Use cases of beneficial ownership information to achieve fisheries policy aims (2024)

In fisheries policy, governments often seek to balance multiple social, economic, and environmental objectives between which there is an inherent tension. For example, social and economic objectives may include increasing food production for domestic consumption or export, and employment. This may not be compatible with the goal of improving the environmental sustainability of fisheries if achieving them requires overfishing or causes environmental degradation, resulting in decreasing fish stocks. [59] Generally, the aim is to maximise either catch or income whilst conserving fish stocks. [60]

Broadly, BO data can be used directly to help achieve fisheries policy aims in two ways. It can help:

  1. strengthen the governance and oversight of fisheries tenure systems; and
  2. detect and investigate fisheries-related crimes and their proceeds.

Better BOT can also indirectly and systemically improve fisheries governance.

Strengthening the governance and oversight of fisheries tenure systems

As outlined above, fisheries tenure governance is critical to achieving fisheries policy aims by ensuring economic benefit is derived from fisheries whilst preventing overfishing and environmental degradation. Some governments may also pursue additional policy aims through their fisheries tenure policy – for instance, preserving fishing communities’ access to livelihoods and food security.

Although the ways in which BO information can be used to strengthen governance and oversight tenure will depend on the specific primary and secondary objectives of a country’s fisheries tenure policy, broadly it can help in the following ways:

  • improving the licensing process, by helping screen licence applicants, detecting and preventing corruption and fraud in the licensing process, and ensuring any licence conditions tied to ownership are adhered to;
  • evaluating and improving fisheries policies, for instance by assessing market concentration in the fisheries sector and where the proceeds go; and
  • enabling participation, oversight, and accountability of and by both governmental and non-governmental actors.

Improving the licensing process

During the preparation stage (see Figure 2), parties that wish to engage in fishing operations must register with authorities and obtain an authorisation to fish. The following section outlines how BO information – both of corporate vehicles applying for licences and of the vessels to be licenced –can strengthen the licensing process. It draws in part on lessons from the use of BO information in procurement and licensing in the extractive industries. [61]

Licence applicant and vessel owner track record

Many countries place specific conditions on licensing relating to the individuals, corporate vehicles, and vessels involved to ensure proper governance of fisheries tenure. For instance, governments and RFMOs may place prohibitions on holding licensing for individuals or vessels with track records in IUU fishing or other crimes.

There are numerous documented cases of fishing operators repeatedly engaging in IUU fishing. For example, in 2021 a Ghanaian flagged trawler was reissued a licence despite having been caught engaging in IUU fishing in 2019 and not having paid the fine. It was subsequently apprehended for the same offence. [62] In 2023, the Ghanaian government stated that it will revoke the licence of any fishing operators found to be abusing fishing observers. [63] Without screening who is behind these companies, it could be easy to circumvent such a ban, if someone is able to incorporate a different company and apply for a new licence. In Nigeria, this is how many mining licence holders avoided paying licence fees. The Mining Cadastre was able to significantly increase its revenue by using BO information to identify individuals with outstanding fees who were applying for new licences using different companies. [64]

Applicants that have committed fisheries-related crimes may pose a potential risk to ensuring countries do not exceed TACs and stay within sustainable limits, particularly given the challenges in monitoring and its reliance on self-reporting. An investigation in the UK revealed that 13 of the 25 fishing operations that held the largest proportion of the UK’s fishing quota had links – including through shareholdership – to a GBP 63 million illicit scheme in Scotland, whereby fishing operations and processors collaborated to land approximately 170,000 tonnes of illegal herring and mackerel. [65] These links can be detected using BO information in the licensing due diligence process.

As part of basic due diligence checks, licensing authorities often screen against vessel names or applicants that have a history of misconduct. Many RFMOs maintain lists of IUU fishing vessels and their registered owners, and some RFMOs have a policy of automatically listing vessels listed by other RFMOs – so-called cross-listing. [66] In another example, South Australia maintains a list of persons disqualified from holding a licence or authority to fish based on whether they have been found guilty of an offence. When a corporate vehicle is disqualified, the disqualification is also applied to each director. [67] Yet, these approaches may be easy to circumvent and not very effective at achieving their purpose. Expanding these approaches to include both the corporate vehicles associated with wrongdoing – not just registered owners but also other parties, such as operators –and their beneficial owners could aid in preventing repeat offenders from obtaining authorisation to fish. European Union (EU) regulations, for example, define beneficial owners of vessels that engage in IUU fishing in the list of parties “supporting or engaging in” these activities. [68] The use of BO information could allow governments to check whether licence applications involve individuals associated with previous wrongdoing, and can help ensure that those who have been involved in IUU fishing do not gain access to quotas and other benefits.

Due diligence checks could also be extended to the granting of subsidies relating to fisheries. For example, a report found that a Spanish firm linked to IUU fishing operations had benefited from nearly USD 1.2 million from the EU’s Fisheries Partnership Agreements and USD 3.8 million from the Spanish government for the construction of a fishing vessel. [69] This is despite the fact that EU regulations prevent Member States from granting public aid to those involved in the operation, management, or ownership of fishing vessels included in the Community IUU vessel list. [70]

Local ownership

Some governments aim to preserve fishing communities’ access to livelihoods and food security by reserving some or all licences for their citizens. In the Seychelles, all fishing licences (with the exception of industrial fishing licences) need to be held by either a Seychelles citizen or a 100% Seychelles-owned company. [71] Local licences are also cheaper. A licence to use a purse seine fishing net in the Seychelles costs USD 90,000 for a locally registered vessel versus up to USD 120,000 for a foreign one, meaning the government could miss out on revenue if a foreign individual was able to feign domestic ownership, for instance through the use of nominees. [72]

