We are seeing what appears to be growing international cooperation to curb Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and with it, other forms of maritime criminal activity frequently associated with it. A basis for this cooperation is found in the non-binding UN Copenhagen Declaration, Blue Justice Initiative. 48 Nations have signed on to the declaration. It is basically a letter of intent to cooperate. It is reproduced at the end of the post. Notably it has not been endorsed by the US, Canada, UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, India, or China, but this is very important to many smaller nations. I would think the US Coast Guard would be all-in on this. It certainly does not preclude the kinds of bilateral agreements the Coast Guard has with dozens of nations.
How did I learn about this Declaration?
NORTHCOM’s on-line magazine, The Watch, reported on a March 2022 meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM). This led me to look for more information on this organization.
Below is the CRFM report on the meeting. Additional comments follow.
Belize City, Friday, 18 March 2022 (CRFM)—The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) hosted a Technical Meeting on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry this week. It marked an important milestone in the region’s efforts to fortify the region’s response to this very challenging and costly problem, through coordinated action at both the national and regional levels, with the support of the Government of Norway and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Blue Justice Initiative.
The CRFM, its Member States, and partner agencies both at the CARICOM and international levels committed to advancing their collaboration using modern digital technology, to strengthen the region’s response to illegal fishing and transnational organized criminal activities, such as drugs, human and small arms trafficking, trade in contraband goods, document fraud and forgery, tax crimes, and money laundering, which use commercial and recreational fishing as a cover for their activities.
Last October, during a high-level meeting of CRFM Ministers, twelve (12) Member States signed the International Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the Global Fishing Industry (also known as the ‘Copenhagen Declaration’). They also endorsed the Blue Justice Initiative, which supports developing countries in operationalizing the Copenhagen Declaration, aimed at “promoting a sustainable and fair Blue Economy for all, that is free from fisheries crime.”
The CRFM and CARICOM IMPACS convened the technical meeting of senior fisheries and maritime law enforcement officers to identify priority actions to strengthen regional and international cooperation to combat and eradicate IUU fishing and transnational organized crime in the fisheries sector. The event marked an important milestone for the Caribbean region in collectively combating the scourge of crime connected with the fishing sector.
Over 90 participants from 15 Member States of the CRFM and representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat, the CRFM, CARICOM IMPACS, the Regional Security System (RSS), UNDP and the Government of Norway participated in the virtual session.
The meeting featured a diverse array of speakers who provided participants with insights on the Blue Justice Initiative and ‘Copenhagen Declaration, the UNDP Blue Resilience Project and its use of digital technology and institutional cooperation, tools and techniques to detect and analyze fisheries crime, and a general overview of fisheries crime in the Caribbean. Participants engaged in interactive sessions, as they contributed to charting the way forward.
In addressing the gathering, Hon. Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour, and Chair of the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, said: “The fight globally has increased against IUU fishing and organized crime, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Member States of the CRFM continue to honor our duty… It is our quest in the Caribbean to partner with all international agencies to ensure that we reduce criminal activities when it comes to the Blue Economy. We intend to work with regional and international partners and other friendly governments such as Norway… because every Member State in the global community must play an important role.”
CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton noted the seriousness and impacts of illegal and criminal activities in the fisheries sector and expressed the CRFM’s appreciation for Norway’s commitment to the sustainable use of ocean resources, through the Blue Justice Initiative and the Copenhagen Declaration. He thanked the Government of Norway and the UNDP for supporting the region in its efforts to help address this intractable problem.
15 October 2018:
The Copenhagen Declaration was initially adopted by 9 countries: Faroe Islands, Ghana, Indonesia, Kiribati, Namibia, Norway, Palau, Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka.
10 December 2020:
Several Ministers responsible for Fisheries from the CARICOM / CRFM Member States took part in a virtual High-Level International Blue Justice Conference that was convened by the Government of Norway. The main purpose of the Conference was to promote and advance political support for the non-binding Copenhagen Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the fishing industry.
21 May 2021:
At the Fifteenth Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the CRFM, Ministers discussed the issues and recognized the need for Member States to cooperate with other affected countries to improve understanding and knowledge of the problem, identify countermeasures, and build capacity to prevent, deter and eradicate IUU fishing and transnational organized crime in the fishing industry, in the region and globally. The Ministers issued Resolution No. MC 15(6) of 2021, documenting their position.
4 October 2021:
During a special ministerial meeting, several Ministers from the Caribbean Community responsible for Fisheries, the Blue Economy and related matters, delivered official statements endorsing The International Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the Global Fishing Industry (also known as the ‘Copenhagen Declaration’). They also affirmed their support for the Blue Justice Initiative, established by the Government of Norway to support implementation of the declaration. (View the proceedings and country statementshere.)
Twelve (12) CRFM Member States, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and The Turks and Caicos Islands, signed the Copenhagen Declaration on this occasion.
This in turn led me to a CRFM report of a 5-8 April Ministerial Meeting of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), an organization of 79 member states. Seeing this degree of widespread interest, I had to look up the declaration.
We, the Ministers of Benin, Chile, Costa Rica, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Ghana, Greenland, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Kiribati, Liberia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Philippines, São Tomè and Principe, Scotland, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and Uruguay;
Encourage other Ministers to support this non-legally binding declaration.
Note the recommendations and the outcome of the 2nd International Symposium on Fisheries Crime held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia 10–11 October 2016 which was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime at the occasion of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice during its twenty-sixth session in Vienna 22–26 May 2017.
Recognize that our countries are dependent on the sea and its resources and the opportunities it holds for the economy, food and well-being of our population and we are determined to support a healthy and thriving fishing industry that is based on fair competition and the sustainable use of the ocean.
Are committed to work towards the fulfillment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals particularly in relation to Goal 14 on “Life Below Water” and Goal 16 on “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.”
Are convinced that there is a need for the world community to recognize the existence of transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry and that this activity has a serious effect on the economy, distorts markets, harms the environment and undermines human rights.
Recognize that this transnational activity includes crimes committed through the whole fisheries supply and value chain which includes illegal fishing, corruption, tax and customs fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, document fraud and human trafficking.
Recognize further the inter-continental flow of illegal fish products, illicit money and human trafficking victims in transnational organized crime cases in the global fishing industry and that all regions of the world need to cooperate when investigating such acts
Are convinced that inter-agency cooperation between relevant governmental agencies is essential at a national, regional and international level in order to prevent, combat and eradicate transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry,
Are also convinced that there is a need for international cooperation and that developing countries are particularly affected.
Recognize the particular vulnerability of small-island developing states and other Large Ocean Nations of the impact of transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry.
Are also convinced the need for continuous support on the highest level and the necessity for awareness raising on these issues through events such as the International FishCrime Symposium.