The Taiwan Tuna Association has teamed up with the National Chung Cheng University to trial a video-monitoring system aboard its fishing vessels, aimed at stamping out labor abuses.
The TTA said it’s using a government grant to install the surveillance systems on its distant-water fishing vessels, allowing onshore monitoring and the use of blockchain to guarantee the validity of the captured data. The move comes as part of a three-year experimental project titled “Fulfilling the Protection of Human Rights at Sea and Supporting the Sustainable Development of Fisheries with Technology: Establishing Person-Centered Decent Labor Policies in Distant Water Fisheries.” The project is funded in part by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which plans to set up a communication platform for stakeholders “utilizing advanced technologies, such as big data and blockchain,” according to the TTA.
TTA members participating in the scheme include well-known tuna suppliers Chun-I Fishery, Jinn Chun Fishery, and Hong Yuan Fishery.
TTA Project Leader Tony Lin told Seafoodsource that, thus far, his team has installed CCTV on five fishing boats, all of which have since left Taiwanese ports, with a further four vessels to be fitted soon.
“I expect to see the results of the experiment after the vessels return to the port in half-a-year,” he said.
According to Lin, a major goal of the project is to use biometrics (primarily facial recognition) to record and monitor working hours, while CCTV monitors and “human pose estimation” and “human behavior analysis and prediction” are used to identify labor abuses. The CCTV on decks and passageways will alert management when a “high-risk behavior” like violence is detected, and will track and predict abnormal conditions, Lin said. Blockchain technology will be used to set up a database to improve the transparency of the working environment at sea, theoretically allowing data to be trusted and analyzed by interested parties.
However, the CCTV systems will not be connected in real-time with onshore monitors. Lin said.
“Due to the high cost of satellite communication, this experiment has installed CCTV on the vessel, and uses AI technology to interpret working hours and rest records,” he said. “it is automatically converted into a text format by a computer and sent back to Taiwan daily to temporarily solve the current satellite transmission costs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected working conditions aboard Taiwan’s fleet, delaying the arrival of fishing boats back to their home ports and timely crew rotations, according to Lin. Partially as a result, companies are under increased cost pressures due to the pandemic, Lin said.
“It is a sad thing that some crewmembers cannot return after their contract expires,” he said. “Fishing boats cannot enter ports, which means the vessels are unable to repair on time and this is a major problem. Most Taiwanese fishing boats choose to return to Taiwan for repairs because they are unable to find the nearest port, but this increases operating costs.”
Taiwan has been engaged in an effort to reform labor practices in its fishing fleet since the European Union issued it a yellow card in 2015 (subsequently rescinded in 2019) and the U.S. Labor Department placed Taiwan on its 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
The Taiwanese fishing industry was further jolted in January 2021 when U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a withhold release order against a Taiwanese tuna trawler, saying it has received credible information that the vessel was involved in the use of forced labor. In March 2021, the Taiwan Fishery Agency publicized a series of measures it had taken in the previous year to combat forced labor. But Greenpeace has continued to press the country to take additional action on forced labor it said it uncovered in the country’s distant-water fishing fleet, and its campaign has been joined by other non-governmental organizations. In August 2021, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration included Taiwan in its 2021 Report on Global IUU Fishing and Bycatch of Protected Marine Life Resources, which stated unequivocally that Taiwan’s fishing fleet had engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing between 2018 and 2020.
Greenpeace Taiwan Ocean Project Lead Moffy Chen told SeafoodSource her organization is “happy to see the efforts to improve the human rights of migrant fishers,” being taken by the TTA. But Chen said the continued existence of a “two-tiered recruitment system” in Taiwan exposes migrant fishery workers to risk of abuse on board Taiwanese fishing vessels.
“We are focused on walking the talk,” Chen said. “We’ve continued to hear all talk and no action. We urge the government to strengthen the mechanism of monitoring, controlling, and surveillance to protect human rights at sea and IUU fishing.”
The TTA said its goal is to “create a transparent, accountable, traceable, and monitorable system leading to decent working environment for foreign crew members” with the result that “the industry’s reputation can be rebuilt, and ultimately a transformation in tuna long line fishing vessels operating in the three oceans can be achieved gradually.”
The process will be guided by international instruments like the Work in Fishing Convention and the 1995 STCW-F Convention of the International Maritime Organization. The TTA said it is forming a fair labor and sustainable fisheries consulting group that will include participation from foreign crew organizations, unions, and non-governmental organizations, in addition to government and industry representatives. The goal of the group is to create “a process of discussion and negotiation to create a cooperative operation mode of fair employment and appropriate labor,” according to the TTA statement.
The TTA statement the country’s fishing fleet remains of vital political interest to Taiwan’s government, which has been limited from participation in international forums by China, which claims the island-nation as its own.
“[It] gives Taiwan the political leverage to expand the participation in the international community, and with the size of its fleets, Taiwan’s distant-water fisheries make Taiwan a critical player in the international trade,” the TTA said.
Photo courtesy of Sahat/SeafoodSource