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posted on 23.07.2018, 08:02 authored by Nathan A. Miller, Aaron Roan, Timothy Hochberg, John Amos, David A. Kroodsma

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. To address this limitation, we processed 32 billion Automatic Identification System (AIS) messages from ocean-going vessels from 2012 to the end of 2017 and identified and tracked 694 cargo vessels capable of transshipping at sea and transporting fish (referred to as transshipment vessels). We mapped 46,570 instances where these vessels loitered at sea long enough to receive a transshipment and 10,233 instances where we see a fishing vessel near a loitering transshipment vessel long enough to engage in transshipment. We found transshipment behaviors associated with regions and flag states exhibiting limited oversight; roughly 47% of the events occur on the high seas and 42% involve vessels flying flags of convenience. Transshipment behavior in 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. Our 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.