Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs the global economy anywhere between $10 billion (R100.4bn) and $23.5bn a year – and that is a conservative estimate based on figures from 2006 and is probably on the low side, a senior Interpol official has told a UCT symposium.

Also, fishing was a form of trans-national organised crime with links to piracy, human trafficking (“modern-day slavery”), the smuggling of migrants, drugs, corruption and piracy, said Eve de Coning, a UCT law graduate and a manager of strategy and analysis of Interpol’s environmental crime programme’s Project Scale.

De Coning was speaking yesterday at a Fisheries Crime Symposium – organised by the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law and the Marine Research Institute, both at UCT.

The one-day academic symposium was an “warm-up” event for a two-day closed workshop between Interpol and law-enforcement officials from the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

De Coning told the symposium that about 3 billion people relied on fish for their animal protein requirements and that 10-12 percent of the world’s population derived their livelihoods from fisheries. Fish products were among the globe’s most traded items, worth around $124/5bn annually, with more than 50 percent derived from developing countries. However, it had been estimated that if fishing continued at current levels, commercial fish stocks would collapse by 2046.

De Coning pointed out that Project Scale, launched this year, was an Interpol initiative to combat fisheries crime, and a pilot project to see how full use could be made of the agency’s various services for fisheries management.

Despite a number of major policy interventions in recent years, there had not been a significant improvement in the global fisheries situation, and illegal fishing was a major cause, she said.

“Closing the Net”, a 2006 analysis, had pointed out that what made unregulated fishing so different and challenging to address was that it was actually a form of organised crime, she pointed out.

One of the remedies was better intelligence – “and that’s where Interpol will come in”, De Coning said.

However, she said that Interpol was “not the answer to everything” as it had no law-enforcement mandate, and it also had budget limitations.