Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and transnational organized crime (TOC) have progressively emerged as major issues, not only in terms of maritime security, but also in their relations to the sustainability of marine living resources. As part of IUU fishing, TOC can be regarded to some extent as a core business of IUU fishing.
It is not uncommon for IUU fishing perpetrators to achieve their illegal objectives by using organized networks, crossing borders and poaching fisheries resources.
Therefore, it is necessary for countries to work hand-in-hand with the other states and the international community to address this problem.
Two major events in Yogyakarta this week constitute a major step in garnering regional and international support to combat fisheries poaching.
The first is a symposium on fisheries crimes followed by a regional conference on IUU fishing and its related crimes.
In the inaugural fisheries crime symposium in 2015, the most underlined view came from the representative of Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries. He reaffirmed Norway’s commitment to fight against fisheries crimes and treat illegal fishing as a TOC.
Norway promotes two approaches: fighting against IUU fishing with administrative sanctions and combatting fisheries crimes with criminal sanctions.
From this perspective, there is a clear distinction between IUU fishing and fisheries crimes in terms of prevailing legal and policy instruments leading to the imposition of sanctions.
In this sense, IUU fishing is not deemed as a crime and therefore it should be addressed under civil law.
However, it is a different story when fisheries crimes occur as clearly criminal law would be imposed. IUU fishing is categorized under the regime of International Plan of Action on IUU fishing (IPOA-IUU), which is administered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) while fisheries crimes fall under the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as it is related to organized illegal fishing, tax fraud, human trafficking, etc.
International community has various terms in overcoming fisheries poaching even though the goal is indifferent.
The most familiar terms would not be IUU fishing per se, but it could refer to transnational organized fisheries crimes, fisheries-associated crimes and fisheries crimes. This dissimilarity in terms emerged due to the lack of an agreed definition in an international legally binding agreement that could have been referred to as a common starting point. Nevertheless, it cannot be asserted as a failure to reach a common agreement as this is an evolving process amongst like-minded states.
Dating back to Indonesia’s proposal for IUU fishing as TOC in international fora, linking between IUU fishing and TOC provoked challenges from various countries.
During the meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC) in 2008, there was concern for IUU fishing to fall within the definition of the TOC provided under the
However, there are two pending questions in addressing this matter.
First, countries differ in what activities constitute a violation of fisheries regulations and therefore qualify for sanctions.
Second, unregulated fishing for some countries is not regarded as a crime since fishing in areas or fish stocks for which there are no applicable conservation or management measures does not constitute a breach of law.
Then, the other terms of transnational organized crime, fisheries-related crimes and fisheries crimes were introduced as a breakthrough to overcome depleted fishery resources.
Those three terms share the same notion from the fact that fisheries poaching encompasses the other transnational crimes. However, those terms leave an unanswered question regarding the most correct term to use.
There is a silver lining to the resolution of this issue. In February, the UNODC and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) co-organized an Expert Group Meeting on Fisheries Crime in Vienna.
In this forum, fisheries crime is defined as a serious offense within the fisheries resource sector that takes place along the entire food products supply chains and associated value chains, extending into the trade, ownership structures and financial services sectors. Nevertheless, the “serious” term is not associated to the definition found in the UNCTOC. It is instead meant to have an extensive impact on the community.
Fisheries crime is also regarded as having a connection with other criminal offenses and are generally transnational, largely organized, and can have severe adverse social, economic and environmental impacts both domestically and internationally.
TOC and fisheries-related crime should therefore fall within the definition of fisheries crime. Moreover, fisheries crime is part of IUU fishing. IUU fishing and fisheries crimes should be used altogether consistently.
It is important also to bring to the fore the main responsibilities of UNODC and FAO in advocating member states to develop their domestic policy reforms on mutually agreed issues.
There is a need to differentiate the roles of FAO (IUU fishing) and UNODC (fisheries crimes). This distinction is imperative for each organization to focus more on how to address the problem.
After all, regular collaboration and coordination between the two organizations should be organized more regularly.
The writer is a UN Nippon fellow 2016 at the UN Division on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea and PhD student at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, University of Wollongong. The views expressed are his own.
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