Vienna - From 08 July to 09 March 2011, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) headquarters hosted an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) to discuss the involvement of Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry and contribute to the finalization of a study on this topic. The study is part of a series of Issue Papers published by the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit on specific topics.
The study aims to identify whether specific patterns of transnational organized crime can be identified in the fishing industry and if there are specific vulnerabilities of the fishing industry to the occurrence of organized crime. The study focuses on three specific types of crime: trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and illicit drugs trafficking. In the course of the study, other types of crime were identified.
Those that investigate crimes committed in the fishing industry have raised concerns that fishing operators are difficult to trace and information about their true identity is at times hidden in financial havens protected by privacy laws. These investigators speak of complex company structures in multiple jurisdictions which makes traceability of unlawful actors a challenge. As in every industry, criminal actors make use of some of the vulnerabilities of the fishing industry to carry out their criminal activity and derive huge profit out of it. The study aims to find out about the specificity of the fishing industry, the types of crimes that are committed and how best to combat them in that particular framework.
The fishing industry is a large economic activity, conducted on a global scale. It provides work opportunity and food supply for billions of people. The possibility of criminal activities carried out in the fishing industry has been of concern to international agencies, government enforcement officials and the research and NGO community for some time.
The UNODC report Drug Trafficking as a Security Threat in West Africa of 2008 pointed out that transshipments at sea is a common method in which to transfer and transport drugs to West Africa. The use of fishing vessels happens also in relation to smuggling of migrants; illicit traffic in weapons; piracy; transport of terrorists and smuggling of wildlife.
A number of reports from amongst others the International Labour Office (ILO), the United Nations Inter- Agency Project (UNIAP), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) over the last decade suggests that the conditions of crew, including children, working on board fishing vessels are of concern. The problem seems to be that crew on board fishing vessels are, quite literally, 'out of sight, out of mind'.
In addition, concerns of amongst other the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) over a number of years has been the depletion of fish stocks and the need to ensure that fisheries are managed appropriately and the overall management of marine living resources goes towards being sustainable. There are suggestions that marine living resource crimes may be organized through structured organized criminal groups that are transnational in nature. Concerns are raised that the on-going depletion of marine living resources by criminal groups may influence food security and stability of many countries, particularly those in more vulnerable regions of the world.
The objective of the meeting was to gather expert input for the finalization of the targeted research on the occurrence of transnational organized crime in the fishing industry. The study has a particular focus on three types of crimes: trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, illicit drugs trafficking; and other related crimes (e.g. environmental crimes). Therefore, the meeting brought together practitioners and experts from various backgrounds who have experience of these issues. The finalized research will be published as an issue paper in April 2011. It will be launched at a side event of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice on Wednesday 13 April.