Protecting endangered marine species and conserving our oceans: discussing the criminal justice approach

The UN Ocean Conference taking place in Lisbon from 27 June – 1 July 2022, aims to start a new chapter on global ocean action. The overarching theme of the conference is “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”.

The Wildlife Justice Commission, together with Sri Lanka, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and United Nations Ocean Decade co-organised a side event on 29 June on “Crime, corruption, and environment: a criminal justice approach for ocean action and achieving SDG 14”. 

In addition to the Wildlife Justice Commission’s Executive Director, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, the panellists included Lejda Toci, Programme Officer, UNODC Environment Team; Miguel Bernal, Senior Fishery Officer, General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean GFCM – FAO; and Hasanthi Dissanayake, Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka. The event was moderated by Ms. Siri Bjune, Head of the Global Maritime Crime Programme at the UNODC.  

The event outlined the links between crimes, including crimes in the fisheries sector, corruption, and the ocean economy, and discussed the role of law enforcement agencies in the global ocean action.

Olivia Swaak-Goldman highlighted the urgency to tackle fisheries crime as transnational organised crime. By implementing the same strategy used to address terrestrial wildlife crime, intelligence-led investigations can disrupt and dismantle criminal networks and ultimately facilitate the arrest and successful prosecution of high-level traffickers involved in these crimes. This in turn will help change the low risk and high reward dynamic of trafficking vulnerable marine species, so that criminal network move away from this type of criminality and our vulnerable species have an opportunity to recover.

“It is essential to focus on high-level actors to have an important impact on the criminal networks involved. These actors often find themselves very distant from where the crime occurs at sea. Intelligence-led investigations allow for the detection of these key players and for having a long and lasting impact on the field.”

Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Wildlife Justice Commission Executive Director

Concluding her remarks Olivia Swaak-Goldman highlighted the crime convergence of fisheries crime with other forms of organised crime and shed light on how this point can increase political prioritisation. A criminal justice lens is required for us to unlock the right tools to curb this phenomenon.  

Read more about our work on fisheries crime.