The Future’s Legal

Excerpt from “The Future’s Legal” by Quentin Bates

Article appearing in the October 2015 issue of Fishing News International ( that features extensive quotes from International MCS Network Executive Director Harry Koster.

Under Sub-Heading “Progress”:

A former head of the Community Fisheries Control Agency based in Vigo, and with many years of experience in monitoring the state of illegal fisheries, Harm Koster is now retired from his EU role and works with the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (IMCS) Network, which was established to provide a mechanism for fisheries law enforcement professionals to share information and experiences as they monitor the increasingly complex harvesting and marketing of fish around the world.

This voluntary organisation operates informally and encourages participation from fisheries managers, investigators, lawyers, foreign service officers, and forensics specialists. The IMCS Network hosts a variety of fisheries law enforcement information through its website, holds meetings, implements training, and serves as a liaison point for MCS professionals.

He told Fishing News International that much has changed and we are not at the same point as when awareness of IUU fishing activity began to grow; we are now about to see the twenty years of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries that included IUU fishing, and which has been an important tool in reducing illegal activity.

Commenting that an estimate of the extent of IUU activity is vital, he confirmed that the FAO is working on an updated set of figures, based partly on the work being done by various agencies around the world. Part of the problem is that while the extent of the problem in international waters can be estimated to some extent, evaluating what happens inside national EEZs is more problematic and is dependent on the will of national governments to cooperate and in some areas illegal fishing is closely linked to corruption, which further compounds the problem of estimating how far it goes.

“There are big studies taking place. The Forum Fisheries Agency is working on this in the Pacific islands, with some EU support, and there are studies being done in New Zealand and Australia,” he said, adding that south-east Asian nations are also making progress on getting a grip on the situation, while RFMOs are also working actively on this – with the exception of NEAFC now that illegal fishing outside national waters in the north Atlantic has been effectively brought under control.

“There is also a US Presidential task force working on wildlife crime, which includes IUU fishing and with attention on the Pacific Coral Triangle where there are a lot of species that are within CITES and for which there is a ready market in some Asian countries. A lot needs to happen there and we need to get a grip on this if we are to conserve these species.”

What is clear is that no country can work effectively on this alone and there has to be international cooperation, and while enforcement is one thing, building capacity and maintaining information exchanges are crucial.

“Enforcement officers are delighted when they arrest a vessel, which is then impounded or maybe scrapped, but it doesn’t help a great deal. The crew doesn’t care as there are jobs elsewhere. The cost of the vessel is less that the profits of a year’s fishing and there are plenty of second-hand fishing vessels for sale all over the world. But the capital is still there. It’s not about vessels – it’s about money.”

He highlighted the importance of ascertaining how the illegal fish is marketed, following the trail of money in both each direction, which can often be a murky trail obscured by corruption.

This is an aspect that David Agnew’s team highlighted in the 2009 report, linking IUU activities more closely to a state’s quality of governance than to the price of fish or the extent of its EEZ. In fact, there was a closer correlation to World Bank governance indicators than to other indicators. The message is clear enough; corruption at every level is what allows IUU fishing to take place.

Cover of FNI October 2015 Issue with H Koster quotes

Click here for the full article, which has become difficult to to find anywhere else on the web.