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South Africa - Fisheries crime is a huge parallel economic system – FishFORCE is harnessing tech to fight it

South African fisheries are a target for organised crime and the country is losing huge amounts of revenue. Treasury and the taxman must become more involved. Billions of rands and national marine resources are being lost.

Organised crime, with its link to the illegal harvesting, processing and trading of fish and seafood globally, is so huge that it is in effect a parallel economic system, undermining sustainable economic growth and posing a significant challenge to fisheries law enforcement agencies across the world.

The many crimes affecting the global fisheries sector range from illegal fishing and extraction of marine resources, to human and drug trafficking, forced labour, fraud, forgery, corruption, money laundering and tax and customs evasion.

The FishFORCE Academy was established in 2016 as a result of a growing realisation that illegal fishing is far more than this, and that in many instances the activities are undertaken by international organised crime syndicates.

FishFORCE aims to improve the knowledge and skills of fisheries control officers and inspectors, to promote the prioritisation of fisheries crime and intelligence-led investigations and to improve prosecutions of fisheries crime in Africa and globally.

From the outset we have strongly advocated that fisheries crimes be addressed as priority crimes due to their links to transnational organised crime, and prosecuted as such under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, with severe penalties of 25 years to life.

Countries are being deprived of taxes, citizens of jobs, food and income, and fisheries and environments are being destroyed. Many developing countries are unable to effectively enforce fisheries laws and are therefore unable to manage their coastal zones.

Research by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that southern and East Africa lose in the region of R12.2-billion to illegal and unreported fishing every year. It further estimates that 85% of fish stocks worldwide are now fully exploited, and illegal fishing is one of the main contributors.

Huge losses, no deterrents

By and large the penalties for fisheries crimes – including illegal catching and possession of fish and seafood species, and operating illegal storage and fish-processing facilities – are not having a deterrent effect.

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