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Trade data analysis to track IUU fishing activities

23 March 2014

Participants to the fourth Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop were presented with a tool to analyse existing fish trade data,as a cost-effective and helpful method for tackling illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, presented a website that provides information on how to source, extract and analysefish trade data to help identify illegal fish trade operations.

Trade data analysis can assist efforts to combat IUU fishing by better understanding the dynamics of the trade in products sourced from IUU fisheries, providing independent verification of the extent of a known IUU fishing problem or even by revealing new problems. It can also be used to measure the effectiveness of an existing or market-related measure.

Such data analysis involves, for example, a comparison of the fish product export figures for a country (or countries) with the figures of importing countries for that product. Discrepancies identified through this process can be an indication of IUU products in international trade. Trade data can also be compared with catch data as a means of assessing accuracy or for obtaining estimates of IUU fish volumes for a particular fishery.

Several examples are detailed on the Traffic website, including a comparison between South African export figures and Australian import data for frozen shark products, which revealed significant anomalies; in 2001 South African customs data on shark exports to Australia were more than three times lower than the comparative Australian import figures. Regarding abalone, a species endemic to South Africa, trade data from Hong Kong statistics department showed that large quantities of this product were imported from Southern Africanneighbouring countries of Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Legitimate South African exporters indicated that they do not export abalone to other Africa countries. Thus, it is almost certain that all abalone exported from Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to Hong Kong is illegally harvested in South Africa and laundered through neighbouring countries. This information assisted the South African government in identifying countries it should work with to tackle the illegal abalone trade.

Markus Burgener, senior programme officer with Traffic, said: “This Fisheries Trade data website aims to show enforcement officers where to look among trade statistics for evidence of criminal activity, the devil is in the detail.”

Editorial comment

To date, very few governments, including those from ACP countries, incorporate fish trade data analysis into their monitoring, control and surveillance systems, although, as shown by Traffic, analysis of fish trade data provides a highly cost-effective and helpful method for accessing information that can assist in tackling IUU fishing. Knowledge of the internationalfish trade dynamics can shed light on the source, destination, value and volume of IUU fish products, and can help develop appropriate responses. This is also a tool for assessing the efficiency of trade measures, such as the EU catch certification scheme, or the trade bans applied when a country is notified as “non-cooperating in the fight against IUU fishing”. However, such data analysis should always be complemented by further fisheries management information. Indeed, finding discrepancies between export and import figures only indicates that the product is circumventing official trade routes in the country of origin, which may be for various reasons, only one of which could bethe illegality of the fish catch.


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