Beneficial ownership transparency: a hot topic at OECD-FAO-UNODC conference

PARIS, 14 October 2016. Fisheries-related crime such as human trafficking, smuggling of migrants, corruption and tax fraud is growing, according to the OECD. These crimes undermine governments’ capacity to enforce policy, promote food security, reduce poverty, fund public expenditure and support development activities.

At the conference on improving co-operation in fight against fish crime, representatives of governments, business and civil society discussed possible responses to combat fisheries-related crimes. The conference was jointly hosted by the OECD Fisheries Committee, the OECD Task Force on Tax Crime and Other Crimes, the FAO and the UNODC.

The FiTI International Secretariat presented the FiTI in a session on country experiences together with representatives of the Government of Indonesia (FiTI pilot country), US-NOAA, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, the Government of Korea and the Government of Australia.

Discussions around several high-profile fisheries fraud, including tax fraud, mislabeling, false reporting and seafood fraud underlined how the general lack of transparency undermines preventive measures, investigations and enforcement of laws and regulations, at the expense of responsible and sustainable management of the resource.

In particular, the lack of transparency on beneficial ownership in fisheries was identified as a major problem.

On the global governance agenda, few topics are currently receiving as much attention as the theme of beneficial ownership, which has also become one of the priority areas of the G20.

The conference showed that the fisheries sector is no exemption to this discussion. Beneficial ownership transparency helps to prevent, investigate and forfeit illegal proceeds of fisheries crime. Lack of transparency on beneficial owners of rights holders and fishing vessels is now widely raised as a problem in the fishing sector. For example, the lack of transparency on the identity of fishing vessels’ beneficial owners as well as the absence of international records of fishing vessels’ identity and history is one of the main vulnerabilities of the fishing industry vis-à-vis transnational organized crime.

Recognizing this, several options to include beneficial ownership as a reporting element within the FiTI reporting framework are currently being discussed.

Amongst other solutions to combat fisheries crimes, participants highlighted the importance to raise awareness and to increase political will of the world’s leaders to invest in effective fisheries governance. To achieve this, it was mentioned that civil society and multi-stakeholder initiatives could play a pivotal role. Furthermore, the need for mechanisms on the government side to reinforce inter-agency cooperation and strengthen national legal frameworks was also emphasized. Yet, it was highlighted that solutions must also include the private sector and that incentivizing the private sector to act responsibly is of crucial importance to combat fisheries crime.

The conference showed the growing consensus that greater co-operation is required at the international, regional and national levels to combat criminality in the fisheries. The FiTI will strongly support this by continuing to work with all relevant stakeholders to enhance participation and transparency for better fisheries governance. This will include to advance beneficial ownership transparency.