Who knew that organized crime and drugs can play a part in the management of a fisheries? Fisheries management is a tough game, made difficult by biological uncertainty and human socio-economic concerns. Adding organized crime to the mix is just unfair.
A distant example. Abalones are molluscs that eat seaweeds such as kelp in the shallow subtidal regions of rocky coasts. The muscular abalone foot is prized as food in East Asia. On the Pacific coast of South Africa – a coast of rocky headlands, sand beaches, and wind blown surf – an abalone fishery emerged several decades ago. One species that grows particularly large has been targeted.
Commercial and recreational fisheries quickly grew, but so did illegal poaching. Chinese gangs worked the coast, exchanging methaquone, the drug of choice in the region, for the abalones, which they shipped across the nearby and porous borders, and sent off to Hong Kong for further distribution through China and other East Asian countries.
The abalones plunged in numbers, heading toward extinction. As a result, recreational fishing was banned in 2002, commercial fishing was banned in 2008, and the species has been identified by CITES as endangered, making trans-border shipping much more difficult.
Yet the poaching has continued, perhaps even increased, as some of those who used to fish legally now do so illegally. The Asian market hasn’t changed. The value of the poached animals remains high. The Chinese gangs and the drug trade haven’t disappeared.
This abalone fishery is a long way away from most of us. But organized crime in fact is intruding increasingly in fisheries in many places – Sri Lanka, British Columbia, Russia, Japan, perhaps every where.
Efforts to prevent poaching are also increasing – the International Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network (imcs.net) is a good example, worth looking at.
But once again, we have seen the enemy, and it is us.