Taiwan's Fisheries Agency (FA) on Thursday announced at a press conference that it will fine and suspend the license of the Taiwanese distant water fishing vessel Fuh Sheng 11 after completing an investigation into labor abuse at sea, while another vessel received a heftier fine for illegal shark finning.

However, an NGO which independently spoke to Fuh Sheng 11 crew members criticized the FA for levying insufficient penalties and conducting a flawed initial investigation into the vessel, which had been inconsistent with the findings of South African investigators.

The FA, which regulates Taiwan's lucrative fishing industry, levied a total of NT$3.75 million (US$121,546) in fines towards the Fuh Sheng 11 and suspended its fishing license for five months (see a breakdown of the fines below) after that vessel became the first ever detained for violating the International Labour Organization's Work in Fishing Convention (C188) when docked in Cape Town, South Africa. Along with the penalties, the FA has forwarded the case to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutor's Office to investigate possible violations of Taiwan's Human Trafficking Prevention Act.

Max Schmid, the deputy director of London-based NGO Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), said Thursday's penalties were "not sufficient," telling The News Lens that "the initial fines are a first step, but they're not enough alone as a deterrent." EJF had released a video on Sept. 12 detailing brutal beatings of Indonesian crew members, 22-hour work days, and underpayment or nonpayment, as well as the illegal finning of sharks, including endangered hammerheads.

"There were human rights abuses. Human trafficking. Beating of the crew," he said. "If these crimes hold up in court, we need to see robust sanctions."

The penalties come after NGO and media reports earlier this year, including reports in The News Lens, raised concerns that Taiwan's seafood sector is a hotbed for human trafficking and destructive illegal fishing – and is not being thoroughly regulated (see a timeline of events here).

The FA also penalized the Chin Chang 6, which it found guilty of illegal shark finning upon its return to port in Kaohsiung on Sept. 13. The vessel operator and the captain were fined NT$9.5 million (US$307,861) and NT$1.6 million (US$51,850), respectively, and their licenses were each suspended for six months.


Credit: Fisheries Agency

Shark fins found on board the Chin Chang 6 in Kaohsiung.

According to the FA's press release, "over 30 metric tons of silky sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks were found in the fish holds of such vessel, and all of the prohibited catch was confiscated."

However, EJF alleges that the FA did not consider clear evidence of shark finning on board the Fuh Sheng 11.

In its press release, the FA said there was "no evidence that the vessel had retained onboard prohibited shark species" but cited the Fuh Sheng 11 for logbook inconsistencies and fined the vessel operator and captain NT$1 million (US$32,403) and NT$200,000 ($6,480), respectively. But crew members shared photos and videos with EJF showing endangered hammerheads onboard, and the ship's captain told the Financial Times that his vessel had finned sharks.

Schmid called the FA's conclusions "deeply disappointing," saying: "If they want to send a message, they need to prosecute the Fuh Sheng 11 for shark finning."


Credit: EJF

An endangered hammerhead shark on board the Fuh Sheng 11, in a photo provided to EJF by a crew member.

Vessels often engage in an oft-illegal practice called transshipping, in which a catch is transported to a second ship at sea which shuttles it back to shore. When transshipments are not reported, it allows illegal catches, including illegally caught shark fins, to be whisked away out of sight from regulators.

Transshipments are also used for crew members as one of many illegal practices to shield the illegal, unregulated employment of migrant workers, many of whom never set foot in Taiwan. The FA says that, in 2016, about 26,000 migrant workers were employed in Taiwan's fishing industry. In 2014, the U.S. Department of State estimated that number as being closer to 160,000.

The FA levied a total of NT$3.75 million in fines against the Fuh Sheng 11. Are they enough?

Fine Party Reason
NT$2 million
Employment agent Failure to sign contracts with operator and crew members
NT$1 million
Vessel operator Failure to record discarded shark species in e-logbook
Vessel operator Unauthorized employment of foreign crew
Vessel operator Crew salary lower than minimum wage, failure to uphold decent living standards, alleged beatings of crew members
Captain Failure to record discarded shark species in e-logbook

The captain and vessel operator each had their fishing licenses suspended for five months.

The FA, according to its press release, commenced its investigation of the Fuh Sheng 11 on Sept. 13, once the vessel returned to Kaohsiung and after EJF investigators interviewed crew members who had returned to Indonesia. A week later, on Sept. 21, FA officials spoke with the ship's vessel operator, captain, and involved employment agents. The FA also conducted interviews with crew members in Indonesia in the second half of September.

EJF says the FA's new findings are in line with the investigations it had already completed, but had no initial will to follow up on. "We sent them all our evidence weeks before we released the film," said Schmid, "but they weren't interested at the time."

