NMMU plays key role in global conference on fisheries crime

OCTOBER 6, 2016

Fisheries crime is far broader than illegal fishing: it encompasses any criminal activity linked to unlawful fishing, including tax evasion, fraud, human trafficking, drug trafficking – and even murder.

Typically, organised fisheries crime is led by highly-structured, well-financed transnational criminal syndicates. They are slick operators who know crime on the high seas is difficult to police – but pressure is mounting globally to clamp down on offenders.

On the African continent, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa has taken a determined stance against fisheries crime – and has joined several global bodies to organise the Second International Symposium on Fisheries Crime (FishCRIME 2016) in Indonesia from 10 to 11 October.

Co-organisers include the Indonesian Government; the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries; and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

NMMU’s fight against international fisheries crime began with their involvement in PescaDOLUS, an independent research and capacity-building network, which includes Interpol and the Norwegian government, with significant South African support. Building on the initial work of PescaDOLUS, NMMU launched FishFORCE in June – Africa’s only fisheries law enforcement academy – with funding from Norway, allocated over five years.

FishFORCE is a partnership between NMMU’s Centre for Law in Action, the Norwegian Department of Trade, Industry and Fisheries and South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, with buy-in from Interpol, the UNODC and the African Union.

“The main purpose of FishFORCE is to combat sea fisheries crime and related criminal activities,” said head of FishFORCE Prof Hennie van As, who is also the director of NMMU’s Centre for Law in Action and a Professor in Public Law.

“FishFORCE has a number of objectives it strives to achieve, including research, training [of Fisheries Control Officers, police officers and prosecutors] and post-training support [i.e. linking trainees with high-level global experts, who are available to them 24/7].

“Our research and training will serve South Africa, an Indian Oceans group [which includes Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique] and Indonesia [with a plan to extend the training all around the Indian Ocean Rim] … In South Africa alone, 180 people working on our border posts, who have little knowledge of fisheries crime, have been identified. We are conducting research to determine exactly what they need to know, and then will train them accordingly.”

FishFORCE is working to achieve knowledge- and intelligence-led investigations and increase successful prosecutions of criminals engaged in fisheries crime. 

“Our research is focusing mainly on criminal justice … Our various research groups are also looking at legal regimes [in different countries and different sea zones] to see where legislation needs to be amended or redrafted.”

Prof Andrew Leitch, NMMU’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Engagement, said: “NMMU’s support for the FishCRIME symposium is illustrated by the presence and involvement of the FishFORCE project management team as well as a number of postgraduate students.”

Members of the team will deliver a number of talks at FishCRIME 2016, alongside other high-level representatives from national authorities as well as leading international experts, who will be discussing how best to strengthen cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice responses to transnational organised fisheries crime along the entire value chain.

FishCRIME 2016 themes include: Crime throughout the value chain; secrecy in fisheries (which will highlight the lack of transparency in corporate structures and flag registries, which ultimately facilitates fisheries crime and frustrates criminal prosecution); fraud and forgery in fisheries (document, identity and fish fraud); the role of stakeholders in combatting fisheries crime; and capacity building in combatting fisheries crime (a discussion of collective global responses and instruments to improve law enforcement  in addressing fisheries crime). 

Leitch said NMMU and FishFORCE would actively contribute towards addressing at least three of these themes, all of which have been designed to address the exploitation of an estimated 85% of fish stocks worldwide.

“We need to face up to the fact that traditional legal approaches to combatting illegal fishing and the associated illegal activities have met with limited success, and therefore innovative training and approaches are required,” said Leitch.

“NMMU, through its active involvement with [the South African government-led initiative] Operation Phakisa, the establishment of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) and its willingness to establish a fisheries law enforcement academy, is demonstrating its support for the global fight against organised crime and the development of the blue economy.”