29 November 2017 - The fisheries sector is one of the most critical industries worldwide for food security and poverty alleviation. However, the sector is also vulnerable to a wide variety of crimes due to its long value chain and the complex web of global actors.
To better understand the risks of corruption and economic crimes in particular, UNODC recently organised a technical meeting on "Identifying risks of economic crimes and corruption in the fisheries sector in Southeast Asia".
The meeting was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 19 to 21 November, with the participation of 40 practitioners from anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement and fishery departments of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The gathering aimed to initiate the development of strategies to prevent, investigate and prosecute instances of corruption, fraud and forgery.
"Fisheries crimes are closely associated with economic crimes, and fisheries departments cannot tackle these issues alone," said Adisorn Promthep, Director-General for the Thai Department of Fisheries during the opening ceremony. "We need to leverage the tools and assistance available to improve international cooperation on these issues."
On the margins of the event, the Thai Department of Fisheries hosted a field trip to Samutsakorn Port, giving participants the opportunity to understand how the country is improving management and traceability of fish catch throughout the fisheries value chain with the implementation of an electronic data system. During the visit, Thai authorities also demonstrated some of the procedures in place to combat the exploitation of fishermen on vessels as well as human trafficking.
The field trip was followed by a two-day meeting during which countries shared case studies of their own traceability systems and economic crimes and corruption issues. Discussions highlighted the close association of tax evasion crimes, which can cause significant economic losses for countries. Indonesia shared an example of one fishing company, which had caused tax-revenue losses equivalent to more than USD 13 million per year.
Gunnar Stolsvik, representing the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, said: "The biggest fisheries crime issues that Norway has faced in the last ten years are the associated money laundering and tax crimes." The country created a permanent multi-agency task force to focus on these crimes, he continued, stressing: "We want to create a fairer and stronger global fishing industry, and to share our own experience on this issue with other countries."
The workshop guided participants through a risk analysis process to identify preventive measures and solutions to mitigate the integrity risks in fisheries value chains.
On that point, Jorge Rios, Chief of the UNODC Global Programme on Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, said: "We must support countries impacted by fisheries crime to ensure they can effectively investigate, prosecute and sanction criminals who plunder our seas and threaten socio and economic development." UNODC could provide technical assistance to governments in the region to improve integrity in the sector," he added.
Also participating, representatives of the private sector acknowledged that change was crucial to protect the millions of people who depend on fish for their livelihoods and as a food source.
"We urgently need to make the fishing industry more sustainable", said Chanintr Chalisarapong, President of the Thai Tuna Industry Association. "It is crucial that Governments reduce the size of their fishing fleets and increase the proportion of small scale operators, to help reduce overfishing while improving livelihoods."
This workshop is part of FishNET, a four-year UNODC programme aimed at enhancing the capacity of developing countries to address crimes in the fisheries value chain.
UNODC in Southeast Asia and Pacific
UNODC's issue Paper: Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry
UNODC's work on Organized Crime