Tag Archives: IUU fishing

Illegal Fishing in the South Pacific: What Can the Chilean Navy Do?

Regional Strategies Topic Week

By Francisco Martinez

The Chilean Navy is more than just a national warfighting force aimed at conventional deterrence. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires, and tsunamis are all examples of natural disasters that Chile faces in which the Navy is one of the first to provide support. Along with disaster relief and safeguarding life at sea, countering Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the most economically important duties of the Chilean Navy. IUU fishing is not only a matter of protecting the economy, but it is also a matter of the sustainability of natural resources in the Chilean Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). To tackle IUU, Chile requires creativity, and resourcefulness. The key to accomplishing the task, like for many small- to medium-sized navies, is regional cooperation.   

 A 21st Century Chilean Navy

The current Chilean Navy motto — “Vencer o morir,” translated “to vanquish or die” — seems like a heroic and forged-in-war motto, fit for a Navy that has existed for over 200 years. The Chilean Navy saw its roots in the independence wars against the Spanish Empire in the early 18th century and has been ready to stand up to protect the country ever since.

This motto seems to highlight a conventional navy, focused solely on warfighting. However, in the 21st century, small- to medium-sized navies must be able to adapt to survive. Constrained budgets, peaceful geographic neighborhoods, and a need for resources elsewhere in the country — like hospitals, schools, or fighting the current pandemic — are the main threats facing navies like Chile’s today. 

Located in the southernmost part of the South American continent, Chile’s reality is complicated. With an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1,063,741 square nautical miles, Chile has the world’s 10th largest sea area. Its primary ocean frontiers are the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans. Its search and rescue area of responsibility is roughly a quarter of the Pacific Ocean (7,726,163 nm2). And with this enormous area of responsibility, there are also myriad unconventional threats . Some of these include IUU fishing, drugs and person trafficking, sea pollution, natural disasters, and protecting the Antarctic environment.

Chile is also a maritime state. More than 95 percent of its exports and 90 percent of its imports come and go through the sea. Chile is a signatory of the Antarctic treaty, which comprises significant responsibilities like safeguarding life at sea in that area, and takes special precautions enforcing the Antarctic system to protect natural resources and the environment.

As a door to the Antarctic, Chile’s position in the southernmost part of the world makes it a natural bridge to launch expeditions (tourist, research, or supplying Antarctic bases) and serves as a logistical platform for search and rescue operations. It is in Punta Arenas where ships from different parts of South America, like Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Uruguay, establish their main supply port before starting their Antarctic patrols to resupply their bases.

To tackle the threats and responsibilities described, the White Book of Defense 2017 shifted the tasks assigned to the Navy to a more non-traditional military role, like humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and disaster relief. It also states the importance of conserving the ocean and its resources, keeping the Chilean oceanic territory safe and lines of communication open, to interact and cooperate with other countries that share a common interest to protect natural resources, and to increase the governance of ports and secure their logistics.

It should not be surprising that the number of assets required to accomplish all these tasks and keep patrolling the seas is far more than the eight blue-water warships, four offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), and eight Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) the Chilean Navy has today.

The Threat of Distant Waters Fishing ships and IUU Fishing

The importance of fishing is made clear by the enormous fleet built by China. In the last few years, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reported that China owns roughly 17,000 distant waters fishing (DWF) boats, becoming the largest fleet in the world (ODI defines DWF as vessels in fishing activities outside a nation’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone). As early as this month, Ecuador announced that more than 300 fishing ships were operating close to its EEZ near Galapagos Island. In 2016, an Argentinian Coast Guard ship sank a Chinese fishing vessel, the Lu Yan Yuan Yu, which was believed to be part of a bigger fleet fishing in Argentinian’s EEZ. 

As Claude Berube reminded us on CIMSEC, navies and policymakers must be aware of the numbers. The People’s Republic of China owns 30 percent of fishing fleets and 20 percent of the fish is caught illegally. In Chile, the numbers paint a bleak future. $300 million worth of IUU fish were believed to be caught in the Chilean EEZ during 2017. IUU fishing is not only a threat to the economy, but it is also depleting the oceans. In the long run, it is a major threat to the sustainability of the maritime commons. In this vein, how can the Chilean Navy patrol its enormous ocean area of responsibility with a limited number of assets?