In Ghana, the use of local front companies was suggested to justify the application of low licence fees and fines, and estimated to contribute to over USD 14 million of foregone revenues annually. [73] Ghana only allows Ghanaian citizens and companies to hold licences in order to “provide for the development of the fishing industry and the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources”. [74] Local industrial vessel licences require 100% Ghanaian ownership, whilst tuna vessel licences require 50% Ghanaian ownership. [75] The abuse of domestic front companies that are ultimately owned by Chinese individuals to misappropriate Ghanaian fishing licences has been extensively documented. Different investigations show that many companies with Ghanaian directors hold the fishing licences but are ultimately controlled by external parties. One investigation estimates 90% of Ghana’s industrial fishing vessels have some degree of Chinese involvement, subverting the Ghanaian policy aims to foster domestic involvement in fisheries. [76]

Another investigation showed that a single Chinese firm controlled 17 trawlers operating in Ghanaian waters via nine locally registered companies. [77] Vessels linked to the company have been associated with at least 16 illegal fishing offences in Ghana since 2016. The fines are levied on the domestic companies and are relatively low, meaning there is a lack of accountability and fines are not a sufficient deterrent for wrongdoing. [78] The Ghanaian government, in turn, has said these are joint venture (JV) agreements between Ghanaian and Chinese companies. A JV is a commercial arrangement between two or more participants, and may involve both domestic and foreign firms. However, the opacity in these arrangements and which parties actually own, control, or benefit from the activities that the JV undertakes means it is not possible to verify when this is happening. [79]

BO information and corporate structure information collected as part of BO disclosures would be able to help identify cases and create accountability mechanisms where domestic front companies or nominees are used.

Corruption and fraud

Rights to fishing and quotas can be very valuable, and therefore present a corruption risk. Both the value and corruption risks are likely to rise as fish stocks decline. There are many documented cases of politically exposed persons (PEPs) using their influence to grant fishing rights (see Box 2). Whether they have a direct or indirect interest in the company or receive a bribe, there is often a link between the PEP and the company in question. Additionally, politically linked operations are often involved in regulatory infractions, overfishing, and other breaches, due to their high level of political protection. [80] In one study, 20% of cases of IUU fishing were linked either to state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or PEPs. [81]

The integration and use of BO information in the licensing due diligence process could help reveal these connections and raise red flags for potential corruption. Basic checks can include whether PEPs or their associates are beneficial owners or appear in the ownership structures of applicant companies, or checking whether these conflicts of interests have been declared as part of asset disclosure. [82] These checks could be circumvented by submitting false statements using nominees, which can be more difficult to detect. However, experiences from procurement have shown that many existing BO datasets are high enough quality for systematic, large-scale corruption risk flagging. [83] Rather than politicians self-incriminating through BO declarations, many BO-related indicators are valid for country-specific corruption risks. For example, the companies with frequent changes in beneficial ownership, extremely young or old beneficial owners, and specific nationalities of the beneficial owner can be indicators of corruption, depending on the country. [84]

When licensing and BO information is available to a broad range of users beyond the government, other actors like investigative journalists can also play a significant role in ensuring accountability.

Box 2. Corruption and licence requirement subversion in the Fishrot scandal

Following a whistleblower’s leaks in 2019, Icelandic company Samherji became embroiled in a corruption scandal known as Fishrot, involving Namibian fishing licences. Namibia’s 1992 Sea Fisheries Act allocates fishing rights for some species “according to whether the applicant is a Namibian citizen [or] the applicant company’s beneficial control is vested in Namibian citizens”; in addition, “the applicant must have beneficial ownership of any vessel to be used”. [85] Foreign investors can only enter the sector via a joint venture with a local firm.

Samherji appeared to have minority ownership in its Namibian subsidiary, Katla, and be compliant with the law. In reality, it had majority control. This allowed the Icelandic company to continue to exercise control over Katla’s operations as well as its profits, which were mainly channelled back to Samherji in Iceland, in order to reduce its Namibian tax obligations. [86] According to a Namibian think tank, there are many cases of front companies being used that are politically connected. [87]

In order to obtain quota rights that had already been assigned to other firms, Samherji is alleged to have bribed a number of Namibian officials. Licences were sold below market value to a subsidiary of Samherji, and the excess money was kept by the company and government officials. [88] As a local CSO summarised:

Fishrot - to a great degree - was enabled by the secrecy in which the Fisheries Ministry operates in Namibia. There are no publicly available lists or registers of the companies that receive rights and quotas or the vessels that are licensed to fish in Namibian waters. There is certainly no attempt to compile and publish anything that resembles a beneficial ownership register for the fishing industry. [89]

As a result, Namibia’s fisheries and justice ministers and Samherji’s Chief Executive Officer resigned in 2019. [90] Court cases against individuals allegedly involved in the scandal, including two former ministers, started in December 2023. [91] The scandal has had a significant impact on the Namibian fishing industry and government revenues as well as severe repercussions for fisheries workers and their communities, including a loss of livelihoods and employment. [92]

Licence limits

There are a range of reasons why countries place limits on how many licences an individual can hold. One of these is to avoid market concentration and ensure a more even distribution of the proceeds of fisheries, which is covered in detail later on. Another is to prevent non-fishing investors from consolidating and speculating on licences. [93] Whilst less common in fisheries, Zambia is attempting to curb speculation of mining licences and promote investment by limiting the number per mining firm to five. [94] According to the Mines Minister, there may be considerable challenges in enforcing this without BO information: “[...] some companies own too many mining rights, using either a single or multiple companies with the same beneficial owners”. [95] The use of BO information in licensing could help identify cases where applicants are attempting to subvert these types of licensing restrictions using corporate vehicles by identifying links between individuals and corporate vehicles that may escape more superficial checks.

