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Illegal Fishing, Illegal Logging

April 5, 2012

I think there is a lot we can learn about phenomenon of illegal fishing from phenomenon of illegal logging.  Both are renewable resources.  Both have very high costs to enforcement.  Both suffer from a mix of non-compliance among relatively unsophisticated, subsistence harvesters and relatively highly-sophisticated illegal networks.  And the fight against illegal logging should (arguably) be easier – this is a resource much easier to measure than fish.

So how goes the situation for forests?  Well…

A new World Bank study on illegal logging reports that a football field of forest is clear-cut every two seconds around the globe and the problem is now a “global epidemic.”

The report estimates that illegal logging accounts for as much as 90% of all timber felled each year, generating between $10 to $15 billion. The report says the logging is mostly controlled by organized crime, and ill-gotten gains are used to pay corrupt government officials at all levels to turn a blind eye.

“Forestry’s criminal justice system is broken. Despite compelling data and evidence showing that illegal logging is a worldwide epidemic, most forest crimes go undetected, unreported, or are ignored,” says the 56-page report released Tuesday. “All too often, investigations—in the rare event that they do take place—are amateurish and inconclusive.”

A four-year study in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines — four forest-rich countries — found that the probability of illegal loggers being penalized is less than 0.1%

More here.

But the World Bank also offers a solution: follow the money.  I believe the same approach could be used for illegally caught fish.

“You have a crime, it’s generating proceeds, and one way to enlarge your toolkit is to follow the money,” said Jean Pesne, manager of the Bank’s Financial Market Integrity unit, which released the report, “Justice for Forests.”

The report, which does not differentiate between the reasons for tree-cutting, advocates the use of financial tools more familiar in the pursuit of organized criminals to combat illegal deforestation…

Preventive measures have been tried to curb illegal logging, but have been “without significant impact,” the report said.

“Use money as both intelligence and evidence,” Pesne said by telephone. “What are these criminal organizations, how are they structured, and what are the intermediaries who are interfering with their work? …

They also recommend other techniques used in organized crime fighting:

The full range of crime-fighting tools should be used to catch illegal logging organizations, rather than the low-level operators who cut down the trees. These tools include electronic surveillance, undercover operations and witness protection, according to the report.

More here. And the World Bank report is here.

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