African Flag Registration Exploited by High-Risk Fishing Operators – New Report

A report published today by the international maritime intelligence organization TMT ( and IR Consilium, examine both how foreign fishing operators access and exploit African flag registrations for their fishing vessels in pursuit of legal impunity, and how weaknesses in African marking regimes attract this exploitation.

The global fishing market is projected to be worth $194 billion by 2027, so there are many financial rewards to fishing illegally. Owners of high-risk fishing vessels – operations that are likely to engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, unsustainable and/or destructive fishing practices, and/or that involve a wider range of related crimes – are looking for ways to create a situation where they can utilize a Country’s resources without significant restrictions or management oversight.

Challenges with maritime governance and limited fisheries enforcement capacity across the African continent, combined with the relative health of African fisheries, make the continent an ideal place for high-risk fisheries operators to test different tactics to evade accountability. Recognizing this phenomenon is a critical first step in understanding what can be done to address it.

While concerns have been raised and discussed over the years about the ‘genuine relationship’ between flag states and the owners and/or operators of the beneficiary vessels, broader flag-related concerns continue to arise around fishing vessels suggesting a growing relationship between ship flags and high-risk fishing practices. These practices are particularly acute in Africa, where some fishing vessel owners and operators exploit African flags to evade effective surveillance and to fish unsustainably and illegally in both sovereign African waters and in areas outside national jurisdiction.

The report examines two distinct high-risk marking processes: 1) ‘convenience marking’, the use of African open registration for fishing in waters outside the national jurisdiction of African countries, and 2) ‘tagging’, the use and abuse of various local regulations to mark foreign owned and operated vessels on the domestic African register to fish in African waters. These two processes provide opportunities for high-risk foreign fisheries operators to more easily fish illegally and unsustainably, which in turn undermines the sovereign rights of African coastal states.

The report identifies that the majority of African coastal states have flagged fishing vessels that have carried out illegal fishing activities, as identified through IUU lists or domestic sources of information. Several case studies are provided that offer insight into how high-risk fishing operators benefit from their access to African flags.

As Africa faces increasing challenges in the maritime domain, ensuring that high-risk fishing operations and vessels are removed from national flags is an important step towards securing African waters for the legitimate and sustainable enrichment of littoral States.

The good news is that for any State that faces these challenges and who cares about its sovereignty and reputation, there are ways to limit the opportunities for high-risk actors to take and then abuse its flag, including:

  • Ensuring an inter-agency approach is taken on all fishing vessel tagging decisions is critical to ensuring that flagged vessels can be managed effectively, receive proper oversight, and can be incorporated into national fisheries management plans.
  • Ensure that effective due diligence is carried out on all marking applications.
  • Close the registration of vessels that are open to fishing vessels.
  • Strengthen oversight of the involvement of private companies in open registration of vessels as many private companies managing open registrations have the right to make decisions without any consultation or very limitedly with the actual flag state.
  • De-flagging bad actors to avoid reputational damage and to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law. Registrants of African flags must remove the flags of all vessels known to be associated with or involved in IUU fishing and refuse flags to those vessels that apply.
  • Strengthen application and compliance requirements, especially for open registration as a way to demonstrate a shared commitment to defending African sovereignty.
  • Establish and enforce flag state penalties to avoid tarnishing their Country’s reputation by shipowners engaging in illicit activities.
  • Create channels of communication and cooperation with beneficiary countries to assist in determining the risks associated with the vessel during the decision whether to fly it or not, or in cases where enforcement action is required.

International oversight from experts and operators from around the world is needed to tackle the exploitation of open ship registrations and continue to identify and uncover new tactics used to pursue impunity. While African States may exercise control over their own open ship registrations, only international efforts will help limit the use of foreign open ship registrations to facilitate the conduct of IUU fishing operations in Africa and beyond.

Duncan Copeland, Executive Director, TMT”Every fishing vessel needs to have a flag, and every flag State needs to manage such fishing vessels effectively. Ensuring that operators and high-risk fishing vessels cannot enter flag registrations or fishing grounds is one of the simplest and most cost-effective steps any country can take to reduce the risk of illegal fishing, unsustainable fishing practices and damage. reputation. Individual countries and the international community have the opportunity to close the loopholes that currently contribute to illegal and unsustainable fishing practices in Africa and globally.”

Dr. Ian Ralby, CEO, IR Consilium”Despite all the esoteric laws and whimsical nuances of maritime issues, fishing vessel tagging is a fundamental issue of sovereignty. African countries should have exclusive control over resources in their own territory, and complete control over how foreign entities can use their names and reputations to interfere with other countries’ resources. While this is a growing problem amid a long list of maritime governance challenges facing the African continent, it is one that can be solved with sufficient will and consistent adoption of good practice. It seems that no continent has suffered more from the devastating effects of IUU fishing – on food security, food sovereignty, marine environmental sustainability, and the rule of law – than Africa. Therefore, reclaiming control of the African flag and making it less accessible to high-risk operators will simultaneously help safeguard African sovereignty and reduce IUU fishing opportunities in Africa and around the world.”

Full report Active Highlight: Use of the African Flag Registry by High-Risk Operators – available in French and English from

Distributed by the APO Group on behalf of TMT.

Editor’s Note:
Images: © TM Tracking available here via dropbox

Active Highlight: Use of the African Flag Registry by High-Risk Operators
Report PDF in English –
Report PDF en Francais –

Media Contact:
Larissa Clark
TMT Communication
[email protected]
+47 468 52672

Social media:
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IR Council Twitter:

About TMT:
is a Norwegian non-profit organization that provides national fisheries authorities and international organizations with fisheries intelligence, analysis and capacity building, targeting reductions in illegal fishing and broader improvements in marine governance.

About the IR Council:
IR Council
is a collection of experts from various disciplines who are committed to tackling complex problems and advancing peace, security, stability and prosperity.

Active Highlight: Use of the African Flag Registry by High-Risk Operators is the second Spotlight summary published by TMT. The Spotlight Report was developed by TMT and its partners to highlight operational practices, legal loopholes and enforcement gaps that illegal fishing operators can and can exploit to access fishery resources, ports and markets, and to evade sanctions. Each Spotlight features scenarios based on analysis of actual operations and illegal fishing cases, leveraging TMT’s extensive field experience dealing with illegal fishing and related crimes internationally. Developed to support all marine and fisheries stakeholders, each Spotlight briefing addresses the heart of the matter, uncovering where the risks lie in fisheries operations towards closing law enforcement gaps and increasing transparency in global fisheries.

The first Spotlight directive checked Exploitation of Corporate Structure by Illegal Fishing Operators

This Press Release has been issued by APO. Content is not monitored by the Business Africa editorial team and is not content that has been vetted or validated by our editorial team, evidence readers or fact checkers. The publisher is fully responsible for the contents of this announcement.

African Flag Registration Exploited by High-Risk Fishing Operators – New Report

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