Turn the Tide

Human Rights Abuses and Illegal Fishing in Thailand’s Overseas Fishing Industry

15 December 2016


Greenpeace’s 12-month long investigation exposes the activities of Thailand’s rogue overseas fishing fleets, the companies behind them and their supply chain connections to export markets including Australia, the US and Europe.

Between 2014 and 2016 Greenpeace Southeast Asia tracked Thailand’s rogue overseas fishing vessels and found that, after fishing restrictions were imposed by the governments of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in August 2015, as many as 76 Thai flagged vessels shifted their operations to the environmentally fragile Saya de Malha Bank in the Indian Ocean, more than 7,000km away from Samut Sakhon, Thailand’s seafood epicentre.

Maintaining fishing fleets in the distant Saya de Malha Bank requires routine journeys by reefer vessels of over 7,000 km, making transshipment at sea central to the Thai business model. This model allows the fishing vessels to remain at sea and out of reach of authorities, where they can operate outside the law. The reefers deliver supplies and sometimes trafficked workers, and pick up fish, with some shipments reported to include up to a 50% bycatch of sharks.

The Turn the Tide report also found that the negligent use of trafficked, abused and underpaid local and foreign workers can lead to horrific outcomes such as the outbreak of beriberi disease. An official investigation into six beriberi fatalities concluded that the men had died of heart failure caused by poor nutrition, overwork, and long periods at sea without returning to port, a situation that was enabled by transshipment at sea.

Furthermore, of the 15 trafficked survivors interviewed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, almost half experienced physical violence on the vessels. One of the main reasons for beatings was illness, especially when there was insufficient food on-board and exhausted crew members would try to sneak off to rest.

“The powerful Thai Overseas Fishing Association, which controls much of the billion dollar fishing industry, have eroded trust in their willingness to operate modern, sustainable and ethical businesses. Greenpeace and other Human Rights NGOs are asking them to change the way they operate to meet regulations for the sustainability and viability of the fishing and seafood sectors,” added Pipattanawattanakul.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s supply chain investigations demonstrate the unacceptably high risk of tainted surimi entering numerous seafood and non-seafood supply chains throughout 2016,  including products destined for export which end up being raw ingredients for sushi and pet food products sold around the world.

“As long as transshipment at sea continues, it will be nearly impossible for any seafood company to guarantee that the fish they are selling is both sustainable and ethically caught,” said Oliver Knowles, Sustainable Tuna Project Leader at Greenpeace New Zealand. “The case for banning transshipments at sea grows stronger by the day. The evidence in our report puts more pressure on the Thai and international fishing industry to phase out this deeply problematic practice that allows so many problems to flourish.”

Greenpeace is calling for greater control, including prioritising efforts to eliminate risky practices such as transshipment at sea, to be exerted over Thailand’s distant water fishing fleets. It recommends stricter monitoring and enforcement measures from the Thai government to ensure that only sustainably and ethically-produced Thai seafood reaches the shelves, freezers, sushi bars and cat bowls around the world.