The first-ever large-scale analysis of fishing vessel interactions exposes the potential extent of unmanaged exchange of goods at sea, raising global concerns over illegal fishing and human rights abuses. Transshipment at sea, the offloading of catch from a fishing vessel to a refrigerated vessel far from port, can obscure the actual source of the catch, complicating sustainable fisheries management, and may allow illegally caught fish to enter the legitimate seafood market. Transshipment activities often occur in regions of unclear jurisdiction where policymakers or enforcement agencies may be slow to act against a challenge they cannot see.
The study found that 47% of the events occur on the high seas and 42% involve vessels flying flags of convenience. Transshipment on the high seas is relatively common, with vessels responsible for 40% of the fishing in the high seas having at least one encounter with a transshipment vessel in this time period.
The analysis reveals that addressing the sustainability and human rights challenges (slavery, trafficking, bonded labor) associated with transshipment at sea will require a global perspective and transnational cooperation.