Evaluation and improvement of tenure policies

It is critical to know who ultimately owns and controls fishing rights to ensure good fisheries tenure governance. High-quality BO data accessible in bulk can enable new types of analysis that help government agencies and policymakers evaluate to what extent fisheries tenure policies are achieving their goals, which can provide the evidence base for iterative improvement. As the Executive Director of the BC Seafood Alliance stated to a Canadian parliamentary committee on fisheries: “good policy comes from good data”. [96]

Understanding market concentration and foreign ownership

The use case of BO data to assess market concentration, factoring in common ownership and control, has already been established outside fisheries. [97] Where fisheries tenure systems have been liberalised, quota markets need to be guarded against oligopolisation. Particularly where the issuing of licences is limited and licences can be bought, sold, and leased, there is a risk that larger operators will crowd out smaller operators, which could be detrimental to the resilience of coastal communities. [98] For example, an investigation in the UK found that five of the country’s richest families control or hold 29% of the fishing quota, and more than two-thirds is held by the top 25 companies. [99] This investigation was enabled by bulk analysis of data from the country’s FQA and BO registers (see Box 3). [100] The investigation led to concerns that the licensing policy was not leading to a fair distribution of the proceeds and provided an unfair advantage to those with more resources. [101]

Part of the concern about the consolidation of UK fishing rights into the hands of a small group is also that a substantial part of these rights – held through UK-registered companies and vessels – are ultimately held abroad. [102] These types of concerns are common in other countries as well. [103] In addition, small-scale fishers comprise more than three-quarters of the UK fishing fleet and provide half of the jobs, but only have 2% of the total quota. [104] Another report shows how fish POs holding quotas across a variety of UK-registered limited companies may give the impression of diversification. However, the full picture becomes clear with company records and BO information by enabling the identification of ultimate controlling parties. [105] These analyses raise concerns that the policies may not be delivering effectively on the stated UK policy objective of “fair distribution of fishing opportunities”. [106]

Another investigation found that a Dutch fishing conglomerate, Parlevliet & Van der Plas, has been able to acquire and consolidate fishing licences across Europe in part by buying up old fishing vessels in countries where these fishing quota rights remain tied to the vessel, such as in Portugal. [107] Through elaborate corporate structures and the trade and re-registration of vessels between different branches and countries, the company’s true power remained largely unnoticed. Nevertheless, a 2018 study by the European Commission deemed the company one of the most powerful fisheries in the EU. [108] This case also shows how vessel ownership is a critical component of being able to understand who holds fishing rights. It shows how the privatisation of fishing rights has led to speculation, a drive to acquire and consolidate these rights, using the rights as collateral for loans to fund vertical integration and increase dominance of the fishing sector. Looking only at the names on fishing licences, it is impossible to assess the degree of market concentration and the market dominance by certain actors. Recent discussions in a Canadian parliamentary committee for fisheries explored the idea of fisheries being considered a natural resource on a par with timber, minerals, and fossil fuels in the context of the competition regulator. [109]

Assessing risks and benefits

Increased market concentration and the emergence of fewer, dominant fishing operators may be good for efficiency, but there are signs these trends are counterproductive to many fisheries policy objectives. In 2013, the EU obligated member states to consider social and environmental factors in its quota allocation. The oligopolisation of fishing rights has come largely at the expense of both the access and livelihoods of coastal communities and small-scale fishers. For example, in Norway, a report by the National Audit Office found that whilst the liberalisation of fishing quotas has increased the profitability of fishing fleets, the trend towards ownership concentration has had negative consequences for coastal communities. [110] The same conclusions were reached in Canada with regard to indigenous communities. [111] In addition, studies show that market concentration can lead to absolute or near-absolute ownership of quotas in certain areas or of certain fish species. Such market dominance may result in inefficiencies and higher prices. [112] Experiences in Canada also show how certain actors who have consolidated fishing rights are able to set landing prices and push most of the risk onto small-scale fishers, leading to an imbalance in risk and benefits. [113] Small-scale fishers have also raised concerns of the lobbying power of large-scale producers falsely appearing to represent diverse POs. [114]

The analyses of the UK market were conducted by non-government parties using publicly available licence and BO information. In contrast, evidence provided by a non-governmental organisation to a 2019 Canadian parliamentary committee noted how this type of analysis is not possible without BO information, stating that: “it is difficult to determine the full level of quota licence concentration given that ‘back-end trust agreements and other mechanisms [...] hide the true beneficial ownership. There are multiple subsidiaries of listed companies that are nearly impossible to link up, and there are fishers attached to licences and quota who have no real ownership and certainly are not getting the value of those assets’”. [115]

Identifying corruption risk indicators and conflicts of interest

In addition to assessing market concentration, analysing BO datasets in bulk together with cases of known corruption can help establish which BO-related data points are valid indicators for corruption risks specific to particular countries. These can subsequently be built into the licence application corruption screening checks discussed above. BO information can also help create better fisheries tenure policies by identifying and guarding against conflicts of interest. For instance, if a PEP holds interests in a company in the fishing sector, they may not be neutral when deciding or voting on fisheries policy. This can also lead to regulatory capture. In Namibia, nearly a fifth of the country’s MPs were revealed to be shareholders in fishing firms, resulting in widespread conflicts of interest in policy decisions regarding the sector. [116] Where asset disclosure registers or policies are in place, BO information about corporate vehicles can help verify statements, as is done in Mauritius. [117] Where this information is made public, this also allows non-governmental parties to exercise oversight and hold decision-makers to account.

These examples show how BO information can help assess whether stated government objectives of fisheries policies are being met. However, publicly available information suggests that even in countries with central BO registers, the information is not systematically used by licensing agencies or fisheries directorates. Integrating BO information into the analysis work and systems of competition authorities and fisheries agencies could provide insights into the levels of ownership concentration and whether this is ultimately meeting their intended purpose.

Enabling participation, oversight, and accountability

Access to information about who ultimately owns, controls, and benefits from fishing rights by parties outside governments can help strengthen fisheries tenure policy by facilitating participation and enabling others to help with oversight and accountability.

