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09/01/2018

This article appeared in the Servamus of 01 January 2018 written by Kotie Geldenhuys.

However, there reality is that fisheries offences are serious organised criminal offences, committed transnationally along the entire value chain, involving a specific group of products in trade: fish and fish pro due to. The se offences are further linked to white-collar crime syndicates as well as to related offences such as tax evasion, fraud, human traffic king and drug trafficking.

 In an attempt to address fisheries crime, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 6 June 2016 between the Nelson Mandela University NMU and the government of Norway to establish a Fisheries Law Enforcement Academy at the university called Fish FORCE. According to the head of Fish FORCE and director of NMU's Centre for Law in Action, Prof Hennie van as, the main purpose of Fish FORCE is to combat sea fisheries crime and related criminal activities. Fish FORCE has a variety of objectives, including research and the training of Fisheries Control Officers, police members and prosecutors.

The project will aim to establish fisheries crime law enforcement as a new and emerging fisheries compliance model and will endeavour to achieve knowledge and intelligence-led investigations and increase the number of successful prosecutions of criminals engaged in fisheries crime. Whilst building capacity, the project will also enable fisheries law enforcement officers to obtain formal qualifications in their chosen field of expertise.

On 8 and 9 November 2017, the NMU Centre for Law in Action CLA and the Fish Force hosted academic conference with the theme: "Law enforcement in the fisheries environment an integrated approach." During these two days, various speakers shared their knowledge and best practices with delegates. Some of the presentations created awareness regarding various forms of legislation, including municipal bylaws that can be applied in the fight against fisheries related crime, while others dug deeper into the illegal abalone trade and illegal fishing. Among the many speakers was Arne Purves from the City of Cape Town (CoCT), who told the delegates that the CoCT faces numerous challenges regarding fisheries crimes, including their 320 km long coastline and limited resources. Adding to the complications are multiple agencies with different mandates and areas of jurisdiction. The CoCT has implemented a protocol agreement between the CoCT and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries DAFF, in terms of which a specialised Marine Unit was established. Regular joint operations are held in conjunction with other role players and there are many success stories to tell. One such a success occurred on 11 October 2017 when members conducted a joint operation with SANParks in the Fish Hoek area and found 716 shucked and 21 whole abalone. Another success story came as a result of a joint operation with SANParks and DAFF in the Simons Town area, where a vehicle was impounded and suspects were arrested after 1257 shucked and 196 whole abalone, with an estimated value of R726 000, were found in their possession. In his presentation, Mike Markovina, Director of Airmark Technology and NPC, spoke about abalone poaching in the Kogelberg Region where abalone poaching began to escalate in the late 1990s. He mentioned the successes of Operation Neptune and the Green Court in Hermanus, where the rate of prosecution success was 85%.

After this court was disbanded, the total prosecution success dropped below 20%! In the Kogelberg region, it is impossible for the small team of rangers to stop poaching from occurring and it is therefore important to invest in the building of relationships with other key role players such as the SAPS, NGOs and the community. Communities are important in the prevention of poaching illegal fishing as they have the passion, skills, knowledge and resources to assist in the fight. Col ret Kotze from Spentas Security Consultants addressed the issue of organised crime and the local community. He spoke about the drivers of fisheries crime, namely need, greed and ignorance and also discussed the fisheries crime structure which includes everyone from the fishermen on the lowest level to the transnational organised crime syndicate bosses on the highest level of the structure. He also discussed the socioeconomic impact of the illegal abalone trade and noted that a wide range of accomplices and assistants in the community draw an income from the illegal abalone fishery: for example, divers pay carriers, lookouts and skippers and deck assistants in the case of boat based poaching operations. Midlevel facilitators employ drivers, packers and an assortment of other henchmen to process and transport their product to buyers further up in the chain.

Also benefiting on an economic level are women who refrigerate batches of abalone in their homes or gang members funding the purchasing of boats and equipment without taking part in any poaching operations themselves. Some individuals are simply involved as that is the only way for them to provide for the daily needs of their families. At the end of this very successful conference it was clear that all the role players in the fisheries environment have to join hands in the fight against these types of crime as the ocean provides for our need but not our greed. 

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za