Illegality and criminal wrongdoing in Taiwanese fisheries are increasingly well documented. Yet too often these very serious problems are reported and dealt with by Taiwanese authorities as if they were isolated incidents – the responsibility of individual unscrupulous operators, reckless captains or poorly disciplined foreign crews. This approach serves the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency and the Taiwanese government well. Responsibility remains in the hands of individual wrongdoers. It is also entirely wrong.

Pulling together a series of case studies into a single report yields a very different picture. The reality is a global Taiwanese fishing fleet operating almost entirely out of control, in which some of the most serious crimes, including murder, appalling labour abuses, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and serious environmental impacts, are endemic and routine. This is not a failure of individual operators, but a failure of Taiwan’s authorities at the highest level.

Taiwan’s fishing fleets supply tuna and other seafood that reaches markets around the world. The issues we highlight in this report are relevant and will be of great interest to consumers in Europe, the US, Japan and many other countries. These consumers demand higher standards than Taiwan can currently provide. Without urgent action to systematically address these problems, Taiwan risks jeopardising its fishing industry and, as importantly, its wider international trading reputation by becoming associated with tuna and seafood caught at terrible human and environmental expense.

No one wants to see the demise of Taiwan’s fishing fleets but it is clear that a wake-up call is needed for the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency. The threat of European sanctions for IUU looms large – there is a need for far-reaching and sustained action to avoid this. That process of change can only start with an admission: we have a problem that we need to fix.