The lack of information on who owns fishing rights was seen as a key barrier to entry to the sector in Canada. For example, the 2019 parliamentary committee report detailed how new entrants in search of licences to buy or lease currently have to rely on word of mouth to see who owns quotas. [118] Access to information is a key precondition to enable a quota market to function effectively. One of the policy objectives of creating a public register of beneficial owners of quota licences in Canada is to provide this information, thereby helping market entrants secure loans to access capital to enter the market. [119]

BO information of fishing rights can also enable non-governmental parties to monitor and provide oversight of the fisheries sector. The governance of the fisheries sector can have profound environmental, social, and economic consequences, and concerns the public interest. Fish stocks are a natural resource that can contribute to food security and domestic resource mobilisation. Whilst the section above describes a key use case for governments to use BO data in fisheries tenure governance, the studies and investigations cited were conducted primarily by investigative journalists, CSOs, and the private sector. Those engaged in the fisheries sector are usually among the key intended beneficiaries of fisheries tenure policy. Access to BO information of tenure rights allows them to exercise oversight and hold governments accountable for their policies (see Box 3).

Detecting and investigating fisheries-related crimes and their proceeds

Fisheries-related crimes can be divided into two broad categories: crimes in the fisheries value chain (e.g. tax crimes, human trafficking, and forced labour), and crimes associated with the fisheries sector (e.g. smuggling firearms using fishing vessels). [120] These two categories of crimes often occur at the same time as IUU fishing, and all three categories can overlap. [121]

Combating corruption, tax crimes, and money laundering and its predicate offences have been the key policy drivers of BOT reforms. [122] Extensive documented examples and evidence demonstrate how BO information can be used by financial investigative units (FIUs), law enforcement, and non-governmental actors such as investigative journalists and CSOs to detect and investigate these crimes and their proceeds. [123] Therefore, where these crimes overlap with fisheries-related crimes and examples that rely on established ways in which BO information is used are not extensively covered here. [124] Whilst IUU fishing activities may not be explicitly listed as a predicate offence for money laundering in many jurisdictions, crimes in the fisheries value-chain are (such as fraud and forgery; corruption; tax crimes; human trafficking; and forced labour).

The three categories overlap, and they can often occur at the same time. A vessel, its owners, and operators engaged in IUU fishing may also be involved in smuggling endangered species, falsifying export documentation, and bribing officials to facilitate these offences, along with laundering the proceeds. [125] For example, in South Africa, a fishing company overfished lobster and other protected fish and exported them to the United States (US) in a deliberate breach of government-established quotas. The company also bribed fishery control officers to be able to land the excess catch. The company hid its profits in offshore trust and company structures spanning multiple jurisdictions, which made it difficult for authorities to trace the money despite successful prosecutions in both South Africa and the US. Although the estimated profits were around USD 60 million, only USD 20 million was recovered. [126] Much IUU fishing activity is linked to transnational organised crime groups; established uses of BO information in tackling organised crime may therefore also help tackle fisheries-related crimes. [127]


In the preparation phase, BO information can help expose political corruption. As discussed above, the awarding of licensing and fishing rights can be particularly vulnerable to corruption, and BO information can help identify links between PEPs and companies applying for fishing rights.

Many of the types of corruption present in the fisheries sector are petty corruption. [128] These include, for example, the bribery of policy officers, port and tax officials, or fisheries inspectors. [129] BOT does not always help detect these types of corruption, as they may be paid in cash, and often do not involve corporate vehicles, assets, or sufficiently large money flows to trigger red flags for banks. However, where licence or vessel owners have been found guilty of these crimes, BO information may still be used to enforce prohibitions on these parties acquiring new licences, as discussed above.

Illegal, unreported, and irregular fishing and related crimes

Crimes that occur during the fishing and landing stages tend to occur on the vessel itself (see Figure 2). These can include illegal fishing and transhipment, overfishing, underreporting, fishing illegal species, fishing without a licence, or fishing with illegal gear. [130] In part due to the lack of systematic collection of ownership information during vessel registration (see Box 1), it is often difficult to hold to account those who ultimately own or control the vessel. The use of corporate structures to obfuscate vessel ownership is well documented. [131] Therefore, law enforcement agencies often focus on those who are operating and physically present on the vessel. However, these individuals may be employees or contractors, or even the victims of labour exploitation and modern slavery, crimes that are also commonly committed during IUU fishing. [132]

This is especially the case for distant water fleets, where ownership, registration, supply chains, and labour sources often span multiple jurisdictions, meaning any criminal investigation requires collaboration between national authorities. There is also evidence that vessel owners have re-registered vessels in different flag states to disguise the links to their previous convictions. [133] In these cases, information on the beneficial ownership of vessels – or at least the beneficial ownership of the corporate vehicles that legally own the vessel –can help ensure accountability. [134]

Additional requirements and measures may decrease the reliance on non-domestic registers for tackling certain types of IUU fishing. For example, if a government captures the beneficial ownership of vessels domestically, it could require ships to be registered and flagged domestically in order to fish in its waters. A government may also require quotas to be tied to specific vessels, and for the vessel and licence owner to be the same individual, to help hold accountable those with licences who are committing infractions.

Where quotas are transferable between vessels, some company owners have sought to avoid their main fishing vessels from having their licences revoked by transferring their quota to boats that do not leave port and thus are never involved in wrongdoing. This has been the case in the UK, where a fifth of the quota in the southwest of the country –1,500 tonnes a year – was transferred onto a five metre-long vessel. [135] Regardless of the measures a country implements domestically, ensuring accountability of illegal fishing by foreign-flagged vessels will still depend on the measures implemented in the flag state in question or any international measures that do not yet exist.

Processing plants

BO information of corporate vehicles may be useful in investigating fisheries crimes committed in processing plants. These can include the processing of illegal species, illegally caught fish, forced labour, and modern slavery. [136] Knowing the true owners of the companies behind these processing plants can help ensure accountability for these crimes.

If information on licences, quotas, and vessel ownership are made available more broadly, processing plants can also help monitor and enforce fishing rights by being able to more easily identify when they are dealing with illegally caught fish.

