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Decapitated false killer whale. Copyright EJF

NGO denounces illegal shark finning in Taiwanese tuna industry

  (TAIWAN, 12/5/2018)

A new investigation conducted by the non-government organisation Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) uncovers the use of "cruel, wasteful and illegal practices" aboard fishing vessels linked to Taiwan.

Dolphins being harpooned and butchered for use as bait to catch sharks; thousands of sharks stripped of their fins and thrown back into the sea to drown; vulnerable turtles killed and discarded, are some of the practices been revealed.

Short-beaked common dolphin with gaff puncture wound to the head, copyright EJF

As part of the investigation, EJF spoke to Indonesian crew members from five longline vessels fishing in waters around the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans – all either flying a Taiwanese flag or linked to Taiwanese ownership.

Taiwan's distant-water longline fleet is a key supplier to the international tuna market, in particular high-value sashimi-grade fish. This is exported to major economies including Japan, the United States and the European Union. 

On all five boats investigated by the NGO, the crew reported being ordered to remove shark fins and throw the bodies overboard – a practice that is banned by Taiwan. The fins are destined for the lucrative market for shark fin soup. The sharks ­– unable to swim without their fins – suffocate or bleed to death.

Olive Ridley Turtle, listed as vulnerable by the IUCN,  copyright EJF►

Some of the vessels also illegally caught and killed dolphins, which are protected under Taiwanese law. Crew aboard one vessel were ordered to harpoon dolphins riding the bow wave: once harpooned, the animals were dragged alongside until they were exhausted or dead; those still showing signs of life were crudely electrocuted using a car battery. The dolphins were then butchered, and the meat used as shark bait.

According to the crew, around 300 dolphins were killed in this way on each of the vessel’s three-month trips.

The crew also informed on the capture of hundreds of sharks every day: this included the illegal capture of juveniles, which would be used as bait, together with landing vulnerable species, such as hammer shark and thresher sharks.

The NGO concluded that it is evident that inspections by the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency were ineffective and easily evaded. Once in port, crew simply put the shark fins at the bottom of the freezers under a layer of fish so they were hidden from view, to be sold in the early hours of the morning.

EJF described that aboard another vessel, which was under Taiwanese ownership but flying a Panamanian flag, the crew reported illegally killing turtles and dolphins.

In addition to the widespread abuse of marine species, migrant crew on four of the five vessels reported human rights violations, ranging from physical abuse to debt bondage.

“Killing dolphins to catch sharks, this is madness: rogue Taiwanese fishing vessels are ripping the heart out of our oceans," EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent commented.

“These illegal, unsustainable and brutally cruel activities are being enabled by the Taiwanese authorities’ failure to act. Only three months ago EJF was reporting gross human rights violations aboard Taiwanese vessels, now we have exposed the shocking illegal exploitation of wildlife by the same fleet,” he pointed out.

All in all, EJF is calling for Taiwan to sign up to the ten principles for fisheries transparency and for immediate action to be taken to investigate and prosecute vessels and companies alleged to be involved in illegal fishing and human rights abuses. 

Related articles:

- NGOs stage protest claiming further action against fishing workers' abuse
- EU to decide in a month whether to withdraw 'yellow card' from Taiwan


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