After the Fuh Sheng 11 was detained and inspected by South African investigators, an FA official traveled to Cape Town to investigate the vessel, which resulted in a report painting a "different picture" of what had happened, said Schmid. Though South African inspectors reported numerous instances of poor work and living conditions and invalid contracts, the FA initially said it had found no evidence of work abuse, underpayment, or shark finning, saying the vessel was allowed to leave after receiving a few repairs.

"It was surprising that the government disagreed so strongly with the South Africans," said Schmid, instead "doubling down" on a "faulty set of conclusions."


Credit: Fisheries Agency

Fisheries Agency officials speak at Thursday's press conference in Taipei.

In response to questions from The News Lens, the FA said in a statement that some crew members had already returned to Indonesia before the arrival of its official in South Africa, and that questionnaires were given to crew in English – resulting in "incomplete information." Once the Fuh Sheng 11 returned to port in Kaohsiung in late September, the FA said it was able to conduct a more thorough investigation with the aid of interpreters provided by assisting NGOs.

The FA also said that it only received a video detailing the abuses onboard the Fuh Sheng 11 once it had already started its investigations, and that it responded by including the evidence in its submission to the District Prosecutors Office. However, it did not deny that it had received other information pertaining to labor abuses from EJF.

Schmid added that the five-month license suspensions doled out to the captain and vessel operator of Fuh Sheng 11 are insufficient as operators can use the time to conduct repairs on the vessels. He also expressed concern that such low fines would not deter unscrupulous vessel operators from engaging in shark finning or mistreating their crew members.

EJF is part of a seven-member coalition of NGOs called Human Rights for Migrant Fishers. Formed in 2018, the coalition is agitating for summary improvements in Taiwan's regulation of its fishing industry, including the adoption of ILO C188 by Taiwanese regulators. Introduced in 2017, the convention has been ratified by 10 countries, including South Africa.

Thailand, which has a long history of illegal fishing and abuse of migrant workers in its own fishing fleet, announced earlier this year that it would ratify C188. In September, this stance was reiterated by Deputy Prime Minster General Prawit Wongsuwon.

If Thailand is willing to regulate its industry – larger than Taiwan's, and likewise reliant on the labor of migrant workers often exploited by human traffickers and forced to work in squalid conditions – "it should encourage developed countries like Taiwan" to do the same, said Schmid.

Asked about plans to ratify C188, the FA said: "The principles and mandates of the ILO Convention have been transposed into our domestic law and regulations. For instance, salary, working and resting time [and] living conditions. With the coordination of relevant regulations under amendment, it is a continuous plan to fully transpose the substantial contents of the Convention."

Taiwan's fishing industry has long been mired by reports of work abuse and illegal fishing which have only picked up steam in recent months – shown below in an abridged timeline:

2018: A rough year for Taiwan's fishing industry

Mar. 13 ►EJF releases a report, and corresponding video, condemning numerous instances of labor abuse and illegal fishing aboard Taiwanese vessels – just as European Commission investigators landed in Taiwan.
May 17 ►NGO coalition Human Rights for Migrant Fishers holds a joint rally in front of the Presidential Office Building, calling for the adoption of the Work in Fishing Convention and coverage for distant water migrant workers under the Labor Standards Act (LSA).
May 17 ►An Indonesian fisherman is stabbed and pushed overboard by a fellow crew member at sea on Taiwanese vessel Ming Man Hsiang 38; he was never found and a murder investigation was opened.
May 24 ►Greenpeace releases a report condemning instances of abuse at sea; The News Lens reports on the practice of dumping the bodies of deceased fishermen overboard.
May 25 ►Taiwanese seafood trader FCF, implicated in the Greenpeace report, says in a statement it is “disappointed that [Greenpeace is] implicating us in old incidents and cases.”
June 1 ►An Indonesian fisherman recalls tales of squalid working conditions and abuse at sea in a hearing at Taipei's Legislative Yuan.
July 17 ►The ILO announces the detention and subsequent release of Fuh Sheng No. 11 for violations of the Work in Fishing Convention.
July 25 ►Protesters gather outside the International Workshop to Combat Human Trafficking in Taipei, commissioning a truck to traverse the city displaying videos of labor abuse at sea.
Aug. 27 ►Taiwanese vessel Yi Rong No. 6 is accused of regulatory violations by New Zealand authorities.
Sept. 12 ►EJF releases a video documenting evidence of beatings of crew members, invalid contracts, underpayment, and poor living and working conditions on board the Fuh Sheng 11.
Oct. 1 ►The FA fines the Fuh Sheng 11 NT$3.75 million for work abuse and invalid contracts and the Chin Chang 6 NT$11.4 million for illegal shark finning.
y9myqlg231o3p3ww96ev3xafz6brabCredit: Greenpeace
Read Next: Welcome to Taiwan: Beatings, Bodies Dumped at Sea and a Culture of Maritime Abuse

Editor: David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more like it in your news feed, please be sure to like our Facebook page below.