Illegal shipping may be going unpunished

March 13, 2017

Illegal shipping may be going unpunished

Unauthorised trans-shipping is often suggestive of criminal activity. Photo: Supplied / DigitalGlobe

A new global report into trans-shipping has shone a light on New Zealand’s susceptibility to the often illegal fishing practice.

The Hidden No More report, conducted by Google and conservation groups Oceana and Skytruth, used satellite mapping to examine the extent of trans-shipping activity across the globe.

Trans-shipment involves the transfer of goods from a fishing vessel to a cargo ship, and “is a major pathway for illegally caught and unreported fish to enter the global seafood market”, according to the report.

Dr Glenn Simmons, a research fellow at the New Zealand Asia Institute, said the activity posed a threat to countries with an expansive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) like New Zealand.

“In a nutshell, if we don’t see the cop on the side of the road, we tend to speed. With the fourth largest EEZ in the world, if they go in there even occasionally and either illegally fish or trans-ship from these vessels, after a while they believe there is no enforcement.”

The report revealed 24 separate instances of potential trans-shipment in New Zealand waters since 2012.

However, Dr Simmons said this was likely to be only a fraction of what was occurring given the report’s revelations relied on ships having used an automatic identification system (AIS).

“There’s no regulations that says vessels smaller than 23m have to use [AIS], and we’re talking tens of thousands of fishing vessels, so what comes through my mind is how many of them are out there fishing.”

Dr Simmons said the report was a step in the right direction but there needed to be better surveillance on shipping vessels in New Zealand.

Ocean Life Survey’s Martin Stanley said regulations involving foreign fishing vessels were tough to enforce for New Zealand authorities.

“There is a present risk of international fishing vessels possibly being more lax in terms of implementing the current regulations to try and avoid bycatch,” he said.

In a written statement, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) manager for compliance services Gary Orr said trans-shipment in New Zealand’s EEZ is only authorised “on a case-by-case basis”.

“However this only happens in exceptional circumstances and must be fully witnessed by an MPI fisheries observer or compliance officer.”

Mr Orr said MPI supported all initiatives from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in regards to trans-shipment policing.

The FFA has previously stated that trans-shipment monitoring schemes should seek to capture all forms of trans-shipment currently known to exist.

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