Investigations by CSOs have demonstrated that there are significant onshore corporate networks behind IUU fishing. These investigations were enabled by BO information from central government registers where this was available. [137]

Tax crimes related to fisheries

Evidence suggests that many fisheries-related crimes often go hand in hand with tax crimes, especially in the processing and sales phases. [138] BO information can be used in the detection and investigation of various tax crimes, including the abuse of double taxation agreements, transfer mispricing, tax evasion, and profit shifting, particularly where offshore corporate structures are used. [139] Generally, many of the crimes discussed above –e.g. illegal fishing –may also give rise to tax crimes. A lack of information on who has the right to catch what, and who is actually catching what,is a major barrier in being able to audit fishing companies and establish whether tax crimes have occurred. [140] BO information of fishing licences, quotas, and vessels can help establish who has actually benefited from fishing activities, and may have tax liabilities as a result. The use of transnational, corporate structures subsequently makes it difficult to establish what happens to proceeds.

It should be noted that there are many types of tax crimes that are not addressed by BOT. For example, the miscategorisation of fish is likely to have tax implications and is therefore a likely tax crime, but this may only be detected and addressed by proper monitoring systems.

Money laundering investigations

How BO information of both corporate vehicles and vessels can help follow the money to investigate the proceeds of crime is extensively documented. This can include the crimes listed above, as well as the use of the fisheries sector to launder the proceeds of other crimes. For example, in Indonesia, a large criminal syndicate laundered approximately USD 9 million in proceeds from illegal drug trafficking and the sale of pangolin scales through a legitimate fishing company as well as a range of international suppliers. [141] In investigations, the value of BO information is often to identify links between individuals, corporate vehicles, and assets in order to delineate the scope of an investigation, which will then rely on various other sources of information, such as financial transaction data. Additionally, BO information may contain inconsistencies or red flags that may indicate wrongdoing. [142] Currently, the lack of information on vessel ownership often presents a dead end in investigations. [143]

Systemically improving fisheries sector governance

Whilst the previous sections have focused on direct benefits of BO data to fisheries tenure governance, it is important to recognise the wider and systemic indirect benefits for fisheries governance at large. For example, widely available BO information can help any business engaged with the fisheries sector to conduct due diligence on its counterparts, and ensure it is not making itself complicit in fisheries-related crimes. BO information can also help with risk management throughout the supply chain. Certification schemes, such as the blue fish tick label for sustainable fisheries run by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), often require rigorous control of the supply chain to ensure standards are maintained throughout. Though the MSC scheme does not require BO information to be provided, it does look at management structures of fisheries operations as one of three key assessment areas. Knowing the ownership of all entities within its supply chain would form an important part of due diligence checks and supply chain management for fisheries sellers seeking certification. This could yield various benefits in terms of reputation management and access to new markets. [144] Requirements around supply chain due diligence are a logical next step in fisheries governance and transparency, as well as in certification schemes.

BOT can also help foster a business culture of transparency and trust. This may help attract both domestic and foreign investment to the fisheries sector. To illustrate, the World Bank’s business environment benchmarking project includes the collection and availability of BO information in its assessment indicators. [145]

Additionally, BOT – particularly where the information is also made publicly available – can be a deterrent to wrongdoing. Research has shown that the implementation of a BO register of foreign companies that own property in the UK caused new purchases by companies based in financial secrecy jurisdictions to fall substantially following government announcements that the policy would be introduced that year, and further declined following the establishment of the register. [146]

Box 3. A comparison of the state of publicly available information on the beneficial ownership of fishing quotas in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Seychelles

Denmark has had a public register of vessel quota shares and individually transferable quota shares since 2020. [147] It also has a publicly accessible BO register for corporate vehicles, and a publicly accessible vessel register, which includes ownership information. [148] For example, looking at licences for North Sea herring it is possible to see that the vessel Astrid has a licence with a share of the quota for fishing a certain weight, and the quantity of recorded catch. [149] The licence information includes a unique identifier for the vessel (a port registration number), a listed owner (a Danish company, Astrid Fiskeri AS), and contact information. On the vessel register it is possible to look up the vessel and see that Astrid Fiskeri A/S is its registered owner. [150] On the BO register for corporate vehicles, the company can be found by searching for its name, although multiple companies with similar names are included in the search results. [151] As the address matches that on both the licence and the vessel register, it is possible to discern the right company, and see information on both its legal and beneficial owners. [152] To enable systematic analysis of vessel ownership, the quota register should collect and share Danish company numbers.

In the UK, there is a publicly available FQA register, [153] which includes the name of the licence holder. This can either be the name of an individual –although the format is inconsistent –or a company. Although the register provides a reliable identifier for the licence –the licence number – it does not provide an identifier for the licence holder where this is a company, nor for the vessel in question. The fishing licence application form does not collect data about individuals or companies in a structured way, nor does it collect identifiers. [154] Separately, the UK also publishes datasets of non-UK vessels authorised to fish in UK waters as well as UK vessels authorised to fish in external waters. [155] These do not include ownership information but do include multiple vessel identifiers.

