Casting a wider legal fishnet: Assessing opportunities to combat fisheries crime with a focus on the South African abalone poaching and trafficking crisis

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The fisheries sector is a fundamental global industry for human prosperity worldwide as fish and fish products are among the most-traded food commodities worldwide. However, the fisheries sector is linked to a high degree of illegality. Fisheries crime is a multifaceted phenomenon – frequently transnational and organised in nature – which comprises a range of various crimes along the fisheries value chain, including corruption, money laundering as well as tax and customs fraud. The abalone poaching and trafficking crisis in South Africa is a prime example of fisheries crime: organised criminal syndicates control the (illegal) lucrative trade of abalone starting from poaching in the coastal waters of South Africa until the abalone ends up in East Asia. The syndicates take advantage of the sensitive socio-economic dynamics in South Africa’s coastal communities for financial gain by recruiting local poachers and using highly organised networks to smuggle abalone to East Asia. The illegal trade in abalone is one significant factor that threatens the species’ survival, thus these criminal syndicates must be disrupted and their activities combated. This dissertation examines legal tools to do so. During the 2nd International Symposium on Fisheries Crime it was pointed out that ‘given the inter-connected and complex nature a successful law enforcement approach to addressing these crimes cannot focus exclusively on one type only; rather, what is required is a coordinated criminal law enforcement response at the domestic and international level that recognises the wide variety of forms fisheries crime can take’1 . This extends beyond the scope of fishing offences and is rooted in the use of all potentially applicable laws. This dissertation examines the applicability of the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998, the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998, the Customs and Excise Act 91 of 1964 as well as the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004 to the abalone and trafficking crisis. The aim is to assess the South African legal framework as well as existing case law to determine how South Africa’s courts have approach the prosecution of fisheries crime to date in order to arrive at suggestions to combat abalone poaching and trafficking in the future.