International Law Enforcement Cooperation in Fisheries / by Francisco Blaha

Todays post has been brewing for a year, and it has been in back-burner for a while, is not a topic that I know much, yet Law Enforcement is the upper level of what I do pretty much on daily basis. I help with the operational stuff, we make sure we collect the evidence in the most professional manner and then pass it the to the lawyers and prosecutors.

Beau from RMI is on the job

Beau from RMI is on the job

Obviously, the operational job is key and if you make mistakes there, the defence can use it to discredit the process and the prosecution case fall down, even if we all know the offence was committed… (and I know this, because at some stage in my life, one of my jobs was to find holes on cases to discredit prosecutors)

The more complex the rules allegedly broken, the more complex the evidence collection and chain of custody, and the more chances for the defence to find gaps… and this is particularly more relevant when the fisheries officers and prosecutors don't know a lot about fisheries.

And if this is the case on fisheries working on one jurisdiction only (same flag, coastal and port state) imagine when you deal with multi-jurisdictional fisheries.

In any case, this very good INTERPOL publication “International Law Enforcement Cooperation in the Fisheries Sector - A Guide for Law Enforcement Practitioners” fill a gap by providing a comprehensive (but by no means all-encompassing) resource to enhance and develop the capacity, capability and cooperation of member countries to effectively tackle illegal fishing and associated crimes. 

The Guide is especially intended to aid fisheries enforcement and other agency officers, such as customs agents and vessel registrars, who may not be aware of the types of assistance available to them from other countries and regional and international organizations, or how to secure such help.

This Guide is divided into four chapters. 

The first chapter discusses the reasons for international cooperation in this sector. The first half of the chapter lays out the types of offences covered in this Guide, including IUU fishing, fisheries crimes and other associated crimes; it concludes with an overview of the typology of offenders conducting illegal activities. The second part of the chapter lays out the challenges inherent in coordinating responses between multiple jurisdictions. 

The second chapter lays out the legal framework for combating crimes in the fisheries sector. Because international, regional and/or national instruments can all be used to fight IUU fishing and crimes in the fisheries sector, the chapter presents a selection of relevant international and regional frameworks that establish rules and principles governing the exploitation of marine fisheries resources, as well as available mechanisms for international cooperation.  

The third chapter presents the INTERPOL policing capabilities that may be useful in facilitating law enforcement cooperation. In particular, it provides an overview of INTERPOL’s mandate, INTERPOL’s I-24/7 secure global police communication system, INTERPOL’s notices and diffusions and INTERPOL’s databases and criminal analysis files. It goes on to explain some of INTERPOL’s specialized teams: the National Environmental Security Task Force (NEST), Regional or Global Investigative and Analytical Case Meetings (RIACMs), and capacity building and training for law enforcement.

The fourth chapter is a practical guide for law enforcement practitioners investigating fisheries-related crimes. The first part of the chapter presents a framework to national authorities on available processes for requesting international cooperation in IUU fishing and fisheries crimes. The goal of this section is to provide those national and regional authorities working on matters related to illegal fishing with ideas for tools and processes available to them in order to obtain information and/or admissible evidence from other states.

You should download it and read it, for this entry, I just deal with a part I find quite interesting (and close to my past and present work) and is that Fisheries crimes can occur at any stage of the fishing industry process, and there are three “stages to it” and the guide details some of the most prevalent examples of crimes that occur during each stage.

Preparation Phase

Document fraud: Document fraud is a very common offence in the fisheries sector, as most fishing documentation is still paper-based.  Document fraud may include the production of false documents in relation to a ship’s flag State registration or ownership, or as to a vessel’s name, dimensions or identifiers.  During the ensuing phases, document fraud may consist of, but is not limited to, the following: false fishing licences; false catch and transshipment documents; or mislabelling of fish and/or fish products on export/import packages.

Corruption: Because the fisheries sector is a highly regulated industry, it is particularly vulnerable to corruption. The most common form of corruption is active bribery.  During the preparation phase, active bribery consists of promising and/or giving a bribe to a public official. The aim of the bribe may be the issuance of the necessary documentation for conducting illegal fishing activities, such as fishing licences, or to persuade officials to operate registries with little or no oversight.  Active bribery can also take place during the later stages of the fisheries supply chain. It may aim to circumvent on-board or in-port inspections or to discontinue proceedings concerning the offences committed by the offenders.

