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ILLEGAL, UNREPORTED, AND UNREGULATED FISHING IN COLOMBIA

Ciro Mazzola, Tatiana Vasquez, Illicit Finance and Economic Threats Team; Benedetta Piva, SOUTHCOM Team

Week of Monday, December 27, 2021


Fishing Nets on Boat[1]


Colombia is among the top six countries in Latin America with the most significant protected marine territory.[2] Local vessels and vessels from Central America, South America, and China have engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Colombia.[3] The Colombian government’s lack of resources to effectively address IUU fishing facilitates this crime in Colombia.[4] IUU fishing in Colombia is closely linked with drug, weapon, human, and wildlife trafficking.[5] The IUU fishing’s overlap with other forms of organized crime very likely further strengthens local and transnational illegal economies. IUU fishing will likely have detrimental effects on the Colombian population that depend on marine life by threatening food security and exposing local fishers to the risk of violence. Increased measures by the Colombian government to address this issue along with stronger institutions and regional and international cooperation in detecting and preventing IUU fishing will likely reduce the crime.


IUU fishing generates between $15 billion to $36 billion USD per year globally and accounts for more than 20% of all catch in Latin America.[6] Weak governance, corruption, and lack of resources have been major obstacles in tackling this crime.[7] Corruption in Colombia is widespread and linked to organized crime, including drugs and wildlife trafficking.[8] High levels of corruption and the lucrative nature of IUU fishing likely overlap, with public officials likely receiving bribes for fishing licenses and overexploitation of marine life. Collusion between public officials and illegal fishers likely significantly impedes efforts for sustainable management of the fishing sector. Corruption very likely negatively affects the country’s economy by diverting funds from the population to corrupt officials and illegal fishers. Lack of resources to develop the legal fishing sector will likely reduce employment opportunities, increasing unemployment among low-skilled workers. As a result, local fishers will likely turn to IUU fishing individually or join foreign illegal fishing vessels, supporting foreign IUU fishing capabilities and likely exposing themselves to exploitation.


From January to October 2021, the Colombian Navy intercepted about 12 tons of illegally-harvested seafood in San Andrés, Colombia.[9] Considering low fish and seafood consumption in Colombia, about 7.16kg per capita in 2017, most illegally-harvested seafood likely reaches destination markets worldwide.[10] High global demand very likely incentivizes IUU fishing in Colombia, as legal fishing almost certainly imposes restrictions on fishers, reducing their profits. Colombian fishers reported being chased away by IUU Central American fishing vessels, some of which were armed with assault weapons.[11] Illegal fishers will likely increasingly resort to using weapons to secure their profits, putting local fishers at risk. Colombia’s abundant sea life in proximity to Central American countries and lack of effective action against IUU fishing very likely incentivize illegal fishers from Central America to engage in IUU fishing in Colombian waters. The number of legal fishers will very likely decrease due to the likely possibility of violent clashes with illegal fishers.


The increased presence of Chinese fishing vessels near Malpelo island[12] is very likely driven by the high demand from seafood consumers in China, accounting for 45% of the global volume.[13] China intends to ratify the 2016 Port State Measures Agreement to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing; however, China has previously failed to enforce similar treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[14] Colombian authorities’ inability to effectively tackle IUU fishing very likely attracts Chinese vessels and illegal fishers from other countries exploiting Chinese demand to increase their profits. Illegal Chinese fishers are likely further inclined to IUU fishing in Colombian waters as China has failed to enforce agreements regulating maritime activities. Considering the lack of Chinese enforcement efforts, and scarce resources to combat IUU fishing in Colombia, Chinese IUU fishers are unlikely to be penalized. The lack of action against IUU fishing is very unlikely to reduce the demand, increasing the presence of the IUU fishers exploiting Colombian marine territory.