Pacific Ocean (Aug. 26, 2006) A Chilean Naval Coast Guard’s Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team conducts training aboard the Chilean M-class frigate Blanco Encalada (FF 15), during exercise PANAMAX 2006. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Perez)

The answer is ingenuity. Unlike other countries that separate the duties of conventional warfighting from those of policing the seas, e.g., the United States or Argentina, Chile has a single agency (the Navy) to patrol and enforce the law at sea, with the Chilean Naval Coast Guard subsumed under the Navy. Whenever naval ships sail or aircraft fly, they patrol Chile’s ocean territory to defend against both military and criminal threats.

The threats of distant waters fishing fleets and tight budgets are combining to push Chile and other like-minded regional navies to cooperate and share the burden. International exercises that emulate real-world challenges are a clear example of international cooperation in South America. Panamax, an exercise that focuses on security and stability in the Panama Canal, comprises 20 nations’ participation, including Chile, Peru, and the U.S. Other exercises include Teamwork South and Unitas. In both, more than five nationalities are represented. RIMPAC is another example of Chilean international presence through exercises. In 2018 Chile commanded the exercise’s maritime component, showing to the rest of the participants that the Chilean Navy is ready to assume more significant and complex challenges.

What Else Can Be Done?

It is difficult to overstate the Chilean Navy’s need for additional resources and better options to accomplish fuller patrolling of its oceans while keeping warfighting capabilities to deter possible adversaries. Crews onboard warships would prefer to exercise more warfighting capabilities and do more live firings, for example, than patrolling the EEZ. However, the Navy has to double its efforts to do more of both with limited assets.

As mentioned earlier, combined patrols seem to be one option to share the burden. In the Antarctic, Chile and Argentina currently run the Antarctic Combined Naval Patrol to safeguard life at sea while rationing assets. But this patrol is a short-term answer. As a more sustainable solution, Chile started building its Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) to cover long distances of the EEZ, but even with these platforms much more could be done.

A second option, offered by Claude Berube, could be to hire NGOs like Sea Shepherd and embark government personnel to enforce the law at sea at a relatively small cost (since NGOs use volunteers to man the ships). Another option, given by Peter Roberts from the Royal United Services Institute, could be joint efforts with private companies to increase Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). For example, nowadays and amid the pandemic, there is a surplus of commercial aircraft that could be used to patrol the EEZ instead of the navy’s P3Cs. Commercial aircraft are not expensive to hire and would be available whenever the navy’s MPA needs to attend to maintenance or warfighting exercises.

Intelligence fusion centers are an excellent third option to help stop IUU. The significance of MDA is invaluable when it comes to sending ships or MPA to investigate possible criminal activities at sea. In the Chilean case, a national task force must be stood up before seeking to expand its reach via neighboring liaison officers. With the data gathered and processed in the fusion center, whether using satellite images or other agencies’ databases, Chile can more efficiently deploy assets to investigate IUU fishing instead of sending MPA without any leads.


Of the three options given, the first two seem cost-effective for small-to-medium navies, but may not be feasible in the eyes of the public opinion. If the Navy outsources patrolling the seas, then why does Chile need a navy in the first place? And with this way of thinking, resources could be allocated to other areas of the national budget. The last option, the IFC, seems a sustainable option that would do well for countering IUU fishing while strengthening bonds with like-minded countries. At first, this international effort could start by sharing only information, and as trust grows, it could go as far as patrolling the EEZ together with combined assets.

IUU fishing is a threat that no coastal country is free from. The numbers of long-range fishing fleets are growing, and natural resources are at risk of being depleted. However, the Chilean Navy must be prepared for the threat coming to its waters. International cooperation is critical to regional navies in South America, but it must start with us. Small- to medium-sized navies must act together to prevail.

Francisco Martinez is a Lieutenant Commander in the Chilean Navy. He holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University and is currently stationed at Chile’s Naval Polytechnic Academy. The views expressed are his and not necessarily those of the Chilean Academy or the Chilean Navy.