Tax evasion: During the preparation phase, tax evasion in the fisheries sector can take place by different means, including through the creation of shell companies or offshore financial centres.  Methods of tax evasion may also include the evasion of import duties on fish and fish products transported across national borders, value-added tax fraud or the evasion of income tax or other taxes. The main methods used to commit tax fraud are disguising the origin of the fish (either the country of origin or the identity and flag of the fishing vessel), under-declaring the size of a catch or mislabelling the products caught or sold.

Money laundering: Within the fisheries sector may take several forms, including the laundering of the proceeds of crimes committed in the course of fisheries activities or of other crimes committed in the fisheries sector. The proceeds of crime may be siphoned into the fishing industry supply chain at many stages. During the preparation phase, offenders can invest illicit funds in new infrastructure, including fishing gear, fish processing facilities or transportation. Illicit funds can also be laundered during the sale of fish at port or by paying crew members in cash.

Catch Phase

Disobedience of an order to stop: When a vessel is caught fishing illegally in the EEZ, (China in Argentina) of a coastal State, a national Fisheries Protection Vessel (FPV) may order the vessel to stop in order to verify the vessel’s documentation. Depending on national legislation, the disobedience of an order to stop by the captain of the vessel can constitute a criminal offence.

Forced labour: Direct links between vessels involved in illegal fishing and vessels exploiting their crew for forced labour have been reported, along with other forms of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, coercion, disregard for safety and working conditions of crew members and even murder. Forced labour can also occur in fish processing facilities.

Sale Phase

Illicit trade: The illicit trade of fisheries products is facilitated by various means. For example, the forgery of catch documentation is simple, especially due to the prevalence of paper-based catch documentation schemes. Insufficient enforcement of fisheries regulations at the port of entry, often due to lack of staff and resources, also allows for the illegal trade of fisheries products.

Food fraud: In the fisheries sector can occur through the mixing of illegally and legally caught fish or the mislabelling of products. Falsification of documents, such as landing or/and transshipment documents, can also constitute breaches of custom regulations as well as food hygiene regulations, which may then pose a risk to public health.

And also I quite like the description of the Typology of offenders conducting illegal activities in the fisheries sector, since IUU fishing, fisheries crimes and other crimes within the fisheries sector are not necessarily spearheaded by single individuals or businesses. They generally involve several individuals from various backgrounds, each playing a specific role in the illegal activities taking place in the fisheries supply chain.

Fishing captains/crew members: Because they are at the forefront of fishing activities, the captain and crew-members of fishing vessels are often the first ones to be held responsible in cases of illegal activities in the fisheries sector. Nevertheless, they should not be considered to be the only offenders involved in these types of offences. 

At this level, the main offences are Corruption/bribery, Document fraud and Forced labour

Vessel owners/corporate entities: The corporate structure behind illegal fishing activities is complex. It often entails an opaque company structure where the legal owner is not the beneficial owner.

  • Legal or registered owner: -   Name on the title of ownership of the vessel (Registration is often in an open registry state)

  • Beneficial owner: -Controls the real activities of the vessel, normally hides behind the registered legal activity, and is the one that mostly benefits from the profits. And usually is owned by front companies registered in international tax havens. At this level the main offences are: Tax fraud, Money laundering, Illicit trade and Violation of national/regional food laws (food fraud).

Administrative and support services: Support services can play a key role in setting up the corporate structure, financial aspects and overall business networks behind illegal activities in the fisheries sector. At this level the offences are mostly Tax fraud and Money laundering

Public officials: Offences can also be committed at various levels within public institutions including within the law enforcement community. At this level the offences are mostly Corruption/bribery and Document fraud.

Interestingly, these when these individuals or entities collaborate with each other to conduct illegal activities in the fisheries sector, they may meet the requirements laid out in Article 2(a) of the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to be considered as an “organized criminal group.” 

According to this definition, a group is considered to be an “organized criminal group” if it meets the four criteria below:  

  • a group of three or more persons that was not randomly formed;

  • existing for a period of time;

  • acting in concert with the aim of committing at least one crime punishable by at least four years’ incarceration;

  • in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.

In this case, as “participation in an organized criminal group” is one of the offences covered by UNTOC (alongside money laundering, corruption, obstruction to justice and serious crimes – crimes punishable with a maximum deprivation of liberty of at least four years), the legal frameworks provided by the UNTOC regarding extradition (Article 16) and mutual legal assistance (Article 18) could apply in the absence of a bilateral, regional or multilateral treaty concluded between the countries concerned.

I could go for ages… but please have a go with this good publication.