Despite Colombian officials tripling the size of the Malpelo National Reserve to protect marine species, authorities have failed to combat IUU fishing in Colombian waters due to a lack of resources.[15] Organized criminal groups exploit weak controls and engage illegal fishing vessels to transport illicit merchandise including drugs, weapons, humans, and wildlife.[16] Although destination markets for these illicit activities principally include the Caribbean region, a significant level of human and drug trafficking flows towards Mexico and the US[17] and through Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.[18] Law enforcement’s ability to determine the magnitude of the criminal operations is very likely impeded by the multitude of sea routes available to IUU fishing vessels. Increasing the Malpelo National Reserve’s size also means there is a greater area for law enforcement to patrol, which very likely enables criminals to evade detection. The success of illicit trafficking operations throughout Colombian waters will likely attract other criminal groups to the region. Situational awareness regarding the parties involved in said illegal activities is almost certainly further hindered by the involvement of fishers from different nationalities capable of crossing borders unnoticed. By continuing the exploitation of IUU fishing vessels for trafficking products, criminal gangs in Colombia and other countries with direct access to the Caribbean Sea will almost certainly continue to profit and strengthen their position in both local and transnational illegal economies.


IUU fishing can potentially impact the livelihood of small legitimate commercial fishers and coastal communities in Colombia.[19] Illegal fishers are very likely to use prohibited gear, such as driftnets, and catch non-target protected species while damaging ecosystems and destroying reefs.[20] IUU fishing almost certainly causes increasing overexploitation of fish stocks in the Caribbean Sea, representing a significant problem as Colombian and other Central American, South American, and Caribbean populations increasingly rely on fish and seafood as protein sources.[21] By avoiding license costs and fishing restrictions established by laws and policies, illegal fishers almost certainly represent unfair competition for legal businesses, which very likely suffer considerable economic losses. The environmental harm caused by IUU fishing almost certainly severely impacts fishers and coastal communities relying on the seas for fishing, ecotourism, and other businesses. The negative impact the IUU fishing will very likely have on food security will almost certainly influence regional political relations as countries will likely be forced to compete over food sources from the sea, altering regional stability.


The National Authority of Aquaculture and Fishing (AUNAP) monitors and coordinates all activities, verifying compliance with laws and regulations referring to the practice of fishing in Colombia.[22] The Colombian government passed Resolution 1026 in 2016, Law 1851 in 2017, and Resolution 1970 in 2018 to reduce IUU fishing in Colombian marine waters.[23] The actions carried out under AUNAP are likely to ensure environmental sustainability and the appropriate use of fishery resources, while the mentioned legal framework has almost certainly improved the surveillance of fishing activities of both domestic and foreign vessels. Both AUNAP and the Colombian legal framework have almost certainly enhanced regulatory cooperation between the national institutions of several neighboring coastal countries, although additional measures are likely to be needed to fight IUU fishing. Central and South American countries should strengthen information sharing, enforcement, and prosecution of crimes related to fishing activities. This will likely facilitate interaction and collaboration by authorities and improve intelligence gathering. Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should continue to advocate for strict controls in major markets to prevent illegally-caught seafood from being sold in the shops.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) Illicit Finance and Economic Threats (IFET) and SOUTHCOM Teams recommend improving national and local governance through the implementation of stronger institutions, the revision of public participation laws, and the engagement in participatory action research. Weak institutions unable to cooperate and reach agreements hinder any efforts to protect the sea and regulate fishing activities.[24] Stronger governments are likely to manage the situation more efficiently and better coordinate efforts to counter IUU fishing. CTG believes that ignorance regarding the negative impacts of IUU fishing allows the activity to continue. Encouraging public discourse on the issue, through education on the subject, will likely enable Colombians to progressively inform themselves and understand the dangers IUU fishing poses. Colombia and its neighboring countries should improve regional and international cooperation, as this will likely allow for more efficient tracking, stopping, and ultimately prevention of IUU fishing. By doing so, regional governments and their global partners are likely to better safeguard the Caribbean Sea’s ecosystem while also hindering drug, human, weapon, and wildlife trafficking. Colombian authorities should improve port inspections as this will likely allow for more efficient identification of IUU fishing vessels and the individuals involved in the illegal activity. Development agencies, such as the United Nations Environment Programme, would likely assist Colombia in having access to training for its port inspectors and officials as well as improved port infrastructure and surveillance technology for situational awareness.