Berube, C. (2020, July 21). Stand Up A Joint Interagency Task Force to Fight Illegal Fishing. Center for International Maritime Security. https://cimsec.org/stand-up-a-joint-interagency-task-force-to-fight-illegal-fishing/44708

Chapter Eight: Latin America and the Caribbean. (2020). The Military Balance, 120(1), 388–443. https://doi.org/10.1080/04597222.2020.1707970

Crowley, E. (2018). La pesca ilegal en Chile, un problema más allá de nuestras fronteras. Aqua. https://www.aqua.cl/columnas/la-pesca-ilegal-chile-problema-mas-alla-nuestras-fronteras/

Defensa, M. de. (2017). Libro de la Defensa Nacional de Chile 2017—Ministerio de Defensa Nacional (MDN). https://www.defensa.cl/temas-de-estado/libro-de-la-defensa-nacional-de-chile-2017/

Gutierrez, M., Daniels, A., Jobbins, G., Gutierrez, G., & Montenegro, C. (2020). China’s distant-water fishing fleet: Scale, impact and governance. ODI. https://www.odi.org/publications/16958-china-s-distant-water-fishing-fleet-scale-impact-and-governance

Roberts, P. (2020, August 25). Maritime domain awareness: Multidimensional problem or opportunity? https://innovapolinav.cl/noticia_roberts.html

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 1, 2011) The Chilean Navy frigate Almirante Lynch (FF 07) participates in a live-fire exercise with ships from Chile, Colombia, Peru and the U.S. navies during the Pacific phase of UNITAS 52. UNITAS is a multinational exercise as part of Southern Seas 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stuart Phillips/Released) 110701-N-NL541-062

Asian Fishing Fleets Commit Yet Another Illegal Fishing Incident in Argentine Waters

The Southern Tide

Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“My plain and simple message to our friends in the region is ‘the United States is a reliable and trustworthy security partner….Latin America and the Caribbean are not our backyard. It’s our shared neighborhood… And like the neighborhood … where I grew up, good neighbors respect each other’s sovereignty, treat each other as equal partners with respect, and commit to a strong neighborhood watch.”  Vice Admiral Craig Faller, USN,  before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Sep. 25, 2018. 

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

The Argentine Coast Guard stopped a South Korean trawler that was allegedly operating without authorization in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in early February. The non-violent operation highlights how Asian fleets are willing to travel long distances in order to make a profit, and how Latin American navies and coast guards need to be more focused than ever before on combating unauthorized fishing.

The O Yang 77

The latest international fishing incident in Argentine waters occurred when the South Korean trawler O Yang 77 was detected by Argentine authorities, which deployed PNA Doctor Manuel Matilla (GC-24), a Mantilla-class patrol boat, to stop said vessel. According to Infobae, the vessel was detected around Chubut province, in the Southern part of Argentina, with its nets down. Aboard the vessel, Argentine authorities found some 130 tonnes of fish. A 11 February video posted on the Argentine coast guard’s Twitter account shows the  O Yang 77 docked in the South American country’s Comodoro  Rivadavia port.

South Korean authorities argue that the vessel, which belongs to Sajo Oyang Corporation, did not violate Argentina’s EEZ.

Illegal Fishing and Incidents

The aforementioned incident highlights one obvious fact: illegal, unauthorized and unregulated (IUU) fishing does not occur simply because Latin American and Caribbean fishing vessels break the law, but extra-regional vessels, particularly large fleets from Asian nations, are willing to travel long distances in order to make a profit and satisfy their nation’s demands.

Previous commentaries by the author noted the problem of IUU fishing in Latin America (see CIMSEC’s Latin American Navies Combat Illegal Fishing”), of which Chinese fleets are repeated offenders. For example, in 2016 the Argentine Coast Guard shot at and sank a Chinese fishing vessel, Lu Yan Yuan Yu, which was part of a larger fleet operating in Argentina’s EEZ. The following year, the Chinese vessel Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 was spotted close to the Galapagos Islands and detained by Ecuadorian authorities. An inspection discovered over 300 tons of a variety of fishes, particularly hammerhead and silky sharks as well as other endangered species (see CIMSEC’s “A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America”). A year later, in late 2018, Peruvian authorities stopped the Chinese vessel Runda 608 for fishing without authorization in Peruvian waters.

