Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Crime in the Australian Fishing Industry: Key Issues

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Crime in the Australian Fishing Industry: Key Issues

Article excerpt

While opportunistic crime in Australia's fishing industry has existed for a long time, there is increasing and widespread concern about the extent and scope of illegal activity. High-value, low-volume fish products (such as abalone, shark fin and seahorse) are vulnerable to organised criminal exploitation. Without adequate controls, the viability of stocks (and the industry itself) may be placed in jeopardy. Curtailing criminal involvement in the fishing industry requires that there is a range of effective operational, legislative and educational strategies in place across jurisdictions. This paper is part of a larger project the AIC is conducting on crime in the fishing industry. It builds on earlier work on abalone as well as more theoretical work on transnational and organised crime that the AIC has reported upon in earlier Trends & issues papers.

Toni Makkai


The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has funded the Australian Institute of Criminology to examine the extent of crime in Australia's fishing industry. Stage one of the two-stage project (and the majority of this paper) is informed by a preliminary literature review, as well as Australia-wide consultations with fisheries enforcement officers, police and industry representatives. A review of all state, territory and Commonwealth fisheries-related legislation was also conducted. While publicly available sources indicate illegal fishing activity across all fishing sectors, this paper presents key findings of the stage one research and focuses chiefly on the commercial sector. The findings relate to factors that may encourage illegal activity, and suggest strategies that may help to reduce the opportunities for illegal activity.

Overview of Australia's fishing industry

As at 2000, Australia's 19.5 million population demanded 442,000 tonnes of seafood, with an average consumption of about 11 kilograms per person per annum. By 2050, it is projected that Australia's 25 million population will require 1,150,000 tonnes, with an average consumption of 23 kilograms per person per annum (Kearney et al. 2003). There is also an exponential demand for Australian seafood in overseas markets. For example, in 2002-03 the export value of Australian seafood product was $1.84 billion (primarily rock lobster, pearls, prawns, tuna and abalone). This accounted for 80 per cent of total production (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2004).

As an increasingly sought-after product, fish stocks are vulnerable to over-exploitation. Conservation and management measures seek to reduce and prevent over-exploitation in all areas of resource use. The four sectors involved in the contemporary harvesting of Australia's ocean resources are the commercial wild fishery, recreational, Indigenous and aquaculture sectors (see Box 1). This paper argues that all four sectors may be vulnerable to criminal activity.

Crime in Australia's fishing industry

As Figure 1 shows, Australia's waters are home to a large variety of seafood species. The map does not represent the full variety of fish species found in Australia. However, any of the species listed on this map may be vulnerable to criminal activities, whether by illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing methods, through shortcomings in the licensing, quota or processing sectors, or by the systematic targeting of the fishing sector by organised crime networks.

Illegal activity and crime in Australia's fishing industry can take a variety of forms. For example, commercial fishers may:

* avoid reporting or under-report their catch;

* co-mingle illegal with legal catches;

* operate a vertically integrated fishing business to facilitate money laundering activities;

* sell commercial catch to clubs, restaurants, hotels or private individuals on a cash or barter basis;

* take in excess of the allowable quota; or

* swap their catch between their commercial and recreational allowances (for example distributing catch between their various crab and lobster pots). …

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