Flags of (In)Convenience: How Illegal Fishing Vessels Avoid the Law

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Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has direct ties to human traffickingdrug smuggling, slavery, and even gang activity. Oh, and of course it directly affects the economic and food security of billions.For example, West Africa, a region where more than 50% get the majority of their protein intake from fisheries and over 3 million are directly employed in the industry, loses 2.3 billion dollars annually to illegal fishing. Foreign IUU fishing is even an issue in the Pacific Northwest. In 2013, it was estimated that Alaskan crabbers lost over 560  million to IUU fishing to Russia.

How is it we can send a person to the moon, but we can’t stop these vessels from breaking the law? Many of these vessels operate in one country’s waters, are owned by a second, and are registered to a third. This dynamic describes vessels using ‘flags of convenience’ (FOC).  For example, consider the Yongding, a vessel long suspected of illegally catching Patagonian toothfish since 2001 but which was not actually detained until 2016 in Cape Verde. The reason? It had been registered under 9 different flags and 11 different names, making it impossible to keep tabs on. Other examples of IUU vessels utilizing FOC include the Chang Bai, AldabraSnakeIskander,….the list goes on.

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