2011 Annual Task Force Conference: IUU Fishing: Consequences for the Environment, Conflict and Human Rights

October 11th, 2011

This post is part of our series from speakers at the Task Force’s 2011 annual conference, which took place in Paris on October 6-7. For more information on the conference, click here. You can also read about the conference on Twitter using hash tags #TFConf2011, or #TFConf2011fr for French.

Gunnar Stølsvik, of the Norwegian National Advisory Group against Organized IUU-Fishing, chaired the panel “IUU Fishing: Consequences for the Environment, Conflict and Human Rights” at the conference.

The study on transnational organized crime in the fishing industry  and the CCPCJ resolution 20/5

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

UNODC conducted a study on transnational organized crime (TOC) in the fishing industry which was presented in April 2011 during the meeting of the Commission of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). CCPCJ is the governing body of UNODC and guides the activities of the UN in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice. It takes action through resolutions and decisions and adopted in April 2011 a resolution on TOC committed at sea.

Viton / flickr*

UNODC issue paper: Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry

The study considers the involvement of the fishing industry in different forms of TOC (human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and drug trafficking) and links to other forms of criminal activity (marine living resource crime, corruption, piracy and other security related crimes).

UNODC found that “the perhaps most disturbing finding of the study was the severity of the abuse of fishers trafficked for the purpose of forced labour on board fishing vessels. These practices can only be described as cruel and inhumane treatment in the extreme. Fishers are held as de facto prisoners of the sea, and the study documents several instances of reported deaths, severe physical and sexual abuse, coercion and general disregard for the safety and working conditions of fishers. A particularly disturbing facet of this form of exploitation is the frequency of child trafficking in the fishing industry.” [1]

The study also found several reported instances where human trafficking in persons on board fishing vessels were linked to marine living resource crimes and believe that “transnational organized criminal groups are engaged in marine living resource crimes in relation to high value, low volume species such as abalone. This criminal activity is moreover linked to illicit traffic in drugs, as a barter arrangement for marine living resources. The study also found that some transnational fishing operators are engaged in marine living resource crime. Investigation and prosecution of the criminal activities of these transnational fishing operators has proved to be challenging.” [2]

UNODC also considered corruption in relation to fishing operations and fishing fleets’ access rights. One particular finding relates to corruption in relation to the ship registers. The study found that “[s]hipping registries are in some States operated by corporate entities, ie commercial registries. Many of these commercial registries are associated with flag States that are unable or unwilling to exercise their criminal enforcement jurisdiction. There would seem to be instances where these corporate registries are alleged to be involved in corrupt dealings or attempts at impropriety to obtain a license to run the register…” and continues: “corrupt relations between ship registers and flag States may in these instances have a potentially detrimental effect on the proper functioning of the international legal framework pertaining to the law of the sea, as well as investigations and prosecutions of transnational organized crime such as trafficking in persons and marine living resource management and conservation efforts.” [3]

Furthermore the role of fishing vessels in criminal activities was considered throughout the study. The study found that 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. Furthermore UNODC conclude their summary by noting “that although fishers are often recruited by organized criminal groups due to their skills and knowledge of the sea, they seldom seem to be regarded as the masterminds behind organized criminal activities involving the fishing industry or fishing vessels. It is therefore unfortunate that fishers, rather than the true masterminds behind the criminal activity, are likely to be targeted when criminal activities involving fishing vessels or the fishing industry are investigated and prosecuted, particularly in light of the possibility that some of these fishers may be victims of human trafficking.” [4]

Resolution 20/5 Combating the problem of transnational organized crime committed at sea

In the resolution “Combating the problem of transnational organized crime committed at sea” CCPCJ seconded the concerns of the General Assembly (A/RES/65/38) and was “[c]oncerned that transnational organized criminal activities at sea are diverse and may in some cases be interrelated and that criminal organizations are adaptive and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of States”. In the operative paragraphs CCPCJ:

Requests UNODC to “continue providing technical assistance to States.

  • Urges States to strengthen international cooperation at all levels.
  • Encourages States to take appropriate measures to strengthen law enforcement.
  • Encourages UNODC to cooperate with Member States, relevant United Nations bodies, international organizations and other bodies and mechanisms.
  • Invites States to share their experiences and concerns with other States and UNODC on the possible gaps and vulnerabilities faced in tackling TOC activities at sea, bearing in mind research conducted by UNODC on transnational organized crime committed at sea” (with reference to the study: Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry Vienna, 2011).
  • Requests UNODC to convene an expert meeting to survey the challenges to the criminal justice system in the investigation and prosecution of cases arising from TOC activities at sea with a view to identifying specific areas where UNODC may facilitate the investigation and prosecution of such cases by States.

Next steps

  •  the findings and recommendations of the UNODC report should be carefully considered,
  •  marine living resource crimes should be recognised as predicate offences of up- and downstream crimes such as money laundering, corruption, handling of stolen goods and tax- and customs fraud,
  •  take into consideration trafficking of fishers for the purpose of forced labor on board fishing vessels and the link to marine living resource crime; and
  •  improve international cooperation to combat marine living resource crime and other transnational organized crimes at sea

[1] See Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry (Vienna, 2011) page 3

[2] Ibid page 4

[3] Ibid page 122

[4] Ibid page 131

* Image license:  Some rights reserved by Viton

Written by Gunnar Stølsvik

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