top of page
HAN RONG 362 - NW Indian Ocean (1).jpg

Transhipment and the FCWC Region: Case Studies

Published: 4th Feb, 2021

This collection of case studies aims to highlight the diverse and complex role that transhipment plays.

They illustrate different types of operations and, unless specific non-compliance is mentioned, are not intended to imply non-compliance. The cases provide indications as to which features and factors can be taken into consideration to determine the IUU risk associated with specific operations.

Five main types of transhipment have been identified that take place within or impact on the FCWC region.


Reefer vessels frequently make journeys involving several ports. The point of loading or offloading for fish entering and departing the FCWC region will in many cases not be the previous or next port visited, within or outside of the FCWC region. Examples of common operating or voyage patterns for reefers visiting the region are described. Reefers that are dedicated to fish transport are mainly characterised by direct port-to-port transits, or journeys to fishing grounds to conduct at-sea transhipment operations. Whilst vessels can and do change their pattern of operations according to demand and market factors, knowing the expected broad operating pattern of a vessel can provide insights into the type of operations and risk factors that should be taken into consideration.


Over the past ten years a number of vessels have operated in West Africa as factory vessels that provide fish and fishmeal into both local and international markets. Frequently these vessels are ex-fishing vessels converted to factory vessels. These vessels may be sourcing fish from industrial fishing vessels, or from local small-scale fisheries (sometimes acting as ‘mother-ships’ to a fleet of canoes).


In recent years a new type of transhipment vessel has appeared in the broader West Africa region. Fishing vessels are switching operations from fish catching to fish transport operations and are sometimes referred to as ‘mini-reefers’. Visually these vessels can be difficult to distinguish from active fishing vessels. They may be reconfigured to have larger cargo and freezing capacity, as well as deck cranes and booms to conduct at-sea transhipment operations and they may carry Yokohama fenders to enable them to come safely alongside another vessel at sea. Or they may, at the simplest, have the fishing gear removed or stowed, and the holds are used to store transhipped fish.


Transhipment of fish from industrial fishing vessels to smaller vessels started as a means of ‘bartering’ fish for goods. In recent years this has, in some fisheries, developed into a lucrative business, providing a way for industrial fishing vessels to land unwanted, damaged, undersized or illicit catch outside of a port, while evading controls. In trawl fisheries in particular, the practice is considered to have a devastating impact on stocks as it creates a demand for undersized fish.


The growth in use of containers to transport fish has taken place over the last twenty years. Fishing vessels and reefers offload direct into containers in ports in the FCWC region, and containers and

container vessels are a significant means for the import of fish into and export out of the FCWC region. These vessels generally operate outside of the remit of fisheries authorities, generally visiting areas of port that are not accessible to fisheries personnel.


Transhipment and the FCWC Region: Case Studies has been produced by Stop Illegal Fishing, Trygg Mat Tracking, and the FCWC Secretariat. The case studies have been drawn from the forthcoming report Transhipment: Issues and Responses in the FCWC Region. This report draws on a range of material including West Africa Task Force communications and operations, an analysis of reefer operations conducted by TMT and Global Fishing Watch for the FCWC, base maps from MarineRegions and tracking data from exactEarth and a broad range of vessel identity and compliance data sources.


bottom of page