W. Alejandro Sanchez & Brittney Figueroa
National Security Forum
6 February, 2017
Originally published: https://medium.com/natural-security-forum/colombian-crackdown-on-illegal-fishing-f600801b66d2#.ex1nusw38
The Colombian government has recently begun expanding their capabilities to combat IUU fishing, revealing a shift in security priorities.
Guest written by W. Alejandro Sanchez
This past October, the government of Colombia took a major step forward in combating illegal fishing when 26 of its citizens were sent to prison for doing just that. According to Colombian media, this is the first time that Colombians have been prosecuted and sentenced for illegal fishing, a major problem for the South American state that is exacerbated by the presence of unauthorized vessels from foreign nations.
Ongoing incidents and data point to the scale of illegal maritime exploitation, and exemplify how illegal fishing will likely not stop anytime soon. For example, a December 2015 Colombian Navy communiqué revealed that, in that year alone, more than 12,400 kilograms of illegally-obtained sea life were seized.
As for 2016, in February, a Colombian corvette, Nariño (CM-55), detained the Costa Rican Anagon in the Pacific Ocean. The vessel had a crew of four Costa Ricans and was transporting one and a half tons of various fish, including shark and tuna. Months later, in June, a vessel carrying a crew of five Hondurans flying the flag of the Cayman Islands was detained off Serranilla Bank in Colombia’s Caribbean waters. The vessel had illegally fished 1.3 tons of northern red snapper. The Colombian media has also discussed the international aspect of this problem. For example, a report by the renowned daily El Tiempo discussed how unauthorized foreign vessels come from neighboring Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Clearly, the transnational security aspect of this issue is on the minds of many Colombians.
It’s not just foreign nationals implicated in this crime. Colombians are also guilty of illegal fishing, as the aforementioned October arrest of more than two dozen Colombians who were found in possession of two tons of 22 different types of sea life, so clearly illustrates. The penal sentences for unauthorized fishing will set an important precedent for future arrests.
As far back as 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made his intentions clear to crack down on this crime. In January 2012, he critiquedforeign fishing vessels, explaining that “they are violating our territory, the environment as well as our maritime richness.” He also called for the Colombian Navy to “monitor [this crime] with special care.” Certainly, the cornerstone of his presidency has been the peace negotiations with the FARC insurgents, but the Colombian head of state has also supported greater attention against illegal fishing, particularly given its domestic and international security consequences. It comes as no surprise that there have been strong efforts in recent years towards protecting the country’s seas.
In order to crack down on the problem of illegal fishing, the Colombian Navy has obtained new platforms to patrol its maritime territory. Combating illegal fishing, along with other non-traditional security threats, means that there is a growing need for offshore patrol vessels, many of which have been constructed by Colombia’s state-run COTECMAR. The new platforms have helped carry out a string of successful operations to crack down on illegal fishing boats, both domestic and foreign. Additionally, the Colombian Congress is debating (and will hopefully soon ratify) a penal code against illegal fishing. Finally, inter-governmental cooperation is improving. This past May, officials from Colombia and Ecuador met to discuss how to more efficiently combat illegal fishing along their common border. These initiatives give hope that Bogota is approaching this crime with multi-layered solutions.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter @W_Alex_Sanchez
The author would like to thank Brittney Figueroa for her help. The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
The views and opinions expressed on the Natural Security Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Stimson Center.