Advocating for intelligence-led approaches and enhanced cooperation to combat crimes in the fisheries sector

Crimes in the fisheries sector represent a significant threat not only to marine biodiversity but also to global food security, economies, our relationship with the ocean, and the achievement of sustainable development goals. The Wildlife Justice Commission works to address the trafficking of vulnerable marine species. We are dedicated to advocating for the critical need to address these crimes, as a fundamental aspect of ocean governance.

In pursuit of this goal, we were present at the Ocean Decade Conference held from 10 to 12 April in Barcelona as part of the United Nations (UN) Ocean Decade Week. Anchored by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the conference brought together policy makers, scientists, industry leaders, and stakeholders from around the world to collaborate and formulate strategies to address the most pressing challenges facing our oceans and marine ecosystems.

To shed light on the multifaceted challenges posed by illegal activities in our oceans, the Wildlife Justice Commission and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) co-organised a Satellite Event titled “From Surviving to Thriving: Combatting Crimes in the Fisheries Sector for Healthy and Resilient Oceans”. The event, held on 9 April as part of the Ocean Decade Week, explored the impacts of crimes in the fisheries sector and strategies to counteract them. Panellists included Captain Senaka Wahala, Deputy Director of Naval Operations for Sri Lanka’s Navy; Lejda Toci, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer at the Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment of the UNODC Niels Peters Williams, Associate Programme Officer at the Global Maritime Crime Programme of the UNODC; Natali Giomi, Regional Program Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean at Skylight; and our Director of External Relations and Communication, Lisa Hartevelt.

The panel discussion provided insights on the serious and transnational nature of crimes in the fisheries sector, as well as the enabling role of corruption. These characteristics call for strategies that leverage innovative tools and technologies, build the capacity of national agencies, and implement a criminal justice approach that prioritises specialised enforcement techniques. Best practices were showcased to demonstrate the ways in which these strategies have been effectively implemented at a national level.

International and inter-agency cooperation are paramount to effectively address these crimes. Multi-stakeholder partnerships like the Nature Crime Alliance and United for Wildlife, of which we are members, provide a platform for governments, civil society, law enforcement, and the private sector to collaborate effectively in tackling illegal fishing. Policy and legal frameworks also play an important role in ocean governance discussions, as strengthening domestic legal frameworks and implementing international instruments such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), is essential to provide law enforcement agencies with the mandate and resources to combat fisheries crimes effectively. Training and mentorship can help relevant agencies acquire the needed skills and technology and innovation can help law enforcement address the significant challenges posed by the vastness of the oceans.

As we navigate the challenges ahead, it is imperative to recognise the important role of vulnerable marine species such as sharks and sea cucumbers which are illegally traded for profit by organised criminal groups, for healthy and resilient oceans. As such, addressing the trafficking of marine species is a crucial component for effective ocean governance. Protecting our oceans demands treating these crimes as serious organised crimes and addressing the corruption that enables them across the global supply chain through an intelligence-led approach, as well as enhanced cooperation. Through concerted efforts and innovative solutions, we can forge a path towards healthier and more resilient oceans for present and future generations.

In case you missed it, watch the event recording here: