Environmental crime and illegal fishing

Illegal fishing is once again in the spotlight following a United Nations Development Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment looking at the rise of Environmental Crime including transnational organised environmental crime and the illegal trade in natural resources – The rise of environmental crime.

Photo of an Australian Fisheries management Authority fisheries officer overseeing the unloading of giant clams seized from an illegal foreign fishing vessel.

Australian Fisheries Management Authority fisheries officer oversees the unloading of giant clams seized from an illegal foreign fishing vessel.

The report includes illegal fisheries, which it estimates to cause a loss of resources of US$11-30 billion every year. Illegal fishing also harms the environment and threatens the sustainability of ecosystems. This is an issue in which the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) plays an active role, in partnership with other government organisations both in Australia and internationally.

Australia’s pristine waters and well managed fisheries are a temptation for illegal foreign fishers, who mainly target high-value species such as sea cucumber (also known as beche de mer or trepang) and giant clams.

Regular surveillance, monitoring and patrols of Australia’s maritime borders are a strong deterrent to illegal foreign fishers and our comprehensive program for combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has seen the amount of IUU fishing decrease significantly over the years from highs of 367 apprehensions in the 2005-2006 financial year and 17 apprehensions so far in 2015-2016.

A notable case was the apprehension of four illegal boats carrying hundreds of illegally-harvested giant clams and sea cucumbers in Northern Australia in 2014. The masters of the boats were prosecuted and convicted in court and received fines totalling $23 000 and suspended jail sentences.  The seized vessels were destroyed.

The most recent suspected illegal foreign fishing vessel apprehension occurred on 2 June with two Vietnamese fishing vessels caught approximately 600 kilometres to the northeast of Cairns inside the Australian Fishing Zone, on Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

Some of the illegally caught sea cucumbers

Some of the illegally caught sea cucumbers seized from a suspected illegal foreign fishing vessel.

Approximately six tonnes of sea cucumber were found on board the vessels. Thirty crew members believed to be Vietnamese nationals have been detained. The crew have been escorted to Darwin where further investigations will be conducted by AFMA. The vessels remain moored off Cairns.

More information on how AFMA is combating illegal fishing can be found on the AFMA website at www.afma.gov.au.

The rise of environmental crime – a growing threat to natural resources, peace, development and security can be found on the UNEP website unep.org.