any more catastrophic damage is done to fish stocks, it is vital that the US, the EU, and Japan act quickly and enforce strong and transparent beneficial ownership registries for shipping vessels.”

Claudia Helms, Global Financial Integrity: “It is crucial to have beneficial ownership information in key industries such as fishing that are very profitable and can become vulnerable for illicit financial flows. The report published by the FTC highlights the millionaire market of illicit flows around IUU fishing and how, in Latin America, there is also impunity for these practices. For example, it is noted that 16.1 percent of detected IUU vessels were registered under the flags of countries in the region. This shows that the governments of Latin America must apply more severe regulations to prevent the continued exploitation of natural resources in an unrestricted manner, compromising the fishing industry and its sustainable development. Illicit financial flows flourish in the dark, and knowing the real beneficiaries of the vessels, transactions, and the indirect stakeholders in these operations is vital to fight financial crimes associated with lucrative industries such as fishing.”

Notes to Editors:

The Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) is a global civil society network operating as a collaborative coalition of 11 civil society organisations based in every region of the world. The FTC works to curtail illicit financial flows by promoting a transparent, accountable, and sustainable financial system that works for everyone.

The FTC members are: Transparency International, the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, Christian Aid, European Network on Debt and Development, Fundación SES, Global Financial Integrity, Latin American Network on Debt, Development, and Rights, Pan-African Lawyers Union, Tax Justice Network and Tax Justice Network Africa.

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