Interpol to Tackle Illegal Fishing Networks

Interpol has launched "Project Scale" to tackle illegal fishing by coordinating transnational operations to target offenders and disrupt trafficking routes, according to an announcement. 

Transnational fisheries crime, which includes harvesting prohibited species and fishing out-of-season, keeping more than the quota, or fishing without a license, is estimated to cost the global economy $23 billion annually, according to Interpol. The last decade saw an increase in transnational and organized criminal networks involved in fisheries crime, the agency said, and now the practice threatens the extinction of some species. Fisheries crime also affects food security and is a politically destabilizing factor due to the rise in corruption that accompanies it.

Interpol will play a central role in coordinating the fight against the black market fishing industry which has links to other serious crimes, including corruption, money laundering, fraud, and human and drug trafficking, the agency said. Interpol will work with law enforcement, non-governmental agencies and the private sector to provide a “unified and collective response to fisheries crime,” said Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol Executive Director of Police Services.

The action plan for the project includes the creation of a strategy to improve information sharing and operational support. The agency also plans to expand Interpol’s international marine enforcement network and conduct operations in vulnerable areas, with West Africa singled out as a particular area of concern. The project will also see the creation of a Fisheries Crime Working Group and National Environment Security Task Force, departments dedicated to working on crimes related to illegal fishing.

Interpol unveiled Project Scale at the International Fisheries Enforcement Conference on February 26. Conference participants were optimistic about the impact the Interpol-led project could have; it represents “a wonderful step forward in identifying, reducing and hopefully stopping illegal fishing,” according to José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and current co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission. Figueres acknowledged, however, that greater political will to tackle illegal fishing still needed to be cultivated.

The project “underlines the need for global cooperation in investigating the criminal aspects tied to illegal fishing,”said Arne Benjaminsen, Secretary General of Norway’s Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development and Cooperation are funding the project, along with the Pew Charitable Trusts.