Ironically, at the time of this writing, yet another incident regarding Asian fishing fleets occurred in the South Atlantic. In mid-February, the patrol boat Mantilla was once again called into action, this time to help the Zhongyuanyu 11, a Chinese fishing boat that collided with the Spanish fishing vessel Pesca Vaqueiro, some 16 km outside Argentina’s EEZ. The Argentine platform was deployed to rescue the crew of the sinking Chinese ship, while the Spanish vessel apparently did not suffer significant damage. These incidents highlight the constant presence of extra-regional fishing vessels in the South Atlantic.

How are Regional Governments and Navies Reacting?

Unsurprisingly, whenever a major illegal fishing incident occurs, there is an understandable public outcry and regional governments promise to protect a country’s maritime resources. For example, after the Lu Yan Yuan Yu incident in the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian Navy deployed its submarine Huancavilca to help combat unauthorized fishing. Quito also reportedly sent a formal letter of protest to Chinese authorities about the incident, though it is unclear (and highly doubtful) if any measures have been implemented to avoid future violations of Ecuador’s maritime sovereignty by Chinese vessels.

Successfully and efficiently protecting an EEZ is not easy. Additional vessels for navies and coast guards would certainly be helpful and, to be fair, several Latin American nations continue to upgrade and expand their navies. For example Argentina has confirmed the purchase of four French offshore patrol vessels; Brazil has purchased a carrier (see CIMSEC’s “Atlantico: Brazil’s New Carrier”) and is constructing submarines; Mexico has constructed a long-rang patrol vessel and various OPVs; and Peru is constructing a second landing platform dock, BAP Paita.

However, it is also necessary to obtain aerial platforms that can help monitor and intercept suspicious vessels faster. Space programs can be additionally helpful to locate suspicious ships as well – the Chinese vessel Runda 608 was reportedly located via space-based capabilities. In other words, the answer is not just adding more ships to a fleet to successfully combat illegal fishing; aerial platforms and even space technology are also critically important.

Moreover, governments have a vital role to play. Robust legislation to combat IUU fishing is necessary, such as heavy fines or even prison time for offenders, but there also has to be action at the diplomatic level when illegal fishing is conducted across national borders. It will be important to monitor whether Buenos Aires confronts Seoul over the latest incident, though it is unlikely as Buenos Aires-Beijing relations remain the same after the Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 incident.

As a corollary to this analysis there is an ironic detail worth highlighting: in late January the Argentine news service Ambito reported that South Korea is planning to donate an Ulsan-class frigate to Argentina. This report has been frequently cited in other media outlets. Such a move is not without precedent as Seoul donated a corvette to Peru a few years ago as well. It will be interesting to see if Seoul does in fact donate a warship to Buenos Aires, which would likely be utilized for patrol operations to crack down on maritime crimes in Argentina’s EEZ, such as illegal fishing.

Final Thoughts

The O Yang 77 incident will not be the last time that Asian fleets fish without authorization in Latin American waters as these vessels constantly operate in the South Atlantic – this is best demonstrated by the collision between the Zhongyuanyu 11 and the  Pesca Vaqueiro just days after the  arrest of the O Yang 77. Demographic growth, the eternal quest for profit, and depleting maritime life in other bodies of water mean that extra-regional fleets will travel great distances for new sources of fish. 

It is bad enough when illegal fishing occurs domestically (e.g. a Peruvian fishing vessel operating illegally in Peruvian waters) or across regional borders (e.g. a Ecuadorian vessel ilegally fishing in Peruvian waters). The scope of IUU fishing by Asian fishing fleets could help bring about the destruction of an already fragile Latin American maritime ecosystem.

Latin American navies and coast guards are the tip of the spear in combating IUU fishing, and they have a mighty opponent in front of them.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. He tweets at @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Coast Guard patrol GC-24 Mantilla. (Mercopress)

Fisheries Crime: Bridging the Conceptual Gap and Practical Response

This is an article in our first “Non Navies” Series.


