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10 Nov 2022

Annelise Giseburt, Mongabay

Investigation reports Mitsubishi's two-decade association with Dalian Ocean Fishing allegedly encouraged human rights violations, labour abuse and environment crimes

"How Mitsubishi vacuumed up tuna from a rogue Chinese fishing fleet", 10 November 2022

...[A] Mongabay investigation revealed a massive illegal shark finning operation across the fleet of Dalian Ocean Fishing (DOF), which has claimed to be China’s largest supplier of sashimi-grade tuna to Japan, a top consumer....


Since DOF’s inception in 2000, the buyer of most of its tuna had been Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation and its seafood arm, Toyo Reizo Co. Ltd. Mitsubishi said it suspended that relationship in mid-2020, when the deaths of four Indonesian deckhands from one of DOF’s boats made international headlines. However, the Japanese firm’s two decades as DOF’s most important business partner were critical to the rapid expansion of a fishing company that, former workers said, grew into a major human rights abuser and environmental criminal.


Despite the major data gaps, we were able to trace one DOF transshipment to Japan. Although many calls to management companies of reefers with DOF encounters were met with a refusal to answer questions, a representative at one such company, Hayama Shipping, said a transshipment had taken place on Aug. 15, 2019, from DOF’s Long Xing 629 to the reefer Taiho Maru, which then went to Shimizu Port in Japan.

The Long Xing 629 is one of DOF’s most notorious boats, with five Indonesian deckhands who fell ill and died in 2019 and 2020. [...]


In response to questions about how it ensures human rights are protected in its supply chains, last year Mitsubishi said it implements “dialogue sessions” and, since 2017, “an annual questionnaire” for suppliers. However, those measures failed to detect the abuses on its supplier’s fleet.


Earlier this year, Mitsubishi released new “Tuna Procurement Guidelines” to address forced labor and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing — commonly referred to by the acronym IUU — in its supply chain. [...]


However, campaigners say the distant-water fishing industry as a whole has been unwilling to do away with transshipment at sea entirely, despite calls from NGOs to do so.


In May 2021, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) banned the import of tuna and other seafood products caught by DOF “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor in the entity’s fishing operations.”

DOF’s main customers, however, have always been in East Asia, first and foremost Japan. However, it’s not so easy for Japan to implement a similar ban on tuna linked with forced labor.

“Japan currently does not have the same kind of legal system in place as the U.S. to prohibit the import of goods manufactured by forced labor in general,” Kohei Ito, deputy head in charge of resource management in the Fisheries Agency’s International Affairs Division, wrote in an email.


In December 2020, Japan passed a new law enabling it to more strictly regulate seafood product distribution in order to help prevent IUU seafood from reaching the market. However, the law is applied on a species-by-species basis, and so far the only imported fish species for which the law applies are squid, saury, mackerel and sardine. It does not cover tuna, shark finning or abuse of crew.