A closer look at fisheries policies in East & Southeast Asia through the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency

19 June 2024

The Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency outlines fisheries transparency best practices through its ten policy principles. In coordination with stakeholders from local organizations, the Coalition for Fisheries Transparency (CFT), conducted a brief assessment on  the ten transparency principles outlined in the Global Charter to determine whether (or to what extent) current fisheries laws, policies and practices in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand align with each of the ten Charter Principles.

(Download the Gap Analysis: EA-SEA-Gap-Analysis-2024-3.pdf)

Overview

While the analysis does not intend to compare different geographies—which may have varying priorities, resources, challenges, and opportunities—it enhances our understanding of the current landscape of fisheries transparency at both local and regional levels, helping to set priorities for improvement in the studied areas.

Current transparency landscape

Although current fisheries management policies and practices include measures to enhance transparency, they generally do not fully achieve the goals set by the Global Charter principles. Nevertheless, the progress observed in the region is a positive indicator of their commitment to achieve fisheries transparency.

The overview presented in table 1 indicates both: progress towards fisheries transparency and the need to further strengthen transparency mechanisms.

As shown in the previous table, Taiwan and South Korea fully achieve Principle 1 by requiring Unique Identification Numbers and registration for all fishing vessels. Japan and Thailand excel in stopping the use of flags of convenience (FoC); however, other cases rate as “not achieved,” highlighting concerns over the implementation of FoC measures in the region (Principle 4). Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand also ban or closely monitor at-sea transshipment (Principle 6). 

This means that while some geographies fully adhere to principles 1, 4, and 6 of the Global Charter, there is still a group that, while making efforts in the right direction, is still falling short of complying with these principles. Areas that will require additional attention include requiring vessel registration and providing unique identification numbers to small-scale commercial vessels (principle 1); strengthening the implementation of UNCLOS article 91 by requiring a genuine link for vessel registration (principle 4); and increasing monitoring or banning at-sea transshipment (principle 6).

Where does my seafood come from?

This is a question all consumers should ask when buying seafood. The regional trend on the “seafood traceability from boat to plate” requirement set by principle 7 shows that in all cases, there are seafood traceability measures implemented to some extent. However, the fact that only a few species are included in some catch documentation schemes or a strong focus on catch documentation rather than full supply chain traceability does not allow for full compliance with principle 7. Additionally, information on where, how and by whom fishing activity is conducted at sea can be challenging to determine as none of the geographies in this study are currently making Vessel Monitoring System’s (VMS) information publicly available. However, all of them require the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) for larger commercial fishing vessels (principle 5). 

Knowing which vessels are conducting fishing activity at sea is essential not only for seafood traceability but also as a tool to reduce illegal fishing and human rights abuses at sea: Principle 2 of the Global Charter requires authorities to regularly publish up-to-date information, such as lists of fishing vessel licenses, authorizations, and sanctions applied to fishing vessels. While lists of licenses and authorizations are usually available in the studied geographies, information on sanctions is often either not public or not comprehensive. This information is essential for authorities to make informed decisions, such as allowing a vessel’s registration under their flag, determining necessary information before allowing a vessel into port, and conducting risk assessments.

Accessing the lists of vessels sanctioned for illegal activities and identifying their ultimate beneficiaries are crucial first steps in reducing illegal fishing, human rights abuses, and other violations at sea.

 

Additionally, revealing beneficial ownership information, as established by principle 3, enables the identification and accountability of the true beneficiaries to prevent them from profiting from illegal fishing practices. Two of the studied geographies: Thailand and Taiwan, collect and publish information on beneficial ownership to some extent, however, this information remains insufficient to effectively identify the ultimate beneficiaries of these fishing vessels. CFT encourages fisheries authorities in all geographies to continue their efforts to collect and publish sufficient information to identify the beneficial owners of fishing vessels.

Transparency on fisheries management and vessel worker’s information

All geographies partially align with principle 9 by collecting and publishing fisheries management information and allowing (limited)  public participation in fisheries management decisions. Common concerns include insufficient fisheries management information on the capacity and budget for monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS), specifics on fisheries subsidies, and the lack of unified websites to access fisheries information. A positive aspect in the region is the availability of spaces for public participation, such as fisheries councils. In certain instances, civil society organizations (CSOs) may request meetings with authorities, although there is no assurance of securing a place on their agendas. CFT recommends that fisheries authorities continue to engage with local stakeholders such as artisanal fisherfolk, CSOs, and coastal communities to identify the best available information, determine relevant information that is still needed, and make it public, thereby building on their current efforts toward fisheries transparency.                                

Similarly, information about why fish workers are onboard fishing vessels, who they are, for how long they stay at sea, is vital to prevent potential human and labor rights abuses at sea. In this analysis, we identified that most geographies collect vessel workers’ information through different processes such as interviews or permit allocations that require providing this information. However, in some cases data may be either not up to date, not comprehensive, and/or not published according to local stakeholders. CFT recognizes the efforts to collect this information and encourages all stakeholders to strengthen their initiatives towards the collection, verification, and publication of vessel workers and their conditions onboard fishing vessels in alignment with principle 10To date, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention (ILO -C188) has been ratified only by Thailand within the region. This convention establishes international standards for decent work in the fishing sector, promoting safety, social protection, and fair labor conditions for fishers. Ratifying and implementing this and other relevant agreements is crucial to ending illegal fishing practices and human and labor rights abuses in the region. CFT encourages all parties to ratify and implement fisheries management agreements and the Global Charter for Fisheries Transparency as an initial step to express public commitment to a fair and transparent fishing industry.

Recommendations   

The geographies presented in the analysis demonstrated adherence to the Global Charter’s transparency principles in certain aspects, such as the publication of fisheries licenses and authorizations (Principle 1). Five out of the six geographies currently share information on fishing licenses, and four of them publish information on fishing authorizations to some extent. Areas that require attention include the publication of sanctions imposed on fishing vessels, adherence to mandates which require all commercial fishing vessels to carry tracking devices and publish vessel position information (Principle 5), the ratification of international conventions (Principle 8), such as ILO -C188, which is ratified by only one of the six geographies under study, and the publication of relevant fisheries data for informed decision-making (Principle 9). Beneficial ownership information needs to be collected and published to allow the identification of final beneficiaries of fishing vessels activities (principle 3) and information on sanctions needs to be publicly available. The Coalition for Fisheries Transparency (CFT), a global initiative which works together with governments, civil society organizations (CSO) and a variety of stakeholders globally to improve transparency and accountability in fisheries governance and management through the endorsement and implementation of the Global Charter. For additional information on this study or to provide input, please contact us at info@fisheriestransparency.net.