 Fisheries crime is a major and increasingly significant threat not only to the security of the maritime environment but also to the sustainability of marine living resources. In a study conducted by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on transnational criminal activities in the fishing industry, it was highlighted that:

  • Fishers trafficked for the purpose of forced labour on board fishing vessels are severely abused;
  • There is frequency of child trafficking in the fishing industry;
  • Transnational organised criminal groups are engaged in marine living  resource crimes in relation to high value, low volume species such as abalone;
  • Some transnational fishing operators launder illegally caught fish through transhipments at sea and fraudulent catch documentation;
  • Fishing licensing and control system is vulnerable to corruption;
  • Fishing vessels are used for the purpose of smuggling of migrants, illicit traffic in drugs (primarily cocaine), illicit traffic in weapons, and acts of terrorism; and
  • Fishers are often recruited by organised criminal groups due to their skills and knowledge of the sea and are seldom masterminds behind organised criminal activities involving the fishing industry or fishing vessels.[1]

Some of the specific incidents of transnational crime in fisheries include the hijacking of the MV Kuber for the purpose of transporting terrorists and arms into Mumbai; hijacking of fishing vessels and involvement of fishers in piracy attacks in the western Indian ocean;[2] smuggling of weapons into off the coast of the Red Sea; human trafficking for the purpose of forced labour in Thailand fishing industry; and the illegal capture and trade of high value species by criminal syndicates in Australia and South Africa.[3]

Factors that make the fishing industry susceptible to transnational organised crime include the global reach of fishing vessels, ineffective monitoring of fishing vessels, lack of transparency on the identity of beneficial owners of vessels, continuous decline of global stocks, poor socio-economic conditions of fishers and fishing communities, lack of effective flag and port State jurisdiction, corruption, and inadequate international regulation on the safety of fishing vessels and working conditions of fishers.[4] Although fisheries crime is a burgeoning problem globally, its extent is difficult to determine with accuracy due to the elusive nature of illicit activities.

What is Fisheries Crime?

There is currently no legal definition of fisheries crime, fisheries-related transnational crime, or transnational crime in fisheries. To begin with, the scope and nature of IUU fishing as set out in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) does not cover fisheries crime.  The definition of illegal fishing in various domestic legislation also shares the same limitation.

The relationship between illegal fishing (and broadly illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or IUU fishing) and transnational crime was first raised at the 9th meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) and at the meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime in 2008.[5] There were divergent views at these meetings on the potential link between illegal fishing and organised crime and it was decided that further studies are required before such connection may be established.[6] In 2010 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 64/72 on sustainable fisheries where it noted concerns “about possible connections between international organized crime and illegal fishing in certain regions of the world…bearing in mind the distinct legal regimes and remedies under international law applicable to illegal fishing and international organized crime.[7] Succeeding UN General Assembly resolutions on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, as well as those on Sustainable Fisheries recognised the same conceptual correlation between illegal fishing and international organised crime but have yet to provide guidance on what their legal characterisation is.

The careful treatment of these two separate but related issues in international discussions is somehow justifiable. Apart from the lack of adequate studies on the subject, addressing transnational crime in fisheries is also muddled by jurisdictional issues. Illegal fishing is primarily a fisheries management issue addressed under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) while transnational crime is dealt within the mandate of the UNODC. At the domestic level, addressing transnational crime in fisheries may involve a number of institutions such as our fisheries, customs, immigration, defence (navy), coastguard, and the police authorities. One can ask the question as to whose responsibility it is to respond to an incident involving cocaine trafficked by a fishing vessel? Is fishing vessel control still the issue here, or is this mainly a security threat? Is there sufficient relationship between resource sustainability and maritime security?

Now let us try to understand the complexity in finding the legal link between illegal fishing and transnational crime.

Is fisheries crime a transnational crime? Although the scope of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) does not include fisheries-related crime, the international agreement defines the transnational element of organised crime which may also be applied to fisheries. Art 3(2) of the Vienna Convention provides that a crime is transnational in nature if: it is committed in more than one State; it is committed in one State but a substantial part of its preparation, planning, direction or control takes place in another State; it is committed in one State but involves an organized criminal group that engages in criminal activities in more than one State; or it is committed in one State but has substantial effects in another State.[8] Examples of transnational crime include drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, including women and children, terrorism, internet-based criminal activities, money laundering, and corruption. Similar to these examples, the transnational element of fisheries crime may in the same vein make it a ‘serious crime’ within the same definition in Article 3(1). The definition of ‘organised criminal group’ under the Vienna Convention may also be used as a guide to generally characterise the operations of those involved in fisheries crime.

