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NGO blasts Taiwan's sashimi-grade tuna fleet for slavery, shark finning

Vessels supply lucrative export markets for sashimi in Japan, US and EU.

An investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has uncovered "shockingly cruel and illegal practices" on Taiwanese fishing vessels.

Practices include harpooning dolphins, finning and discarding tens of thousands of sharks, and catching vulnerable species of sea turtles and hammerheads, the NGO said.

Human rights abuses revealed in previous EJF investigations in the fleet aboard vessels have continued, EJF added.

The group said it spoke to Indonesian crew members from five longline vessels fishing in waters around the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans – all either flying a Taiwanese flag or linked to Taiwanese ownership.

Taiwan's distant-water longline fleet is a key supplier to the international tuna market, in particular high-value sashimi-grade fish.

This is exported to major economies including Japan, the United States and the European Union.

On all five boats, the crew reported being ordered to remove shark fins and throw the bodies overboard – a practice that is banned by Taiwan.

Fins are destined for the lucrative market for shark fin soup. Sharks ­– unable to swim without their fins – suffocate or bleed to death.

Some of the vessels also illegally caught and killed dolphins, which are protected under Taiwanese law.

Crew aboard one vessel were ordered to harpoon dolphins riding the bow wave: once harpooned, the animals were dragged alongside until they were exhausted or dead; those still showing signs of life were allegedly electrocuted using a car battery. The dolphins were then butchered, and the meat used as shark bait.

Around 300 dolphins were killed in this way on each of the vessel’s three-month trips, according to the crew.

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