The UK also has a publicly available BO register. Taking the company name from the FQA register and searching for this on the BO register should, in theory, show the beneficial owner of the company that holds the licence. However, due to deficiencies in the UK disclosure regime, at times this may yield the name of a foreign company, rather than an individual. For example, Bexleyhill Ltd., which holds licence 10142, has Pesca Cruxeiras S.L. in Spain listed as its beneficial owner. [156] In addition, the FQA register does not cover the leasing of quotas. Whilst all vessels will be licensed, it is not possible to see which rights are actually used by which vessel. Finally, the UK vessel register is not public. Some information can be found using the IMO register of ship and company particulars, but not all the licensed vessels are registered there, particularly as some of the vessels with allocated quotas are not the vessels that actually fish those quotas. [157]

The Seychelles publishes annual spreadsheets of its fishing licences. The large fishing licences spreadsheet contains mostly foreign companies. [158] Whilst it includes the name of the company – with varying spellings – it does not include an identifier or where this company is registered, although it may be possible to deduce this from the address field. The majority of these countries do not have broadly accessible BO registers. For some, including France, it is possible to search for the beneficial owner of the corporate vehicle on its central register. The large fishing licence spreadsheet shows, for example, that eight licences are held by Companie Francaise du Thon Oceanique. The French BO register shows the beneficial owner of this company to be Dirk Parlevliet. [159] This is the same beneficial owner behind Parlevliet & Van der Plas, the Dutch fishing conglomerate that has acquired and consolidated many of the fishing rights across Europe. [160] The Seychelles BO and vessel registers are only accessible to authorities.


[59] OECD, “Governing fisheries”, in OECD Review of Fisheries 2020 (Paris: OECD, 2020),

[60] Silver and Stoll, “How do commercial fishing licences relate to access?”.

[61] For procurement, see: Tymon Kiepe and Eva Okunbor, Beneficial ownership data in procurement (s.l.: Open Ownership, 2021), 9-16, For licensing in the extractive industries, see: Julie Rialet and Alanna Markle, Using beneficial ownership information for accountable natural resource governance (working title) (s.l.: Open Ownership, forthcoming June 2024); and Alanna Markle and Tymon Kiepe, Who benefits? How company ownership data is used to detect and prevent corruption (s.l.: Open Ownership, 2022),

[62] “Foreign Companies Play Shell Games to Fish Illegally”, Africa Defense Forum, 12 February 2021,

[63] Richard Kwadwo Nyarko, “You won’t get a license to fish in Ghana if you abuse any fishing observer – Hawa Koomson to industrial trawler owners”, MyJoyOnline, 16 January 2023,

[64] Markle and Kiepe, Who benefits?, 19-20.

[65] Crispin Dowler, “Revealed: the millionaires hoarding UK fishing rights”, Unearthed, Greenpeace UK, 10 October 2018,

[66] “Combined IUU Vessel List”, TMT, n.d.,; Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Technical and Compliance Committee, “Compilation of IUU Vessel Cross-listing Procedures of tuna RFMOs”, Fifteenth Regular Session, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, 25 September-1 October 2019,

[67] “Demerit points”, Department of Primary Industries and Regions, Government of South Australia, 2 May 2022,

[68] European Union Law, “Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, amending Regulations (EEC) No 2847/93, (EC) No 1936/2001 and (EC) No 601/2004 and repealing Regulations (EC) No 1093/94 and (EC) No 1447/1999”, Official Journal of the European Union, EUR-Lex, 29 October 2008,

[69] Greenpeace’s European Oceans Team, Monster Boats: The Scourge of the Oceans, (Amsterdam: Greenpeace, 2014),

[70] European Union, “Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008”.

[71] Seychelles Fishing Authority, “Fishing Licences”.

[72] “Summary of local fishing licence arrangements, fees, duration, transferability and divisibility in place for the year 2020”, Seychelles Fishing Authority, 2020,

[73] Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), At what cost? How Ghana is losing out in fishing arrangements with China’s distant water fleet (London: EJF, 2021),

[74] Ghana Legislation, Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act No. 625 of 2002), FAOLEX Database, FAO, updated 19 September 2022,

[75] Ghana Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and the Fisheries Commission, “Guidelines for the Registration & Licensing of Fishing Vessels (Industrial and Semi-Industrial) in Ghana”, 3 November 2013, 4,

[76] EJF, China’s hidden fleet in West Africa: A spotlight on illegal practices within Ghana’s industrial trawl sector (London: EJF, 2018),

[77] Mona Samari, “How Ghana’s weak penalties are letting trawlers off the hook”, China Dialogue Ocean, 3 October 2019,

[78] Samari, “How Ghana's weak penalties are letting trawlers off the hook”.

[79] “Ghana: Minister says most industrial fleets are under Chinese-Ghanaian joint ventures as EJF report indicates 90% are Chinese-owned”, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 26 April 2022,

[80] André Standing, Corruption and industrial fishing in Africa (Bergen: U4 AntiCorruption Resource Centre, 2008),

[81] Brush, Strings Attached.

[82] For more information, see: “Asset Declarations”, Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), n.d.,

[83] Mihály Fazekas, Irene Tello Arista, and Antonina Volkotrub, “Using beneficial ownership data for large-scale risk assessment in public procurement”, Central European University (forthcoming, expected 2024).

[84] Fazekas, et al., “Using beneficial ownership data for large-scale risk assessment in public procurement”.

[85] Claire W. Armstrong, Ussif Rashid Sumaila, Anna Erastus, and Orton Msiska, “Benefits and costs of the Namibianisation policy”, Namibia's Fisheries: Ecological, Economic and Social Aspects (2004): 203-214,

[86] Ben Freitas, Beneficial ownership in the fishing sector and links to corruption (Washington, DC: WWF, 2021),

[87] Johannes Dell, “Fishrot: The corruption scandal entwining Namibia and Iceland”, BBC News, 27 November 2023,

[88] Freitas, Beneficial ownership in the fishing sector and links to corruption.

[89] IPPR, After Fishrot, 2.

[90] Daniels et al., Fishy networks.

[91] Werner Menges, “Judge puts foot down for start of Fishrot trial”, The Namibian, 6 March 2024,

[92] Dell, “Fishrot”; Frederico Links and Ester Mbathera, ‘We are the ones that suffered the most’: The human rights impacts of the Fishrot corruption scandal on Namibian fisheries workers (Windhoek: IPPR, 2024), 5,

[93] Silver and Stoll, “How do commercial fishing licences relate to access?”; Canada House of Commons, “West Coast Fisheries”, 22.

