The Missing Pieces of Deep-Sea Fishing: Challenges and Current Realities for Taiwanese Vessel owners

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November 22, 2023
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The Humanity Research Consultancy (HRC) has recently initiated a research project funded by the non-governmental organizations Humanity United and the Freedom Fund, focusing on Taiwanese "vessel owners" in the deep-sea fishing industry. Deep-sea fishing has long been regarded as a high-risk industry, with vessel owners often criticized by the international community, non-profit organizations, and the media for exposing fishermen to forced labor and human trafficking. However, according to HRC's observations, vessel owners, who are responsible for the financial management, operations, and sale of fish catches, also face various pressures, risks, and challenges. Many vessel owners feel the strain of the rising costs associated with operating fishing vessels. Reports from vessel owners' associations indicate that many have recently chosen to leave the fishing industry due to the unsustainable nature of continuing operations. In extreme cases, some vessel owners have been driven into debt and even suicide. The lack of understanding of vessel owners has become a barrier to more sustainable fisheries and the protection of human rights. Moreover, limited knowledge of vessel owners may lead the international community to view them as the sole perpetrators of human rights issues on fishing vessels, thereby overlooking the vulnerable positions and challenges faced by small-scale vessel owners within the global supply chain. It is also crucial to consider how profits can be more equitably distributed between major brands and small vessel owners within the global supply chain.

Current research related to the fishing industry often lacks the perspectives of vessel owners. HRC aims to gain a deeper understanding of the characteristics of Taiwan's fishing industry and the current situations and obstacles faced by vessel owners through this project, ultimately guiding Taiwan's fishing industry towards a more ethical direction favored by international brands. We seek to understand: "If Taiwanese vessel owners and their crew members (captains, engineers, etc.) are law-abiding citizens, what factors are preventing them from providing better working environments on their fishing vessels?"

HRC will employ both qualitative and quantitative research methods to obtain comprehensive information. In addition to utilizing public fishing vessel databases, we will design questionnaires for vessel owners and conduct field visits in Taiwan. To understand the industrial ecology of vessel owners, their power relations with different stakeholders, and to uncover issues not yet mentioned in existing literature, we will invite Taiwanese vessel owners to participate in one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions, giving them the opportunity to share their experiences and the various challenges they encounter in operating fishing vessels.

HRC will compile the vessel owners' insights and all research findings into a report, publish a series of related briefings, and draft a list of recommendations for seafood buyers collaborating with Taiwanese vessel owners and global non-governmental organizations based on the vessel owners' suggestions. We look forward to gaining a better understanding of the experiences of Taiwanese vessel owners through this project. More importantly, this project aims to become a platform for Taiwanese vessel owners to voice their concerns, enabling the international community to truly hear the voices and challenges faced by Taiwanese vessel owners.