Is fisheries crime an organised crime? Organised crime is defined as “a continuing criminal enterprise that rationally works to profit from illicit activities that are often in great public demand. Its continuing existence is maintained through the use of force, threats, monopoly control, and/or corruption of public officials.”[9] This definition covers some of the examples we mentioned earlier such as trafficking in people in the fishing industry. It may also be emphasised that within the context of organised crime, activities are not limited to those involving criminal syndicates,[10] and therefore may encompass elements of corruption particularly in fishing vessel licensing.

Is fisheries crime a crime against nature or environmental crime? Although numerous studies have been conducted on the role of criminal law in addressing resource and environmental related offences,[11] the classification of illegal fishing, and broadly IUU fishing, as an environmental crime has not been uniformly and clearly established in international law unlike illegal logging, illegal traffic in wildlife, and illicit traffic in hazardous waste.[12] Existing literature defines transnational environmental crime, or sometimes referred to as eco-crime, as certain behaviour regarded as harmful or potentially harmful to the environment. In fisheries this largely includes illegal capture and trade of high value species involving organised criminal groups[13] and depending on the criteria set on what constitutes environmental crime, such characterisation may not necessarily include some of the examples of fisheries crime we highlighted above.

The argument that fisheries crime is both a transnational organised crime and environmental crime highlight the need for a thorough understanding of the nexus between fisheries and environmental law and transnational criminal law. Strengthening domestic legislation is therefore a key step in addressing this problem. This may include a clear identification of what activities may constitute fisheries crime, integrating provisions against criminal acts within fisheries legislation, and/or amending crimes-related legislation to link illegal fishing to transnational crime, and hence making it a predicate offence to money laundering.

Recognising issues in defining the scope of fisheries crime, a number of states in Australia have amended their legislation to include provisions on “trafficking in fish”. For example the New South Wales Fisheries Management Act (1994) provides for indictable species and quantity of fish which is currently limited to 50 abalones (Haliotis rubra) and 20 eastern rock lobsters (Jasus verreauxi). Trafficking in fish under this provision is punishable by a minimum of 10 years imprisonment. This legislation also provides that a court may also impose an additional penalty for the offence of up to ten times the market value of the fish as determined by a number of factors including the price and weight of the fish.[14] Changes to legislation have resulted in increased monitoring of the sale and transport of abalone and eastern rock lobster and successful prosecution of offenders.

Global Cooperation in Monitoring, Control, Surveillance and Enforcement to Combat Fisheries Crime

While the main issue for academics is finding the legal definition and scope of fisheries crime, our navies, coastguards, police, and other enforcement officers understand that the absence of such should not deter States from preventing and eliminating problem. Global and regional cooperation to combat fisheries crime is crucial to effectively deal with the transnational aspect of these illicit activities. Apart from discussions at the UN, a concrete and practical example of a global initiative to detect, suppress and combat fisheries crime is INTERPOL’s Project Scale which was launched in 2013. The objectives of Project Scale include raising awareness regarding fisheries crime and its consequences; establishing National Environment Security Task Forces to ensure cooperation between national and international agencies; assessing the needs of vulnerable member countries to effectively combat fisheries crimes; a and conducting  operations to suppress crime, disrupt trafficking routes, and ensure the enforcement of national legislation. A Fisheries Crime Working Group was established under this initiative to develop the capacity, capability and cooperation of member countries to effective address fisheries crime. The Fisheries Crime Working Group also aims to facilitate the exchange of information, intelligence, and technical expertise between countries for the purpose of fisheries law enforcement. To date a number of countries have cooperated within the INTERPOL network and have called upon the international organisation to issue Purple Notices to illegal fishing vessels. INTERPOL’s Purple Notices are used to seek or provide information on the modus operandi, objects, devices and methods used by criminals.

The Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa adopted by 25 West and Central African countries in 2013 is a novel example of regional cooperation that recognises IUU fishing as a “transnational organised crime in the maritime domain” together with other well-established transnational criminal activities. Although the Code of Conduct does not provide specific characterisation of IUU fishing activities that may constitute transnational criminal acts, it provides a strong framework for cooperation to share and report incidents, interdict vessels engaged in IUU activities, apprehend and prosecute persons engaged in such illicit activities; and facilitate proper care, treatment and repatriation of fishermen and other personnel subject to transnational crime. The Code of Conduct also incorporates elements of the Djibouti Code of Conduct in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, as well as the Memorandum of Understanding on the integrated coastguard function network in west and central Africa developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA).

Strengthening Regional Cooperation

While multilateral cooperation to combat fisheries crime is still in its infancy, there are existing regional mechanisms that may be used to help to address the problem. Even though regional fisheries bodies do not have jurisdiction against fisheries crime, some of its measures may be used to promote awareness and identify specific fishing activities and vessels that may be used to perpetrate transnational crime. Flag State and port State measures may be used to investigate and take action against potential involvement of organised criminal groups in fishing activities while trade-related measures may be utilised to monitor the transit and prohibit the importation and exportation of fisheries products involved in such illicit activities. With more than 40 regional fisheries bodies established in the world’s oceans, sharing vessel and incident information with and through INTERPOL may be the most effective way to combat fisheries crime. Channels of cooperation may also be established between regional fisheries bodies and financial task forces established to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. There are currently anti-money laundering task forces established in the Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, South America, Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, and Southern Africa that can enter into information exchange arrangements with relevant regional fisheries bodies and may also serve as conduits of information to the INTERPOL Fisheries Working Group and relevant work of the UNODC.

As the legal definition of fisheries crime is explored and the appropriate legal framework developed, there are more practical measures which can be adopted by States to combat the problem. These measures draw upon existing mechanisms and network of cooperation between States in order facilitate intelligence gathering and sharing of information and encourage inter-agency and cross institutional collaboration between relevant organisations in order to address an emerging maritime security issue.


[1] See UN Office of Drugs and Crime, Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry: Focus on Trafficking in Persons, Smuggling of Migrants, Illicit Drug Trafficking (UNODC: 2010), pp 1-3.

[2] United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment (UNODC: 2010) p 196.

[3] Gavin Hayman and Duncan Brack, International Environmental Crime: The Nature and Control of Environmental Black Markets, (London: Royal Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2002), at 7; See for example, Katherine M Anderson and Rob McCusker, ‘Crime in the Australian Fishing Industry: Key Issues,’ Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice No 227 (Canberra: Institute of Criminology, 2005).

[4] Ibid., p. 3.

[5] United Nations, Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, Report of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime on its Fourth Session, Vienna, 8-17 October 2008, CTOC/COP/2008/19, 1 December 2008, para. 210.

[6] United Nations General Assembly, Sixty-third session, Item 73(a) of the provisional agenda, Oceans and the law of the sea, Report on the works of the United Nations and the Law of the Sea at its Ninth Meeting, A/63/174, 25 July 2008, paras. 71 and 73.

[7] United Nations, Sustainable Fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and Related Instrument, UNGA Resolution 63/112, 05 December 2008, para. 59.

[8]Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, opened for signature 15 November 2000, 40 ILM 335 (2001); UN Doc. A/55/383 at 25 (2000); UN Doc. A/RES/55/25 at 4 (2001), (entered into force 29 September 003), art 3(2).

[9] Jay S Albanese, Organized Crime in our Times (Newark: LexisNexis, 2007), p. 4

[10]Ibid, p. 5.

[11] A number of institutions have conducted studies on the protection of the environment by means of criminal law such as the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute of Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI), Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), and International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. See United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Report on the first session, 21-30 April 1992, Economic and Social Council Official Records 1992 Supplement No 10, E/1992/30, E/CN.15/1992/7, para. IV(1)(a).

[12]  Environmental Investigation Agency, Environmental Crime: A Threat to Our Future (London: Emmerson Press, 2008).

[13]Donald R Liddick, Crimes Against Nature: Illegal Industries and the Global Environment (Sante Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp. 72-93.

[14] Australia, Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), sec. 21C.


Dr Mary Ann Palma-Robles is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), University of Wollongong, Australia. Apart from fisheries crime, her most recent research also focuses on trade measures to combat IUU fishing, fishing vessel and naval vessel encounters in disputed territories, and labour conditions in fisheries.