The effective enforcement of wildlife and forest offences faces a myriad of challenges and obstacles.
Combating wildlife trafficking is not considered to be a priority in many countries (Bennett, 2011; DLA Piper, 2014; Nurse, 2015; Nurse, 2013; UNODC, 2012; Wyatt, 2013; Wellsmith, 2011; WWF, 2015). Policymakers, police, prosecutors, and the judiciary often do not consider wildlife- and forest-related offences as serious crimes warranting special consideration and prioritization (Sundari Akella & Allan, 2012; Wellsmith, 2011). This issue is not limited to developing countries but has also been reported in countries such as Norway (Runhovde, 2016) and the United Kingdom (INTERPOL & UNEP, 2016). While there are some signs that the 'status' of wildlife trafficking is rising in some countries (INTERPOL & UNEP, 2016), many countries still pay minimal attention to this crime type.
In many jurisdictions, laws and regulations pertaining to wildlife trafficking and to other aspects of the wildlife and forest sector remain poorly developed and frequently suffer from significant gaps. Elements of criminal offences are sometimes not clearly articulated and defined. This often hinders effective investigation and prosecution. In some jurisdictions, relevant offences, if they do exist, are poorly drafted, leaving ambiguities and uncertainties that can obstruct prosecutions and that can be exploited by defence counsel (UNODC, 2012; Biegus & Bueger, 2017; Nurse, 2015). Where state officials are involved in wildlife trafficking, diplomatic immunity can hinder their prosecution and conviction. Furthermore, in some jurisdictions, the authorities and officers in charge to enforce wildlife trafficking offences lack the necessary enforcement powers.
Enforcement of offences relating to wildlife trafficking is often hampered by a lack of proper resourcing and training (Bennett, 2011; Nurse, 2015; see also, Sundari Akella & Allan, 2012). In many countries, this is a problem relating to budgeting rather than a lack of resources. General law enforcement authorities often have little experience and competence in dealing with wildlife trafficking (Runhovde, 2016). Specialized agencies are often under-staffed, poorly trained, and under-funded. Furthermore, poor prosecutorial and judicial practices hinder a proper response to wildlife trafficking (UNODC, 2012). This often leads to environments in which poachers, traffickers and others involved in wildlife trafficking can operate with relative impunity (Biegus & Bueger, 2017). A lack of integrity of involved authorities and officials, which enables corruption, further exacerbates this problem.
While national coordination and international cooperation are crucial in combating wildlife trafficking, individual officials and some enforcement agencies are unable or unwilling to work together with other agencies, share relevant information, use available resources and know-how, or cooperate across borders (Sundary Akella & Allan, 2012; see also EIA, 2016).
A 2016 study revealed different challenges for the enforcement of laws relating to wildlife crime in EU Member States. Existing legislation in Member States demonstrated an insufficient and uneven level of enforcement. Further, only a minority of Member States had national action plans on wildlife crime (as recommended by CITES).
Implementation and enforcement of wildlife crime-related laws were found to be mainly hindered by (1) a lack of sufficient staff and monetary resources, which translates into a low number of controls, and a lack of willingness to undertake costly enforcement measures and little time for cooperation and data sharing, (2) a lack of specialized knowledge on wildlife crime in administrative, enforcement and judicial bodies as well as a lack of specialized institutions, (3) a low level of sanctions applied, with the level of sanction not reflecting the severity of the crimes, and (4) a failure to use criminal sanctions and preference for administrative sanctions, often due to insufficient evidence.
Law enforcement is uniquely challenging in the Pacific Islands. Vast ocean areas and hundreds of islands, many of them uninhabited, are difficult to patrol. This is all the more challenging for small island States with limited financial and human resources and technical equipment. The Islands’ many endemic species also make thema uniquely attractive source for poachers and collectors. The lack of data and analytical research on the extent of the potential crimes creates an additional challenge for those charged with preventing and suppressing wildlife and forest crime in the Pacific.
Foreign aid, technical assistance, international cooperation, and capacity building, especially by the larger regional powers, can help remedy some of these challenges. Regrettably, in some cases, such measures have been ineffective or unhelpful, some have shown little regard for local customs and traditions, or were met with skepticismgiven the colonial experience of many Pacific Island States. Against this backdrop, the provision and acceptance of aid in the form of technical assistance, capacity and technology support, and even patrols by foreign powers in territorial waters, requires careful consideration in the context of the Islands’ history
Most Pacific Island nations and adjacent high seas pockets remain vulnerable to fisheries crimes (due to the geographical extent of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and limited capability to effectively patrol such vast areas). Enforcing agreements on high seas areas requires international cooperation which is often lacking.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands hosts one of the world’s largest ship registries for ‘flags of convenience.’ There are ongoing concerns about the link between flags of convenience and the facilitation of transnational maritime crime, including fisheries crimes. Vanuatu and other island States have similar concerns. Maritime surveillance agencies across the Pacific note that illegal and unregistered fishing activities are less of a concern compared to underreporting of catches, which is less likely to be organized crime.
Micronesian countries are currently seeing an increase in the number of Vietnamese ‘Blue Boats’ illegally fishing in their respective EEZs; for example, in the first half of 2015, Palau seized 15 such boats carrying over 25 metric tonnes of poached marine life, including lobsters, sharks and fins, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Similar vessels have also reportedly been found in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). According to a media reports, Blue Boats are a significantly different threat from the vessels traditionally used by operators engaging in fisheries crimes, which are typically large multinational companies, who pay fees, transmit location information, and, if caught transgressing, pay fines. Blue Boats are small scale operations, do not pay fees nor transmit location information, and have also been fishing for sensitive marine life inshore. Micronesian countries anticipate that this threat will continue.
In general, addressing the numerous difficulties posed by fisheries crimes is a complex, expensive, resource-intensive, and challenging undertaking. Many such difficulties in combating fisheries crimes in the Pacific relate to the vast nautical expanse of the region, the larger size of fishing vessels in the Pacific compared to other parts of the world, and local communities relying on illicit fishing for income. The most problematic fishing to police is that which occurs on the high seas, although efforts by the broad-based membership of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission have made some headway in addressing this problem. Nevertheless, prosecution of fisheries crimes remains challenging, particularly given that primary jurisdiction is generally with flag-states. Therefore, if foreign vessels are fishing in the waters of Pacific Islands, the primary responsibility to investigate is with foreign authorities. Consequently, collecting evidence for Pacific authorities is difficult. In addition, prosecutors often have no technical capacity in fisheries work and are faced with competing human resource demands.