[94] Chris Mfula and Anait Miridzhanian, “Zambia restricts number of mining licences per company to five”, Reuters, The Northern Mining Group, 17 October 2022,

[95] “Zambia to cap number of mining licences issued to single firms”, Reuters, 29 March 2022,

[96] Canada House of Commons, “Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans – Number 066, Public Part Only - Partie Publique Seulement”, 44th Parliament, 1st Session, 8 May 2023, 12,

[97] For example, both the UK and Slovakian competitions and markets authorities use bulk BO data to assess market concentration. See: Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), The State of UK Competition (London: CMA, 2022),

[98] Silver and Stoll, “How do commercial fishing licences relate to access?”.

[99] Dowler, “Revealed: the millionaires hoarding UK fishing rights”.

[100] Luke Massey, “Uncovered: the Rich List “Codfathers” dominating the UK’s fishing industry”, Greenpeace, Press Release, 11 October 2018,

[101] Dowler, “Revealed: the millionaires hoarding UK fishing rights”.

[102] Crispin Dowler, “Privatising the seas: how the UK turned fishing rights into a commodity”, Unearthed, Greenpeace UK, 7 March 2019,; Low Impact Fisheries of Europe (LIFE), Fishy Business: Fish POs in the EU (Bristol: LIFE, 2017),

[103] See, for example: Agustina López, Peligro de depredación: la maniobra oculta que ideó China para adueñarse de la pesca en el mar Argentino (Buenos Aires: TN, 2023),

[104] Dowler, “Privatising the seas”.

[105] LIFE, Fishy Business.

[106] UK Government, England and the crown dependencies: Quota management rules for 2021 (London: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Marine Management Organisation, 2021),

[107] Margaux Tjoeng and Regin Winther Poulsen, “Oude schepen opkopen om visquota te bemachtigen: zo verovert een Nederlands bedrijf de visserij”, Follow the Money, 1 December 2023,

[108] Ward Warmerdam, Barbara Kuepper, Jeroen Walstra, Mara Werkman, Milena Levicharova, and Linnea Wikström, Research for PECH CommitteeSeafood industry integration in all EU Member States with a coastline (Brussels: European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies, 2019),

[109] Canada House of Commons, “Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans – Number 066”, 9.

[110] Riksrevisjonen, Undersøkelse av kvotesystemet i kyst- og havfisket, (Oslo: Riksrevisjonen, 2020),

[111] Canada House of Commons, “Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans – Number 066”, 13.

[112] LIFE, Fishy Business.

[113] Canada House of Commons, “West Coast Fisheries”, 25-26.

[114] Tjoeng and Winther Poulsen, “Oude schepen opkopen om visquota te bemachtigen”.

[115] Tasha Sutcliffe, Evidence, Ecotrust Canada, 20 February 2019,, quoted in Canada House of Commons, “West Coast Fisheries”, 23.

[116] Jon Henley, “Bribery allegations over fishing rights rock Iceland and Namibia”, The Guardian, 15 November 2019,

[117] Interview with Mauritian Register of Companies, 23 November 2023, remote.

[118] Canada House of Commons, “West Coast Fisheries”, 31.

[119] Christina Burridge, “BC Seafood Alliance Recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on the Regulation of West Coast Fisheries”, BC Seafood Alliance, February 2019, 3,; Canada House of Commons, “West Coast Fisheries”, 31.

[120] UNODC, Stretching the Fishnet.

[121] IUU fishing covers a range of activities, not all of which are crimes. See: “What is IUU fishing?”, FAO, n.d.,; The Pew Charitable Trusts, FAQ: Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (Philadelphia: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2013), 2,

[122] Predicate crimes for money laundering differ between jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions, such as the EU, include a list of specific crimes: European Union Law, “Directive (EU) 2018/1673 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2018 on combating money laundering by criminal law”, Article 2, Official Journal of the European Union, EUR-Lex, 23 October 2018, Other jurisdictions, such as the UK, include any criminal conduct as a predicate offence: UK Legislation, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, Section 340, updated 26 October 2023,

[123] See, for example: Markle and Kiepe, Who benefits?

[124] See: UNODC, Stretching the Fishnet; OECD, Evading the Net.

[125] See, for example: INTERPOL Purple Notice, 9 September 2015, quoted in UNODC, Rotten Fish, 32.

[126] Caroline Dutot, Hout Bay and the illegal lobster trade: a case study in recovering illicit proceeds of IUU fishing and wildlife trafficking (Basel: Basel Institute on Governance, 2021),

[127] UNODC, Fisheries Crime, 4-5.

[128] “Petty Corruption”, Transparency International, n.d.,

[129] For an analysis and typology of bribery in the fisheries sector, see: UNODC, Rotten Fish.

[130] United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), Combating Illegal Fishing: Better Information Sharing Could Enhance U.S. Efforts to Target Seafood Imports for Investigation (Washington, DC: GAO, 2023), 2,

[131] Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) and C4ADS, Spotlight on the exploitation of company structures by illegal fishing operators (Oslo and Washington, DC: TMT and C4ADS, n.d.),; NA-FIG, Chasing Red Herrings.

[132] “Fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”, INTERPOL, 7 December 2020,

[133] TMT and C4ADS, Spotlight on the exploitation of company structures by illegal fishing operators.

[134] The beneficial ownership of vessels is explored in more detail in: Open Ownership, Beneficial ownership of vessels (s.l.: Open Ownership, forthcoming 2024).

[135] Maeve McClenaghan and Crina Boros, “Investigation: Why this tiny boat has more fishing rights than many trawlers”, Unearthed, Greenpeace UK, 15 May 2016,

[136] International Labour Office (ILO), Caught at sea: Forced labour and trafficking in fisheries (Geneva: ILO, 2013),

[137] Brush, Strings Attached.

[138] OECD, Evading the Net.

