By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 21 February, 2013
With a value that’s estimated somewhere between USD 10 billion (EUR 7.6 billion) and USD 23 billion (EUR 17.4 billion) annually, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is surely the biggest global problem facing the seafood industry.
While such grand-scale corruption has inspired lawmakers to implement waves of anti-IUU regulations in the past three or four years, the problem is it remains a low risk, high yielding activity.
The latest organization to take up the challenge of combating illegal fishing is Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization. This week Interpol’s Environmental Crime Program will officially launch “Project Scale,” its global strategy to coordinate international action against such crimes.
Interpol says Project Scale emerged from “an identified need for a more systematic approach to deal with illegal fishing impacting on food availability and security.”
It is already calling the initiative “a cornerstone in the global fight against fisheries crime and related illegal activities.” At its first International Fisheries Enforcement Conference and Fisheries Crime Working Group Meeting, being held 26 to 28 February at the Interpol General Secretariat in Lyon, France, it said it wants to set about creating a common understanding, developing a coordinated, global approach to fisheries crime and strengthen cooperation and communication between national agencies and international organizations in the field of fisheries.
The conference will immediately be followed by a two-day meeting of the Interpol Fisheries Crime Working Group, which will mark the beginning of the permanent Fisheries Crime Working Group.
According to Interpol, the Working Group, which is being headed by Gunnar Stolsvik of the Norwegian national advisory group against organized fisheries crime, has four strategic goals:
• Enhance and develop the capacity, capability and cooperation of member countries to effectively enforce fisheries and crossover crimes
• Encourage and assist the exchange of information and intelligence related to fisheries crime among member countries
• Provide analytical and operational support to member countries in the enforcement of fisheries laws and regulations
• Encourage and facilitate networking, channels of communication and exchange of technical expertise between member countries for the purpose of fisheries law enforcement.
“In order to combat fisheries crime, tools need to be introduced at a national and international level to prevent illegal fishing operators from benefiting economically from these activities,” said Interpol.
As well as raising awareness regarding fisheries crimes and their consequences, through Project Scale, Interpol will establish National Environment Security Task Forces (NESTs) to ensure institutionalized cooperation between national agencies and international partners. It will also assess the needs of vulnerable countries to effectively combat fisheries crimes, and conduct operations to suppress crime, disrupt trafficking routes, and ensure the enforcement of national legislation.
The arrival of Project Scale has been hailed as a game changer by fisheries leaders from Europe and beyond.
Speaking at the recent 8th International Forum on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in London, U.K. Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said the country’s Marine Management Organization (MMO) would “strongly support” the program.
“Last year, at the 7th Annual Forum on IUU, I said that tackling organized crime was vital; that in the arms race against pirate fishing boats that were trying new tactics and moving into new areas we need to be sure that we keep a step ahead. I really welcome the launch of Interpol’s Project Scale to detect, suppress and combat fisheries crime on a global scale.
“We can be a step ahead through fisheries compliance agencies, coastguard and police agencies working together,” said Benyon.
EU Fisheries Minister Maria Damanaki is also pleased by Interpol’s move. “This opens up yet another avenue for challenging IUU pirates,” she told delegates at the same forum.
Damanaki believes a lot has been achieved since January 2010, when the EU implemented its zero tolerance against illegal fishing regulation (No 1005/1008). She said the rule had “demonstrated its structural robustness,” and that it was now possible to “see the first tangible results” through the listing of non-compliant countries and vessels.
However, she said combined enforcement of the EU legislation by member states and the Commission “cannot do the job alone,” which is why she has “accelerated cooperation” with international partners.
“I signed joint statements with U.S. authorities in 2011 and with Japan in 2012. I hope to expand this international cooperation to other forthcoming nations in the course of this year. In that context, as well as in RFMOs (regional fisheries management organizations), the EU continues to push for ever more ambitious solutions to eradicate IUU fishing,” said Damanaki.
“We need to chase criminals profiting from every loophole, reflagging at will,” she said. “I have hope: the recent results at EU level, in the U.S. and in RFMOs demonstrate that we are closing in on IUU.”
But the Commissioner also stressed that in her opinion, a worldwide catch certification system “still remained” the best solution to ensure traceability and transparency within the seafood industry.