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Additional Considerations on Measuring Illegal Fishing

January 9, 2015
Robert Farrell

Bob Farrell, Assistant Chief, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Back in November I shared my post on the challenges of fisheries crime estimation to the very excellent LinkedIn group, Combatting IUU Fishing. (If you are interested in illegal fishing, then I highly recommend you join.)

From this post, I received a great response from others that work in the fishing industry and on the policy and management side of things. Two responses in particular stood out to me as deserving some additional spotlighting, and thankfully, both authors agreed to let me share their thoughts publicly.

The first comes from Bob Farrell, who is the Assistant Chief at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bob notes the importance of measuring crime in his work and does a great job at explaining why official compliance rates might me incorrect.

[A]s a traditional law enforcement agency, we place a lot of emphasis on violation rates as reported through our internal data. We struggle, as others do, to get accurate data.  In my opinion, violation rates do not tell the story effectively. I believe this is not only true for traditional law enforcement, but even more important when considering resource crimes. Fisheries crime can be even more problematic.

We have tried a few different ways to look at things. Use rates (number of people in an activity, non-LE related data, etc.), magnitude of seizures, recovery rates and traceability.  The end goal is to try and get a measure of compliance. A lot of folks confuse compliance with enforcement. I believe enforcement is a tool for compliance. So just looking at the enforcement component doesn’t give us a true measure of compliance or potential violations of policy or law.  It is an area of research that, in my opinion, is in need of effort. We need to try and ascertain compliance from data other than how many tickets we wrote.

I’m here at our regional fisheries council meeting and this topic comes up in overall fisheries management. All the modeling that occurs rarely, if ever, uses non-compliance as a parameter to be considered. I’m aware of some work done in Australia to integrate non-compliance into fisheries modeling. The current iteration of the Atlantis model here uses some assumptions on non-compliance, but they were predicated on factors other than enforcement statistics. They used a measure related to the potential impacts if quotas were not adhered to…

I certainly agree that enforcement reports are not a reliable measurement of compliance. This is especially true in fisheries and resource related matters. A variety of factors may cause this.

One, as an earlier poster hinted at, is reclassification. In one of the scenarios posted a skipper under reports and lies to the taxman about his income. He may be charged with tax evasion. Unlikely that will show up as fisheries related in the stats.

More common reclassifications are a result of the plea bargain process here in the US. A person may be charged with a resource violation and plead to a lesser criminal charge. An example would be a person charged with fishing in an MPA and eventually pleading to trespass. This is a very common occurrence for a variety of reasons.

Another major factor in using enforcement stats is rate of detection. Unfortunately this is a global issue. Most jurisdictions do not have the resources to adequately detect violations. Even the US has issues. Recent USCG reports put fisheries compliance at 97%. There is a major discrepancy in that figure and what most state jurisdictions publish. So it’s not always about resources, but sometimes about expertise.

The second response comes from David Ardill, who has many years of experience working on fisheries governance issues in the Indian Ocean with the Indian Ocean Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organization (including six years as the Executive Secretary of the IOTC).

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David Ardill, fisheries management expert

David made a really interesting comment that illegal fishing rates are often artificially inflated by both government agencies and consulting companies as a way to obtain additional funding/contracts.

As I have said repeatedly in the past, I’m very unhappy with the methodology used to estimate IUU fishing values. I was involved with the original MRAG estimates which I more-or-less halved. In particular, most enforcement personnel (at least in non-OECD countries) vastly overestimate the illegal take in their waters, possibly as a way of increasing their budgets. I have also seen consulting companies doing the same thing (eg. reporting €900,000 from the Madagascar EEZ in an attempt to obtain a contract to control the EEZ – close to the total longline and seiner landings – which resulted in the President firing the MCS staff who were doing an excellent job).

Part of the problem also lies in taking the total landed value of the IUU catch, rather than the loss to the country. With licence fees amounting to between 1 and 6% of the catch value, those countries not able to fish themselves are actually losing very little. The total value of the catch also fails to take into account the cost of the IUU fishing, or what the country could harvest from it’s EEZ. This allows politicians to justify ever larger budgets to enforcement agencies…

Our politicians are as vulnerable as others to the international “current” against IUU fishing and are submitted to intense pressure from the EU in particular to engage in enforcement, which will eventually benefit foreign fleets. This makes it easy for the Coastguard to ask for more hardware. The Government [of Mauritius] has recently acquired a 70m patrol vessel and operates several aircraft (including 2 Dorniers) and helicopters. The cost of these platforms (and of the support costs) far outstrips the revenue the State obtains from fishing (taxes, licence fees…) and is obviously a subsidy to foreign industry. These funds would be better spent for schools, hospitals, roads, etc.

Again, many thanks to Bob and David for their thought provoking comments!

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