[139] Emmanuel Mathias and Adrian Wardzynski, Leveraging Anti-money Laundering Measures to Improve Tax Compliance and Help Mobilize Domestic Revenues (Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 2023),; Peter Chowla and Patricia Ann Brown, Beneficial ownership information: Supporting fair taxation and financial integrity (New York City: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2023),; OECD, Evading the Net, 12; FiTI, Fishing in the dark.

[140] OECD, Evading the Net, 37.

[141] FATF, Money Laundering and the Illegal Wildlife Trade (Paris: FATF, 2020), 19,

[142] See, for example: Markle and Kiepe, Who benefits?.

[143] Daniels et al., Fishy networks.

[144] “Why get your fishery MSC certified?”, MSC, n.d.,

[145] World Bank Group, Business Ready: Methodology Handbook (Washington, DC: World Bank Group, 2023),

[146] Matthew Collin, Florian M. Hollenbach, and David Szakonyi, The end of Londongrad? The impact of beneficial ownership transparency on offshore investment in UK property, (Helsinki: United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, 2023), 2,

[147] Fiskeristyrelsen, “Statistik for fiskeriets regulering”, Ministeriet for Fødevarer, Landbrug, og Fiskeri, n.d.,; Oliver McBride, “New register creates openness about who owns Danish fishing quotas”, The Fishing Daily, 23 November 2020,

[148] The BO register for corporate vehicles is available here: “Søg i CVR”, CVR - Det Centrale Virksomhedsregister, n.d., For more information, see: Julie Rialet, Use and impact of public beneficial ownership registers: Denmark, (s.l.: Open Ownership, 2023), The vessel register is available here: “Skibsbladet”, Søfartsstyrelsen, n.d.,

[149] Consulted on 15 April 2024: “Individuelle overdragelige kvoteandele”, Fiskeristyrelsen, n.d.,

[150] Consulted on 15 April 2024: “Skibsbladet”, Søfartsstyrelsen, n.d.,

[151] Search results as consulted on 15 April 2024: “Search results”, CVR - Det Centrale Virksomhedsregister, n.d.,

[152] Consulted on 15 April 2024: “Unit view”, CVR - Det Centrale Virksomhedsregister, n.d.,

[153] “Fixed Quota Allocation Register”, UK Government, n.d.,

[154] UK Government, Marine Management Organisation, “AFL2: Application for a fishing licence for a British registered fishing vessel”, 5 July 2022,

[155] UK Government, Marine Management Organisation, “Approved EU Vessels”, Guidance: United Kingdom Single Issuing Authority (UKSIA), updated 8 April 2024,

[156] UK Government, “BEXLEYHILL LIMITED”, Persons with Significant Control Register, 1 June 2016,

[157] McClenaghan and Boros, “Why this tiny boat has more fishing rights than many trawlers”.

[158] “Large-scale Fishing Licenses Issued in 2021”, Seychelles Fishing Authority, 2021,

[159] The French Republic, Institut national de la propriété industrielle (National Industrial Property Institute), “Présentation de l'entreprise COMPAGNIE FRANCAISE DU THON OCEANIQUE”, 4 April 2024,

[160] Tjoeng and Winther Poulsen, “Oude schepen opkopen om visquota te bemachtigen”.

Next page: Leveraging ongoing beneficial ownership transparency efforts to improve fisheries governance

Use cases of beneficial ownership information to achieve fisheries policy aims (2024)


What is an example of a beneficial owner? ›

A beneficial owner is someone who owns at least part of a property or other asset, even if its legal title is owned by someone else. That person can also vote on or otherwise influence decisions regarding transactions involving that asset or property. An example is a corporate shareholder.

What is beneficial ownership of IUU fishing? ›

1 IUU fishing is a multi-faceted issue that is complicated, in part, by the opaque nature of complex corporate structures. Beneficial ownership information for fishing vessels is a key piece of data that allows enforcement officials to know who actually controls and profits from fishing.

What is beneficial use of ownership? ›

Beneficial ownership is a legal concept that refers to the right of an individual or entity to enjoy the benefits of ownership of an asset, even though the legal title is held by another person or entity. This means that the beneficial owner has the right to use, control, and profit from the asset.

What is the purpose of beneficial ownership? ›

The intent of the Beneficial Ownership Rule is to assist authorities in counteracting money laundering, tax evasion, and other financial crimes.

What are the risks of IUU? ›

IUU Fishing poses a direct threat to food security and socio-economic stability in many parts of the world. Developing countries are most at risk from IUU fishing. For instance, total catches in West Africa are estimated to be 40 percent higher than reported catches.

Why are fishing rights important? ›

Fishing rights are helping ailing fisheries become productive and prosperous again. A variety of fisheries all around the world use this management approach, which can take various forms. Fishing right programs can be designed to meet the particular biological, economic and social needs of different fisheries.

What are the consequences of IUU fishing? ›

The environmental consequences are also devastating, including overharvesting, declining stocks, collapse of fisheries, movement of fishing activity to deeper and deeper waters, illegal practices that overkill protected populations and cause “incidental” losses to other sea life or devastate local ecosystems, and the ...

What are the types of beneficial owners? ›

Examples of different types of beneficial ownership include UBOs of a business, a trust, a property or securities. The UBO of a business will own the majority of its shares and will therefore earn money from the company.

Who is the ultimate beneficial owner? ›

Beneficial ownership is when any natural person ultimately owns or controls a contracted counterparty or legal entity. The ultimate beneficial owner (UBO) is the natural person on whose behalf a transaction or activity is being conducted.

What is the difference between a business owner and a beneficial owner? ›

Legally, an ownership can be classified into two; (1) legal and (2) beneficial ownership. A legal owner is someone who holds the legal title under their name, alternatively, a beneficial owner is someone who enjoys the benefits of ownership even though the title is in another name.

What are beneficial owners defined in two ways? ›

If your company is a reporting company, your next step is to identify its beneficial owners. A beneficial owner is any individual who, directly or indirectly: Exercises substantial control over a reporting company; or. Owns or controls at least 25 percent of the ownership interests of a reporting company.

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