Research Press Release

Environment: Global risk of labour abuses and illegal fishing practices assessed

Nature Communications

April 6, 2022

The risk of labour abuse in the global marine fishing sector is more extensive than previously thought and is associated with unsustainable fishing practices, suggests a study published in Nature Communications.

Labour abuse (e.g. forced labour) and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (e.g. fishing in protected areas) are thought to be common in the global fishing sector. Addressing these issues has been a priority for corporations and governments, however, their illicit nature makes it difficult to evaluate the scale and extent, and to identify ports or fisheries where these issues are occurring.

Elizabeth Selig and colleagues developed a machine learning model to quantify areas at risk of labour abuse and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing around the world. The authors asked experts from research institutions, businesses, human rights organisations, and governments to evaluate the risks of labour abuse or illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing associated with ports, which they combined with a global fishing vessel tracking database to map the fishing activity of more than 8 million vessels from 2012–2019. They found that labour abuse and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing risks are highly correlated and associated with 57% of the ports evaluated and 82% of the fishing trips ending in those ports. The authors identified high risk areas for both labour abuse and illegal fishing off the coasts of Peru, Argentina and the Falkland Islands, and West Africa. They suggest that risks at sea are higher for fishing vessels whose country of registration flags are associated with low levels of governance and poor control of corruption, ownership by countries other than the flag state, and also with Chinese-flagged vessels. The authors indicate that riskier vessels were less likely to visit ports who had ratified the Port State Measures Agreement (a legal agreement which targets illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing) and also stay in port for less time.

The authors suggest their findings identify key risk areas and highlight the need for coordinated action to expand monitoring and enforcement against these issues.


Return to research highlights

PrivacyMark System