One-third of global high seas fishing done by only 100 companies

Published on June 29, 2021

Seafood companies rarely disclose what or where they are fishing. To provide an overview of the fishing industry in the high seas—the area beyond national jurisdiction—researchers linked fishing activity in the high seas to vessel owners and corporate actors. They identified 1,120 corporate actors for 2,482 vessels (∼2/3 of high seas fishing vessels and effort in 2018) and found that the top 100 corporate actors account for 36% of all high seas fishing effort. The results provide a unique lens through which to view accountability for the use and protection of marine biodiversity, according to a new study published in One Earth.

Species caught on the high seas are fished by industrial fleets and destined mainly for high-end markets in the U.S and Europe. Past assessments of high seas fish populations show that fishing in these waters has led to extraordinary declines in the abundance of many open-ocean species, including several species of tuna, swordfish, and marlin.

While fish catches are reported by nations, many companies catch and profit from fish in the global ocean, where fishing is subject to few regulations because the high seas lie beyond national jurisdiction.

High seas fishing is notably concentrated among a small number of entities. The Korean companies Sajo Group and Dongwon, which owns the U.S. subsidiary Starkist, were in the top 10 of the most active corporations on the high seas, along with a handful of Chinese corporations and one U.S. corporation based in Hawaii.

Approximately 100 companies, based in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Taiwan, Russia, Spain, the Netherlands, and South Korea, among other nations, accounted for more than one-third of high seas fishing during the studied period.

Co-author Henrik Österblom at Stockholm Resilience Center believe the findings can be important for governments, management agencies, civil society organisations and supply chain actors to enhance transparency and establish better policies.

“This is a first step towards increased knowledge about what is happening in some of the most remote places on Earth. With these new insights we know better who we should engage with in order to achieve better stewardship of the high seas”, said

Henrik Österblom.