The IFET and SOUTHCOM Teams will continue to monitor and analyze the evolving current political, economic, and social situation in Colombia and Latin America as a whole. Through its Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers, CTG continuously tracks different events to provide current, fact-based analysis. Both the IFET and SOUTHCOM Teams will utilize Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to ensure optimal recommendations are provided to key stakeholders, including the Colombian government and fishers. Collaboration with other CTG Teams will assist in creating well-rounded, up-to-date analyses regarding Latin America.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a subdivision of the global consulting firm Paladin 7. CTG has a developed business acumen that proactively identifies and counteracts the threat of terrorism through intelligence and investigative products. Business development resources can now be accessed via the Counter Threat Center (CTC), emerging Fall 2021. The CTG produces W.A.T.C.H resources using daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement CTG specialty reports, which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning. Innovation must accommodate political, financial, and cyber threats to maintain a level of business continuity, regardless of unplanned incidents that may take critical systems offline. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Fish Net on Gray Surface” by Bedis ElAcheche licensed under Pexels

[2] Colombia Fails to Tackle Illegal Fishing in Malpelo Reserve, InSight Crime, May 2019, https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/illegal-fishing-colombias-malpelo-reserve/

[3] Ibid

[4] Colombia Fails to Tackle Illegal Fishing in Malpelo Reserve, InSight Crime, May 2019, https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/illegal-fishing-colombias-malpelo-reserve/

[5] “Organised Crime in the Fisheries Sector,” Ocean Panel, 2020, https://oceanpanel.org/sites/default/files/2020-08/Organised%20Crime%20in%20the%20Fisheries%20Sector%20Full%20Paper%20Final.pdf

[6] GameChangers 2021: How IUU Fishing Plundered Latin America's Oceans, InSight Crime, December 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/gamechangers-2021-iuu-fishing-plundered-latin-americas-oceans/

[7] Development Solutions to Address Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in Latin America and the Caribbean, Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/development-solutions-address-illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-fishing-latin-america-and

[8] Corruption at Every Stage: Legal Actors Meet Criminal Networks, InSight Crime, September 2021, https://insightcrime.org/investigations/corruption-legal-actors-meet-criminal-networks-colombia-amazon/

[9] Colombia’s San Andres Losing Battle against Illegal Fishing, InSight Crime, November 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/colombias-san-andres-losing-battle-against-illegal-fishing/

[10] Fish and seafood consumption per capita, Our World in Data, 2017, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/fish-and-seafood-consumption-per-capita?tab=chart&time=2017&country=COL~CHN

[11]Colombia’s San Andres Losing Battle against Illegal Fishing, InSight Crime, November 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/colombias-san-andres-losing-battle-against-illegal-fishing/

[12] China Eyes Colombian Waters for Illegal Fishing as U.S. Announces Deployment of Hospital Ship to the Region, SOFREP, May 2019, https://sofrep.com/news/china-eyes-colombian-waters-for-illegal-fishing-as-u-s-announces-deployment-of-hospital-ship-to-the-region/

[13] China, the Global Largest Seafood Market, Roda International, September 2020, https://www.rodaint.com/blog/china-the-global-largest-seafood-market/

[14] Chinese Fishing Fleet Leaves Ecuador, Chile, Peru Scrambling to Respond, InSight Crime, November 2020, https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/china-fishing-fleet-response/

[15] Colombia Fails to Tackle Illegal Fishing in Malpelo Reserve, InSight Crime, May 2019, https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/illegal-fishing-colombias-malpelo-reserve/

[16] “Organised Crime in the Fisheries Sector,” Ocean Panel, 2020, https://oceanpanel.org/sites/default/files/2020-08/Organised%20Crime%20in%20the%20Fisheries%20Sector%20Full%20Paper%20Final.pdf

[17] Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/2011/issue-paper-transnational-organized-crime-in-the-fishing-industry.html

[18] “Organised Crime in the Fisheries Sector,” Ocean Panel, 2020, https://oceanpanel.org/sites/default/files/2020-08/Organised%20Crime%20in%20the%20Fisheries%20Sector%20Full%20Paper%20Final.pdf

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Development Solutions to Address Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in Latin America and the Caribbean, Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/development-solutions-address-illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-fishing-latin-america-and

[22] Fisheries and Aquaculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, December 2021, https://www.fao.org/fishery/en/legalframework/co/en

[23] “COMMENTS OF THE NATIONAL AUTHORITY OF AQUACULTURE AND FISHING TO RESOLUTION 74/18 - UNITED NATIONS”, United Nations, 2020, https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/ICSP15/ColombiaICSP15ContributionCourtesyTranslation.pdf

[24] Weak governance undermines South America’s ocean ecosystems, Mongabay, April 2019, https://news.mongabay.com/2019/04/weak-governance-undermines-south-americas-ocean-ecosystems/

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